Makeup Wanderlust Wear

How To Not Regret Your Passport Photo: Makeup & Tips

January 7, 2016

Maybe you’ve been there: the official photograph you have to carry around and show people for years is…regrettable. Here I’m talking specifically about passport photos because I recently got a new one, but this is really about any ID photo you’re stuck with for an extended period: your driver’s licence, health card, Nexus/Global Entry, school ID, work security pass, or perhaps a PADI diving card. I can’t tell you how many times my photos for these cards are ones my own mother laughs at (“What crime did you commit?” HAHA, “Didn’t you KNOW they were taking a photo?” HAHA, etc). Often I’d prefer them in the trash than tucked in my wallet. Unfortunately, if I’d like to drive a vehicle, cross a border, or receive healthcare, this is not a viable option.

When the time for passport renewal came around recently, I decided to aim for something at least passable. In case you’ve also been underwhelmed with some of your official snaps, I thought I’d share what worked for me (assuming you find my resulting photo acceptable!). If you think wanting a photo you don’t cringe at is vain, that’s fine. Maybe it is on some level. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with putting your best face forward. At least a face that says, ‘I remembered my photo was being taken so I showered, brushed my hair, and applied makeup to indicate that this ID represents a functioning human being.’ Yeah, some of my IDs are that bad.

First off, and this is important, you’re going to need a lot of makeup. A lot. Think Vegas, think Real Housewives, think Mimi on The Drew Carey Show. Ok, maybe not – I just want to emphasize that the camera and flash wash you out and you’ll need a lot more makeup than you’d likely normally wear day to day. If you look at yourself in the mirror in sunlight and your makeup looks a bit cakey and heavy-handed, that’s probably perfect. Personally, I was just going for a super natural look + a bright lip. But here’s the thing: looking natural requires that you overemphasize. Here are my tips and tricks for a wallet-worthy snap.

Primer: Because you’ll be layering makeup, primer creates a smooth surface and great base. It will also help your makeup to stay put longer. My all time favourite is the Laura Mercier Hydrating Primer.

Foundation: Once your primer is set, apply a layer of medium to high coverage foundation (don’t forget to blend it into your neck). Allow that to set and apply a second layer. Choose a foundation without SPF. Sun protection is usually a must, however, the chemicals (like zinc or titanium dioxide) are white and the camera flash will exaggerate that. I love the Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover foundation and have used it for a long time, since it was recommended to me for video and photography.

Concealer: Cover any spots, redness, or dark circles with a high coverage concealer and blend it in. I personally add more concealer under my eyes than I normally would. I used the Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage.

Powder: It’s important to avoid products with shimmer or ‘glow.’ Opt for matte products. I normally go for the dewy look, but it’s more likely to read on camera as ‘I need a blot.’ For photos, avoid a translucent powder because it will wash you out more. Instead, choose one that matches your skin tone. I’m currently obsessed with the Bourjois Healthy Balance Unifying Powder.

Blush: Again, this is a shimmer-free zone. You want a blush that is matte with good colour payoff. Apply enough that it feels like too much but stop well ahead of Raggedy Ann territory. I used the Tarte Amazonian Clay blush in Magic because it’s really buildable. Apply it slightly below and behind the apples of your cheeks.

Bronzer: To me, because I’m quite pale, bronzer is heavy artillery. I have to be careful that it doesn’t look like I wiped a rusty cloth on my face (graphic but true). This one from Bourjois works for me, plus it looks and smells like a chocolate bar. To balance the bright flash, contour a little on the hollows of your cheeks, near your hairline, the top of your nose, and tip of your chin.

Highlighter: I know I said no shimmer, but I freaking love highlighter products and, if used sparingly in the right spot, it makes you look brighter and healthier – camera or no camera. The Soap and Glory Glow All Out is great for this because it’s pretty subtle as far as highlighters go. Swipe a small amount along your cheekbones and temples.

Eyebrows: I have fairly light brows to begin with, so it’s extra important to fill them in. Even if you’re blessed with strong brows, filling them in will frame your eyes better and anchor your face in the photo. This is my favourite product to use.

Eyeliner: In my experience, skipping eyeliner makes your eyes look teeny weeny. You can’t tell in my photo, but I’m wearing a full cat eye. I recommend liquid liner because it’s more prominent and will make sure your eyes don’t blend in with the rest of your face. I skipped dark liner on the bottom because I find my eyes look bigger with liner only on top. On the bottom I used a liner that matches my skin tone (these are fantastic and cheap) to negate the redness and open up the eye.

Mascara: You’ll need big, big lashes to make sure they read on camera. I don’t usually use mascara on the lower lashes but I added some for the photo. Right now I’m using the Benefit Better Than Sex mascara, which has a big wand and clumps the lashes a bit. I think clumpy lashes are great for photos because they stand out more. Apply at least two coats and a little extra on the outer lashes.

Lips: This is so not the time for a ‘nude’ lip. You can wear a ‘your lips but better’ type colour but, I think, it’s better to go for something bolder. I did an orangey red using the lipstick I talked about here. A brightish pink colour tends to be universally flattering. Don’t use anything glossy as it won’t work well with the flash – matte is best. Take your lipstick with you and apply it right before the photo is taken to make sure it’s full coverage.

– Remember that your shirt may be visible in the photo. Don’t wear something that is likely to blend with the background, ie. white. A couple of health cards back I was a floating head with no discernible body thanks to my white t-shirt. Don’t wear a shirt you might not like the sight of five years or more down the line. I chose classic breton stripes because I love them now and always will. Do not wear a turtleneck. Do not wear a scarf. I once wore a knitted scarf so large I don’t even know how they allowed it. It looked like I was drowning. You may even go for a v-neck over a crewneck to give you as much of a neckline as possible. Earrings and necklaces are visible too, so avoid large pieces that will take over the photo or just skip them entirely.

– Don’t let them tell you to raise your chin too much. Stay strong! Even in the photo above my chin is too high. I realize there are certain requirements, especially for passports, but shouldn’t a perceptible jawline be a requirement?

– Keep your eyes looking anywhere but the lens until you’re totally ready for them to snap the photo. For official photos, you need to be looking straight at the camera. Your eyeline may be the only power you have left – use it. Compose yourself and don’t look until you’re absolutely ready. You might not be allowed more than one shot (literally). Don’t narrow your eyes. Open them ever so slightly more than normal to counterbalance the impending flash.

– If you can, beg ask to see the photo and plead request permission to redo it, if you’re not satisfied.

I hope this is helpful! Do you have official-type photos you wish you could redo? If you have more ideas on how to not regret photos please let me know. Happy snapping!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Christine January 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Lots of good tips to remember for my next “snap” shot!

    • Reply eileen January 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks Christine! 🙂

  • Reply Amanda January 8, 2016 at 8:10 am

    So helpful! It didn’t occur to me to think of these things. I definitely will consider it more next time.

    • Reply eileen January 8, 2016 at 10:02 am

      Thanks Amanda! I’m glad you found some useful tips 🙂 I hope your passport takes you many amazing places! xo

    Leave a Reply to eileen Cancel Reply