A Photographer’s Guide to Taking Toddler Passport Photos



If you thought that taking passport photos for a newborn was tough, then you’ve obviously never tried taking a passport photo for an older baby or toddler! Sure, newborns can’t hold their heads up very well and may cry or sleep (or both) while you’re trying to get a photo that won’t be rejected by the U.S. Department of State. At least a newborn can’t run (or crawl) away. And toddler tantrums can be terrifying!

Have no fear. I can tell you from experience that it CAN be done, and fairly pain-free as well.

When our oldest was a little over a year old, we took her to the US Post Office to get her very first passport and passport photo. She was (and still is) a shy little thing and absolutely did not like having a stranger taking her picture. Luckily, she’s an easy kid overall and a good listener. We eventually got a usable photo. As we left, I remember thinking that I could have done this much more easily at home.

Now, for full disclosure, I do a bit of photography on the side. I’m very comfortable using my camera (more than my phone camera to be honest). All of my children are used to me chasing after them like the paparazzi, so getting their photos taken is a fairly common thing. Most days they don’t even blink when I ask them to pause for a second so I can snap a picture.

That said, you definitely don’t need to be a professional to get a usable passport photo of your baby or toddler. Chances are you’re already taking photos of them anyway! Now there are even apps on your phone to make sure you’re within guidelines.

Speaking of Guidelines…

On the US State Department’s website, they have all the guidelines and examples for passport photos here in the USA. The main guidelines consist of making sure the subject is facing forward with a natural face (no tongues sticking out or anything of that sort), with nothing obscuring any part of the face, and with a white background behind them. Of course, different countries have different rules, so check with their individual websites to be sure of what you need (for example, when we lived in France for a couple of years, we couldn’t show any teeth in our French visa photos).

I’ll be showing you two ways to capture your child’s passport photo, using your phone or using a camera. There are two different apps to ensure you meet government guidelines. I have a few extra tips to help set you up for success.

Getting Started

First, you’ll need a plain white background to have your kid sit or stand in front of. We have white walls in our house, so that was easy enough for me to use, but you could also temporarily hang up a white sheet or a posterboard to use as a background.

You’ll also want to make sure you have good lighting that won’t cause shadows across your child’s face (although a light shadow can be fixed in editing later, which I’ll also show you how to do!). The best way is to have two windows or light sources in the room (Bebe Voyage gives some excellent tips on how to achieve this, even if you don’t actually have two different light sources in a room).

When taking a photo, be prepared to do all sorts of crazy things to get your toddler to sit or stand still. Whatever you do, don’t stop clicking the shutter! Just in this session, I sang songs, said my baby’s name over and over (in an increasingly higher pitch each time – it was lovely), and waved an arm around. I let him hold my lens cap, and I physically picked him up and sat him down multiple times.

If needed, I’m not above bribing with food, either. Foods that are light in color are best, like cheerios and puffs. I’ve also heard of photographers giving out smarties to kids who are old enough for sugar, if you’re not opposed to that. It can also help to have a second person on hand to stand behind you to try to get your little one’s attention. I’ve also waved baby rattles and stuffed animals while taking pictures. Do whatever you can to keep that baby looking at you. 

Using a Phone

Now that you’re ready to start taking your baby/toddler passport photos, let’s get down to the different devices. Smartphones these days have wonderful, easy-to-use cameras. They’re more than sufficient to easily capture a passport photo. They’re light to hold, and they automatically adjust your photo for you in terms of brightness. Just keep snapping away and later go back and pick the best one.

Once you find the best photo, if it’s really needed, you can brighten it or decrease the shadows a bit by playing around in the edit function.

Using a Digital Camera

You have two routes that you can go with using an actual camera. If you have a DSLR, you can shoot in manual or auto and your photos can be either JPEG or RAW format. Either way will work fine for just a passport photo and you should use whichever you’re most comfortable with. If you do shoot in manual, just make sure to take a couple test shots beforehand to ensure that your settings are ready to go.

Once you’ve taken enough photos, download them onto your computer so that you can play with the highlights, shadows, etc to be sure your lighting fits into the government photo guidelines. If you have any kind of photoshop (including lightroom), you can open any type of photo in RAW (yes, even if they’re JPEG format) and from there you can use the sliders to increase brightness or decrease shadows.

In this case, I used Photoshop Elements and took my photos in RAW. I increased the brightness, decreased the contrast just a tad, decreased the highlights, and increased the shadows (which actually lightens the shadows). This still left a little bit of a shadow to the right of my baby, so then I used a fill flash action that helped brighten that area even more. You can also use the dodge and burn tools (which I ended up using on a different photo) to do the same thing.

Passport Photo Apps

After all that, once you have your perfect passport-ready photo, there are several different apps to double check that everything is within guidelines. The two that I tried were Passport Booth and Passport Photo (both can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store).

I personally didn’t care for Passport Booth. While it did provide an outline on the screen showing where the head and chin should go, I found it too difficult to track while trying to take a photo of my crazy (but adorable) baby.

Passport Photo also has a screen with an outline that can be used live. It wasn’t the easiest to use either. Here’s why I preferred this app above and beyond the other one, though. It has a feature that allows you to upload a photo you previously took. Then you can see the guideline outline on your photo. You can look at multiple, good photos at your leisure and see which ones best fit within the guidelines. You can also zoom in as necessary, which I found helpful.

Printing your Photo

You can get your passport photo printed anywhere you would get any other photo printed. In our case, I used Costco. I couldn’t format the size I wanted online, so I called our local store, who told me to bring it in on a flash drive or phone. They then set it up for me at the store. I did just that, and left with a passport-ready photo for our little guy.

And there you have it! A ready-to-use, do-it-yourself passport picture of your adorable baby or toddler. Don’t forget to fill out the proper paperwork and mail everything in. Before you know it, you guys will be on your next adventure!


You might also like this article on the Bébé Voyage Blog:

The Ultimate Guide On How To Take An Infant Passport Photo


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