My passport photo doesn’t know anything about that. She’s sweet and cheery and excited about Europe. Not exactly ill-advised, I went to have the photograph taken after a HIIT class. I swooped on some mascara and eyeliner in my car, which I’d parked in a primo spot in front of Whole Foods. I remember feeling like I was actually traveling: a woman on the move, a mobile genius. And the workout class had given my face a nice glow, or at least that’s what the endorphins raging around in my brain told me.
The other cells in my brain were focused on a famous passport photo I’d seen a few years before of Prince with a pert smirk that looked like he had just invented a new language — and would never teach it to you. His face was attentive, louche, and most of all, highly glossed. I had to push that image out of my mind because, in general, passport-photo-taking wisdom dictates avoiding any glossy makeup, which can badly refract light. And I don’t have Prince’s photo-editing team at my disposal. But, in homage to the icon, I decided that hair, my only asset in this world, would be nicely curled around my head.
As the photograph was taken, I was preoccupied with an enduring piece of advice about ID photos that proved helpful: If the frame of the photograph is small, the model (in this case, me) should aim their chin forward to lengthen the neck. But I think because I was mostly thinking about Prince, my expression turned out to be very unstressed.
For a year, my passport wallowed in the back of my underwear drawer. What had felt so important and crucial — access to the world — became an official document of stagnation. But when I felt her slippery little faux-leather surface while searching for a particular pair of undergarments, I’d pull her out to wistfully look at my photo. My face was full of bright-eyed, worldly sophistication. I was glammed-up in the traditional staging area for passport photographs, an emporium famous for its soft, flattering, warm lighting: the local CVS.
Next to the passport is a small cardboard holder containing the extra two-inch-by-two-inch copies of the photo that CVS had generously given me. I didn’t know what to do with them, but I have just now decided that the friends I had planned to visit in the past year will each receive a token of me for their wallets, minimal context provided. I know it’s just what they’ve been missing.
Get the Shot
No, not that one. (But, yes, get that one, too!) The one you mail to the government to be minted in your travel credentials for the next 10 years. The ideal passport photo should represent a person clearly. Why shouldn’t it also represent them beautifully? See the guide below for details.
1. Pull it back
It’s what hairstylist David Lopez calls a “forever look”: a tight ponytail that “lines up with your cheekbones and crown.” Keep in mind that if you wear your hair down, you may be asked to expose your ears for the photo. (The United States prefers to see them.)