How to Look Good in Your Passport or Visa Photo

Before 2018, the last time I looked decent in my passport photo was when I was a baby. For my driver’s license, I always look like a shady person, but I blame it on the Philippine government’s cheap ID card material and printers. Ask any Filipino and they’ll tell you horror stories of getting their driver’s license.

When I dabbled in beauty editorial for magazines, I learned through fellow beauty editors how they were able to look great in their driver’s licenses, passports, and visas. After years of trial and error, I finally did it! And no, there’s no need for you to pull a Hollywood diva stunt by bringing your own photographer, makeup artist, and lighting crew. But there is a process involved.

Things I need to travel: MacBook for blogging, mirrorless camera, secondary hipster camera, big map for flat lays, lots of coffee, sunnies, and most of all… a decent passport/visa photo! For security purposes, I can’t share with you my visa photo. But trust me, I look goooooooddd!

When you have to be photographed in the government office

In the Philippines, this applies to the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) for your passport, LTO (Land Transportation Office) for your driver’s license, and any other government agency that requires you to wait for long hours before sitting or standing awkwardly in front of everyone else in the room as a grumpy employee takes your photograph.

1. Practice your Mona Lisa smile at home. The government employee doesn’t care if you look like an ogre in the photograph—a misrepresentation of the fabulous queen or king that you are in real life. The nicer ones will allow one re-take, and that’s it; you’re stuck with that photograph for the next two years or so. You better master the art of smizing without tilting your head (straight front angle only!).

2. Do the polished natural makeup look. I’ve heard of horror stories where Filipino government employees asked girls to remove their makeup and false eyelashes on the spot because they deemed it “too much.” The objective isn’t to look like an overly contoured Kardashian heading to a party, but to be the best natural version of yourself. There are hundreds of YouTube videos to help you fool the grumpy photographer into thinking you’re not wearing too much makeup.

3. Top makeup tips: Don’t use SPF because it gives your face a white cast when the camera flashes. Cover blemishes well and aim for a flawless but natural base. Concealer is your friend! For lips, stay away from those bold lip kits and go for a tinted balm or creamy lippie that enhances the natural color of your lips. Look up MLBB—my lips, but better. Fill in your eyebrows and dab some natural blush. The contouring may disappear under the poor lighting condition and general camera settings, but your eyebrows, lips, and cheeks will stand out.

4. Google to see the passport photo requirements, because it may differ per agency. For example, some embassies allow eyeglasses, while others don’t. Most don’t allow contact lenses—not even the clear kind. Some allow white tops, while others prefer colored. Most don’t allow uniforms and accessories. Know their rules beforehand.

5. Fix your hair beforehand, not when you’re about to be photographed. Your ears need to be seen, so tuck your hair. Pin your bangs and keep your hairstyle simple (No Arianna Grande ponytail, sorry!). No earrings or hair accessories.

6. Bring your own reflector—if you dare. I’ve read stories of girls who got away with it, but I didn’t have the chutzpah to pull it off. Safer alternative: Wear a white collared top (only if they allow white), which can do a bit of light reflection to give your face a studio finish.

7. Retouch! With fast hands, dab some light powder to get rid of the shine right before the camera click. Quickly check your face in the mirror before smizing for the camera. Do it fast enough so that the person who will take your photo doesn’t lose his patience (as there are hundreds of you that they have to go through daily).

If you need to submit your own photo

1. Rejoice! This means you’ll have a little more control and time to look good.

2. If you have the money, spend a little more on a reputable photo studio. While those one-hour photo kiosks in the mall or streets are quick and affordable, they won’t do your face justice. Trust me, I’ve tried them all! This year, I skipped the budget photo kiosks and went to a professional photography studio in the mall. Because you are paying a hefty sum, they will not rush you. You may take your sweet time to fix your hair and retouch your makeup, and most of all, have more than two retakes. Reputable private photo studios have the same lighting used in modeling shoots. The result: My new visa photo finally looks great. It’s a travel investment. Hello, I will be using this photo for the next 10 years! Thank you, Great Image in Uptown Mall, BGC. No, this is not a sponsored post.

No time to find a photo studio? DIY!

3. Don’t forget the makeup tips I mentioned above. Cisgender males who still believe in gender stereotypes, you know it’s completely okay to wear some concealer and BB cream for the photo.

If you’re in the middle of traveling and you suddenly need a digital ID photo

I’ve seen this happen to my backpacker friends. They’re in the middle of traveling in a foreign country. They’re also applying for another country’s program (ex. Workaway, short course, etc.) that requires them to submit a specific ID photo (ex. white background with collared top). The solution? DIY! Do your own makeup (see my tips above), wear the appropriate attire, and find a clean, plain wall in the color needed. Find good lighting, ask a friend to take your photo, or just use your camera with a tripod. Use the hi-res setting. Crop accordingly. There’s no need to print because they usually need you to submit the digital version online. Ta-da!

Raise your hand if you look fabulous in your passport or visa photo. Share your tips in the comments section below.

Photos courtesy of Element5 Digital via Pexels