Intrigued by this question Is it legal to photoshop the background of a visa photo? and the number of personal attestations in comments by people having "photoshopped" their passport photos, I don't get it. I just finished renewing my US passport and the others 2 and 3 years ago. The only requirements I'm aware of is a signature on the back of the UK photos for first-time applicants, and the US requires progressive photos for children's passports.

It did not occur to me to "photoshop" them and I don't know what I'm missing. I get the standard passport photos from any random shop on the high street when I happen to remember that I need them.

How does a person benefit from "photoshopping" their passport photo?

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    Please explain the down votes. Your rationale(s) may help me improve the question.
    – Gayot Fow
    May 11, 2017 at 16:34
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    The question you linked to already explains why the poster wanted to photoshop the photo - to remove the blue background. May 12, 2017 at 13:52
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    "How does a person benefit from "photoshopping" their passport photo?" People don't like ugly pictures of themselves. Is it really so surprising that they would want their photos enhanced?
    – Alexander
    May 12, 2017 at 19:37
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    So that I don't look disgusting when buying beer and cigarettes ;) - of course, joking aside, it's mostly to fix background and to make sure it is cropped and positioned correctly. May 13, 2017 at 0:14
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    @DmitryGrigoryev "To remove the blue background" tells us what he wants to remove, not why.
    – JBentley
    May 14, 2017 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


The USA visas ICAO passport photo requirements says:

Your photos or digital images must be: [...] Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background

(Source: US Department of State, International Organization for Civil Aviation )

It could be that if someone has already a photo, but the background is of a different color (i.e. many documents use blue backgrounds), he may want to reuse it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    May 12, 2017 at 11:17

I shoot RAW files and process in Lightroom.

There is no such thing as an unprocessed image — simply automated processing. The color rendition to match the light sources, choosing the right range of values to make a good exposure, etc. are all basic things.

In the old days, prints would choose the paper grade and exposure time, and you would do “dodging and burning” while making the exposure, and then you chose the developer and timings for the process.

So when I shot my wife’s photo for example, I did it outdoors in the shade against a white reflector I just taped up to use as a background. Those are choices too! Then the first “processing” step is choosing which of 10 or so exposures to use. A burst taken over the span of one second will show different eye positions etc. especially if a blink was taking place.

Then, I used the relevant control to indicate that the background should be neutral in color. This is not changing the color, as it would be if you started with a finished jpeg file that was blue, orange, or buff when it should be grey as it was in life. This is interpreting the raw data to match the light source.

Now the background should be uniform white, not showing cloth folds or anything. That's the brightest thing in the picture, so setting the detailed exposure settings (whites and highlights, in addition to overall exposure control) can push that up while coordinating with the main slider to make the skin look exposed right.

Note that this is the opposite of what an automated system might guess — recovering blown out highlights, bringing out details of the wrinkles in the cloth.

No Photoshop (or explicit pixel manipulation) required. That's just what a good picture takes to make.


Another issue is that (in the UK at least) it can take more effort to find somewhere to get passport photos taken than to take the pictures and get them printed.

My nearest (or at least most convenient) passport photo booth is 8km from my house at the mainline railway station, because you need photocards for season tickets. It even works most of the time. In previous jobs it would have taken my entire lunch break to get to a machine and back or been completely impossible without making a special trip somewhere busy at the weekend. That sort of thing can be tricky to fit in to a busy schedule. Compare that to 5 minutes setting up the SLR on a tripod, 5 minutes cropping (etc.) and uploading, then the pictures arrive on my doorstep 3 days later. For less money.

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    If you're within 8km of a mainline railway station, surely you're within 8km of a decent-sized supermarket? Just about all of those have photo booths, in my experience. May 11, 2017 at 14:18
  • +1, would you include the general area that this answer refers to? I am in Essex inside the orbital and these shops are (it seems) on every high street.
    – Gayot Fow
    May 11, 2017 at 14:18
  • @DavidRicherby I've got a new big Tesco 4km in the other direction. They might have fixed the machine there by now. The big Sainsbury's near the station didn't have one last I checked -- or decent bike parking, unlike the station. May 11, 2017 at 14:20
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    @GayotFow I'm on the outskirts of Bristol. One of the previous jobs was more rural; the other in Bristol. Not very central but land expensive enough that the supermarkets didn't waste space on photo booths. I went hunting for one and was told that two had been removed in recent years. May 11, 2017 at 14:22
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    In my South Yorkshire town these booths are quite common around public transport hubs and "super stores" - however I typically just find a white wall and get someone to take the phone with my smartphone. Then I go to a Boots store and print out 6 passport sized photos from my phone for £0.32 - simple! If I can't find a wall, I'm just cheeky and sit in the photo booth itself and take the photo with my smartphone still! May 12, 2017 at 8:30

As requested here's my passport photo solution from the comments; photo booths are most common in super stores (usually the "Big 4" supermarkets in the UK) and transport hubs (bus and train stations). In a supermarket they're usually near the checkouts, for transport most likely near ticket machines and self service systems. That removes the requiremet of Photoshop at all.

Then there's the cost issue - they are super expensive, especially back when I was a secondary school (High school in the US) student. My simple trick is sit in the booth and have someone take the photo with your smart phone, then go to Boots (that's a UK cosmetic/health/childrens store) who also have self service print machines. For £0.32 (is it worth currency converting that??) you can get 6 passport photos and, provided you have a decent camera and didn't smile, it will be suitable for a passport.

Can't find a booth? Use a well-lit while wall - worked for me one time!

Don't have a friend? Buy a selfie stick - still cheaper!

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    Unless it's your first passport, that's a waste of 32p. You don't need a printed photo at all now, you just upload a digital photo to the passport office.
    – Mike Scott
    May 14, 2017 at 17:42

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