12 Things You Can Do in Under 3 Minutes to Look Good on a Passport Photo (Professional Micro-Pose Tips)

by Mikko H.·
Updated Oct 11, 2020
·9 min read
Passport photo with unclear jawline
Passport photo with clear jawline

Have you ever had an ID photo that you didn’t like?

I certainly used to hate the way I looked on my passport.

That is why I decided to collect tips from industry-leading professional photographers. I have reduced the recommendations to an actionable list that everyone can apply without any professional equipment.

Passport photos are strictly regulated, but there’s still a surprisingly lot you can do to change your appearance within the guidelines.

Let’s dive right in.

Here are the tips you’ll learn in this post.

  1. Push Your Head Forwards to Get a Jawline
  2. Stop Forcing Your Eyes Open and Raise Your Lower Lids
  3. Fix Your Posture In 2 Seconds by Taking a Big Breath
  4. Avoid Mug Shot-look by Smiling Slightly
  5. Look Fresh by Taking the Photo After Your Fitness Session
  6. Use Makeup
  7. Use a Mirror and Check Your Hair
  8. Use Flattering Natural Lighting
  9. Practice Makes Perfect
  10. Take Many Photos to Choose from
  11. Wear a Clean, Non-White Shirt With a Nice Collar
  12. Don’t Wear Glasses or a Hat

Push Your Head Forwards to Get a Jawline

Below you can see a couple of examples.

sivu takana
etu takana
sivu edessa
etu edessa

Compare the jawline on the top and bottom row. On the bottom row, the model pushes her head slightly forwards. As a result, the jawline is more pronounced.

Jawline plays a massive role in how you look in a photo. An unclear jawline in a picture is very unflattering.

In real life, our stereo vision and the fact that people are always moving around helps us distinguish things like jawlines.

On a 2D still photo, we don’t have many natural aids for distinguishing 3D shapes, like jaws. On the other hand, on a picture, the jawline has to be represented solely with color contrast, i.e., a shadow (or makeup).

Creating a clearer jawline with a pose isn’t cheating. I think of it as an aid for representing a 3D face on a 2D surface.

One way to create a jawline is to create a sharp shadow with a light that comes from above. If additional lights are not available, the model can also always affect the jawline shadow with their pose.

Professional photographers sometimes ask models to push their heads slightly towards the camera. The posture isn’t very natural when you look from the side, but you can’t see the forward-lean from the front.

Pushing the head forwards stretches the skin over the jaw and creates a more pronounced jawline.

I recommend watching Peter Hurley’s excellent video about the technique. The video has lots of example photo pairs.

Don’t overdo it! Remember: it’s not just forehead or jaw towards the camera. Keep your head straight.

Stop Forcing Your Eyes Open and Raise Your Lower Lids

Here is another trick that professional photographers use.

smiling eyes
Photo: Paul Ekman Group
A man demonstrating smiling with eyes.

Your first intuition might be concentrating on keeping your eyes open. We all know that it ruins the photo if we blink at the wrong time, so we might try to overcompensate.

Some also try to avoid looking tired by concentrating on holding their eyes open.

Don’t concentrate on forcing your eyes open! It will make you look like a deer in the headlights. Holding eyes open also makes you raise your eyebrows (try it!). Raised eyebrows is not a very flattering look on a portrait. They indicate being scared or surprised.

Professional photographers sometimes advise their models to squint. A small squinting of eyes makes the model look more confident. Slightly closed eyes are also a natural part of a smile.

Squinting or slightly closing eyes doesn’t describe the pose entirely accurately. Some call the pose smiling with your eyes.

Peter Hurley has a video demonstrating “squinching”. The video is a part of the same series as Hurley’s jawline video. I highly recommend both of the videos if you’re interested in excellent visual examples.

A cue Hurley uses: “Lower lids up.”

Like with the previous jawline trick, don’t overdo it.

Fix Your Posture In 2 Seconds by Taking a Big Breath

You know you should keep a good posture in a photo. Here’s a trick that you probably didn’t know for achieving a great pose in 2 seconds!

Take a big breath. This naturally straightens your back, brings your chest forward and shoulders back.

A passport photo is indeed all about your face. Still, posture plays a role in how you look, even if your shoulders are barely visible.

Avoid Mug Shot-look by Smiling Slightly

A passport photo requires a neutral expression. However, neutral doesn’t mean angry or glum! A slight smile is perfectly ok.

Passport photo where the model looks unhappy
Passport photo where the model smiles slightly

Look Fresh by Taking the Photo After Your Fitness Session

Your face and your expression look different when you’re tired and when you’re fresh. A popular time to take a passport photo is straight after work, but this is likely when you look your worst.

A good trick is to take a passport photo 15 to 30 minutes after your fitness session. You’re still fresh and energetic, but not red and sweaty.

Use Makeup

You don’t need to be without makeup in a passport photo. On the contrary, it’s perfectly ok, for example, to highlight your eyes and lips. Just don’t overdo it.

Automatic face recognition isn’t distracted by everyday makeup. In reality, if you usually wear makeup, having makeup also in your passport photo makes the image more recognizable.

Use a Mirror and Check Your Hair

You should use a mirror the first time when you practice your expression beforehand.

The second time you absolutely should use a mirror is just before you take your passport photograph. It’s easier to fix a stain on the cheek or bad hair when you know there’s something to fix.

It’s not superficial to take your time with a mirror. Everyone does it; you just haven’t seen it.

Use Flattering Natural Lighting

This tip is for those who plan to take a passport photograph themselves.

Lighting plays a massive role in portrait photography. A quick trick is to favor natural sunlight that is scattered and comes from above.

Read more about lighting from our DIY passport photo article.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even though professional models certainly have a genetic advantage, they still practice, practice, and practice. If you want to be good at something, you need to practice it. Looking good in a portrait isn’t an exception.

Of course, you don’t need to become a professional model for your passport photo.

Just a few minutes in front of a mirror practicing the tips and tricks in this article can make a huge difference.

Take Many Photos to Choose from

If possible, take multiple photos. It’s common in a professional photoshoot to take hundreds of photos to find one good shot.

Taking extra photos helps you practice with expressions, lighting, settings, and so on. See what works and what doesn’t.

Wear a Clean, Non-White Shirt With a Nice Collar

In addition to your face, your shirt’s shoulder and collar area are visible in a passport photo. Make sure to pick a clean, smart shirt for your portrait.

A wise shirt choice for men is a simple collared shirt, or even a plain t-shirt (if the neckline isn’t worn or stretched).

Avoid hoodies.

Older women can select to wear a scarf on their neck if they wish to cover neck creases.

You should also avoid wearing a white shirt or a shirt that matches the background color. Lightly colored shirt blends into the background. On the other hand, a contrasting color highlights your shoulders, giving an illusion of better posture.

Don’t Wear Glasses or a Hat

Although the officials can accept hats and glasses per passport rules in some countries, I recommend taking the passport photo without any accessories. Wearing glasses makes taking a good passport photo harder. Besides, our experience shows that eyeglasses always raise the risk of your photo being rejected even when you manage to avoid reflections and the frame covering eyes partially.

One reason to avoid glasses in a passport photo is that they can make automatic face detection harder. A failure in automatic recognition can lead to unwanted stops at airports.


Make sure to take off your hat and eyeglasses a while before taking the photo, because they often leave unsightly indentation marks for a short period.