The regulations for passport photos are nearly universal; basically, governments require a passport photo to accurately portray the traveler. A traveler’s hair must not fall in his or her face or be covered by a hat or other garment, unless worn for religious reasons. The person should face the camera rather than looking down or to the side. In addition, he or she should not laugh or smile while the picture is being taken, leaving a blank neutral expression. Photo quality also matters; in general, washed out colors or pixelated passport photos are not considered acceptable.
It is usually not acceptable for people to have hair in their eyes or face in passport photos. This includes long bands and curly hair that falls to the side of the face. Most governments consider hair dye a minor change and therefore allow travelers to color their hair. It is important for the traveler to still be recognizable in his or her photo, however. Sometimes a very different haircut in combination with hair dye alters a person’s look drastically, and his or her passport photo must be updated to reflect the changes.
Most passport photos are taken with the subject looking straight at the camera. The photo must be taken again if the traveler accidentally looks to the side, down, or blinks. Non-prescription glasses are not acceptable accessories when having a passport photo taken. In addition, travelers’ eyes must be easily seen in passport photos, so glare from eyeglasses should be avoided. This is achieved by tilting the glasses downward, turning off the camera flash, or removing the glasses entirely.
A neutral expression is required on most passport photos. The subject should try not to laugh, smile, or frown. It is generally fine if the subject’s normal expression is a slight smile or frown. As long as he or she is not actively trying to smile or frown, the picture should be acceptable.
Picture quality is always important on passport photos. Most governments require colored photos rather than black and white. The color must be true, not washed out or overly bright. Background color varies depending on the government, but white and off-white are widely accepted background colors. Some governments require light gray or blue backgrounds instead.
In general, a person must be easily recognizable in his or her passport photo. If that person changes his or her appearance in any way that makes recognition harder, it is safest to update the passport photo rather than attempt to enter other countries without doing so. Major facial trauma, minor plastic surgery on the face, and large facial tattoos are some changes that usually require a passport photo update.