My friend is applying to get a visa for the USA. Her photo has a blue background, which I can photoshop out pretty easily.

However, is it legal to do this? There is absolutely no detriment to the usefulness of the photo, in my opinion.

It's a little harder to get a photo like this than you'd think where she is from, but we can get one if needed.

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    @GayotFow judging by the link in MadHatter's answer, Daenerys has taken over the state dept and is enforcing her hatred of blue there (a blue background is the example given for being unacceptable due to a non-white background). – Dan Neely May 10 '17 at 17:41
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    I tried this when getting my passport renewed prior to my cruise. They rejected the photo and it caused about a 2 week delay. Take the time to do it right the first time because I think I got off easy with a 2 week delay. Needless to say, my wife wanted to rip my head off because I received the new passport about 1 week before the cruise. – MonkeyZeus May 10 '17 at 18:14
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    don't literally try to "retouch the pixels". very simply just fool with the "brightness / contrast" or perhaps the "levels" if you know what that is - and make the BG go away. I do this every single time for passport photos. – Fattie May 10 '17 at 23:48
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    Done it often. Half the time so called professional passport photo services don't produce an image that strictly follows the guidelines. Photoshop to the rescue: cropping, centring, background adjustments, levels - heck even removing shiny hotspots, and 'sharpness' if required (I know, I know...) – Lamar Latrell May 11 '17 at 7:09
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    Always remember: Ubi non accusator, ibi non iudex! Do it well, and it will not be recognized. On a more philosophical note: What exactly does "digital retouching" (which, according to an answer, is generally not allowed) mean? Which white point did your camera have? Was "Sharpen" active? HDR? What exactly constitutes a photo which corresponds to reality? (Of course, such a thing does not exist.) For more discussion, cf. bjp-online.com/2013/05/… – Peter A. Schneider May 12 '17 at 4:49
up vote 48 down vote accepted

Speaking specifically about visas for the USA, as far as I can tell, it is not acceptable (it's not illegal, it just means they won't accept the photo).

The US Department of State's page on photos in visa applications has a section near the bottom, "Detailed Examples of Visa Photos", under which there's a tab "Digital Alterations and Retouching" which includes an example that fails because the sitter has red-eye. The note under this photo says

Digitally remove the red eye effect, or retake a photo that does not include the red eye effect. (This is the only digital retouching that is acceptable for passport photos)

From which I conclude that recolouring the background is not acceptable. They do give another specific case where someone's made a white background by cropping out the existing one, but badly - the grounds for refusal are "Background is cropped out using a photo retouching tool, altering the outline of the head, face, and neck". However, the red-eye comment makes me think that all such alterations, even if done well, are unacceptable. That doesn't mean they'll know you did it, so you might get away with it if you do a good job, but strictly speaking, State doesn't like it.

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    Sounds like the kind of thing it would be easy to get away with, but it's not worth the risk of the rare chance they call you out on it. – theonlygusti May 10 '17 at 18:52
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    I did this for my wife's passport photo. Selected an area slightly overlapping her head/shoulders and used the "replace color" option so it would only affect pixels in the background (the colors between her and the background were different enough that this did a much tighter/tidier job than trying to cut her out). Then increased the overall brightness/contract a little just to make the background extra white. Finally, printed at a pharmacy instead of at home so it was on Kodak paper or similar. Passport office didn't reject the application, so I guess it just depends on how good a job you do. – CactusCake May 10 '17 at 19:26
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    Shhh... don't tell, @CactusCake, but I did the same with our passport photos, too. It was hard to get the backdrop sheet held tight enough to eliminate wrinkles and to get the lighting even enough, so I just fixed it. We've all got passports. YMMV. – FreeMan May 10 '17 at 20:30
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    Just as Cactus says, it's no problem if you do it right. Very simply, adjust the contrast or the color balance. Don't do pixel select or anything like that. – Fattie May 10 '17 at 23:50
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    @Astara altering the background can cause problems at the border between the background and the subject – user29850 May 11 '17 at 6:49

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