Sunday, February 21, 2016

Save $13 and Take Your Own Passport Pictures

We needed to get passport photos for my wife and feeling lazy, I decided to let Walgreens or CVS take and print the pictures for us. We stopped by a CVS but they informed us that their camera had been stolen. Okay, that's weird. Went to another CVS and the situation wasn't much better. Their "professional set up" was just a white pull-down screen and a camera that looked like it came straight outta 1999. After taking the picture, the employee seemed to be having trouble using CVS's own photo kiosk to crop the picture correctly and to top it all off the final photo came out blurry. She asked if we want to try again but by that point I already decided that it wasn't worth $13 and that I'd be better off doing it myself.

If you pay CVS or Walgreens to take your passport photo, make no mistake: you're paying for convenience but not necessarily for quality. As long as you carefully follow the guidelines on the travel.state.gov website and have a little patience and time, you'll be able to make your own passport photos of similar quality (if not better) than CVS or Walgreens.

All you need is
  • A white background. You can use a white wall, a bed sheet, or a poster that's white on the backside.
  • A computer made after the turn of the century
  • A camera made after 1999
  • A USB drive and about $1 to print the photo if you don't have your own printer

First find a well-lit area. Again, you can roughly follow the guidelines from the government website

Don't let this picture from the guide scare you. CSV and Walgreens they don't have the "three points of illumination" setup, either. If you have a well-lit room and use a flash, your photo will be just fine. Just watch out for shadows on the white background.

Use the following poorly-drawn illustration as a rough guide to compose your shot. Basically as long as you have the subject's upper body in the shot and follow their guidelines (have a neutral expression.. the rest is common sense stuff like don't wear sunglasses or a headset when taking your picture)

Then take your computer and use an image editor like Photoshop the open-source GIMP to crop your photo to 2x2 inches.
This is where it might get a little tricky. After you've got a 2x2" picture in your image editing software, make a blank image that's exactly 4x6 inches (the standard photo size they print at most photo kiosks). Copy and paste your 2x2" passport image onto the 4x6" (you can fit 6 2x2" pictures onto one 4x6" photo as shown below). Download the full-sized sample photo that you can use as a template here.

Copy to a USB drive, take it to Target or FedEx/Kinko's (or other photo printing place) and print as many as you need. I think Target charges only 35 cents for each photo.

Congratulations, you saved about $12. Go by yourself something nice.

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