Travel on a Budget: DIY Passport Photos

With cellphone cameras and social media, the days of physically printing a photo seem long behind us. But alas, every once in a while you might find yourself in need of a print. In my case, I needed a passport sized photo for a visa application to live in France.

Since I was planning on using this photo for an application, I decided that I didn’t want to risk messing it up. So, I went to my local Walgreens and paid $13 to have an employee take a picture of me with a sketchy looking point-and-shoot camera in front of a pull-down white background. I watched as the employee uploaded my picture into a self-service kiosk and resize it to the proper dimensions.

The employee hit print. The pictures were handed over to me within minutes and I had two copies of my face in the form of a somewhat unflattering and pixelated ID photo. I walked away thinking that I could have done a better job with my cellphone camera, a white wall, and Microsoft Publisher.

As it turns out, I would soon get the chance to prove myself right. I found out a couple days later that the French do no allow glasses in their ID photos. Unfortunately, I had worn glasses (as I pretty much always do) the day I took my photo. My overpriced Walgreen photos were now useless to me. Not wanting to pay another $13 for a mediocre photo job, I set out to take my own passport photos. With a little bit of resourcefulness, I managed to get it done.

The end cost: $0.31 and 10 minutes of work.

And now I’m here to tell you how you can save 4100% on your passport photos via DIY.

  • Digital camera, cellphone cameras should do the trick
  • A white background (a wall, door, projector screen in a classroom, dry erase board, seriously the possibilities are endless)
  • A friend willing to push a button
  • A computer
  • Your favorite photo layout program. I’ll be going over how to use Microsoft Publisher.
  • Your favorite photo print place
  • Scissors
  • Pencil and Ruler (optional)
  1. Get your camera ready, stand in front of the white background of your choice, and get your friend to take a photo of your from the shoulders up.
    • Be sure to have them frame the photo so that there is a fair amount of white space around your head.
  2. Download that photo on to your computer.
  3. Click this link to get to the US Department of State website and use their photo cropping tool to properly size your photo. The online tool has guidelines that ensure your face will be the right proportion.
  4. Save your newly cropped photo to your computer.
  5. Open your favorite photo layout program. I used Microsoft Publisher because I happen to already have the Microsoft Office Suite.
  6. Open a new project and select “More Blank Page Sizes”1
  7. Under Custom, select “Create New Page Size”and a dialog box should pop up. 4″x6″is a standard photo size.2
  8. Adjust the Width to 6″ (inches) and the Height to 4″ (inches). Adjust the Top, Left, Bottom, and Right margins to 0″ (inches).
  9. Click OK. Then select your new custom page size and click the “Create” button on the right hand side of the page.
  10. Copy and paste your cropped passport photo into Microsoft Publisher 6 times.
  11. Drag and drop the photos so they align with the edges. You should be able to fit six (2″x2″) photos on your (6″x4″) page.
  12. Click “Align” and select “Relative to Margin Guides” to make sure your photos are perfectly aligned to the edges of the page.3
  13. Control select all three photos on the top row and use the Align tool and select “Align Top”
  14. Repeat this step with the bottom row, but “Align Bottom”
  15. Repeat this step with the photos of the left, center, and middle columns using their respective “Align” options.
  16. You should end up with a 6 perfectly sized and aligned passport photos!
  17. File > Save As > JPG
  18. Visit your favorite photo printer. I used Walgreens Photo because they have an online upload to in-store pickup option.
  19. Pick up your photos.
  20. Cut them out yourself. This is when you might want to use a ruler and pencil to make guidelines for cutting, but I just free-handed it and it turned out fine.

And there you have it, 6 passport photos for 4100% off of the price of getting them done at a pharmacy! As an added bonus, you now probably have all the ID photos you’ll ever need for the next few years.

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