U.S. government now allowing selfies to be used as passport photos, but Canada has no plans to do so – yet


Whether it’s a duck-faced smirk, or a coy, suggestive close-up, selfies have become an extremely popular way for people to photograph themselves. On Instagram alone, over 262 million photographs make use of the selfie hashtag.

But what if, rather than just using a selfie as your Facebook or Twitter profile picture, you could also use one as your passport photo?

For 20-year-old Mireille Orlady, who like many of us, already uses selfies for most of her social media profile pictures, the possibility is rather exciting.

“I think that a lot of people would love to be able to switch out their passport photo for a selfie,” says Orlady. “Lets be honest, not many people are very fond of their photos!”

Now there is an app that aims to fix that – and, as the name suggests, It’s Easy. However, it is only available to residents of the United States.

Mireille Orlady copyMireille Orlady takes a suggestive, coy close-up selfie before going out for the evening with her friends. Such a photo would be considered unusable as a passport image by U.S. regulations.
Photo courtesy of Mireille Orlady
David Alwadish has been working in the passport business for over 30 years in New York City, both with It’s Easy Passport, and the Visa Expediting Office. He created the app to automate a piece of the puzzle by having people take their own passport portrait, hoping this would help speed up the process of making and obtaining a passport.

In an interview with Condé Naste Traveler, Alwadish says that the app enables users to take their own passport photo by providing a grid and guidelines so that they can make sure their head is positioned correctly for cropping the photo to fit standard passport formatting later on.

“You get another page that compares your photo to some other ones so you can see if it might work. You can tap on each photo to get an explanation of why it did or didn’t work. Maybe it’ll say ‘background is too dark,’” explains Alwadish in his interview.

The app is meant to be very user friendly, giving constructive feedback to people before they settle on a photograph to have printed for use in their passport.

After selecting your chosen photo, you must then print out all necessary passport forms and create secure mailing slips, which can all be done through the app as well.

“[This] makes the process safer and prevents the whole ‘lost in the mail’ issue,” says Alwadish.

Users can also request an automatic email or push notification reminding them of when it is time to get their next passport renewal.

Art of the selfie

There is a distinguishable art to taking just the right kind of selfie, according to Vanessa van Edwards, an author and behavioral investigator. Though we usually don’t think about it on a day-to-day basis, a host of different factors have an effect on how a selfie turns out, and what it says about those captured in the photo.

vanessa combination copy Vanessa van Edwards demonstrates the difference between a casual, and professional-grade, selfie. Movement, playful expressions, and no eye contact with the camera make the photo on the left unusable as a passport identification picture. The photo on the right showcases stillness, a straight, strong gaze, and confidence, making it the ideal candidate for a passport photo.
Photos courtesy of Maggie Hudson
“Personal selfies typically vary in background, angle and style, which is just fine for more flirty, fun and casual photos. These types of selfies can include more movement, an open mouth, and you can gaze away from the camera,” explains van Edwards.

“More care should be taken with professional, serious, and direct selfies,” says van Edwards. “The background should be more basic and not distracting, the angle should be from below or straightforward, and the upper body – head, shoulders, torso – should be visible in the photo if possible.”

Niles Cole, from the U.S. Department of State, says, “there is no prohibition against taking your own photograph, so long as you follow the requirements listed on our website.”

Cole states on the website that the photographs need to be a specific size of 2 x 2 inches and on a matte or glossy photo quality paper. So long as the bottom of the chin to the top of the head are in the frame with a general border of 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches around, then there should be no issue.

These guidelines may sound foreign to some, but as Orlady quips, a strict set of rules is better than the alternative.

“Every single passport picture I have taken has always been embarrassing. I am always hesitant to show customs my picture,” says Orlady.

app store 2The It’s Easy app is aiming to revolutionize the way we take passport photos by allowing inidividuals to take their own ID photo. This method is not yet accepted in Canada, however.
Photo courtesy of the Apple Store
However, despite her disdain for her regular passport photos, Orlady still has her doubts about trying the app.

“I would have to think about it. I definitely see the benefits of being able to choose your own photo, but I don’t know if I’m fully sold on the idea of using a selfie for such an important piece of identification,” said Orlady. She will have plenty of time to decide, by the look of it.

According to Faith St. John, of the Western Region Communications sector of the Government of Canada, selfies are not yet acceptable for use as passport photos in Canada, and there are currently no plans in place to change this fact. The Government of Canada still prefers passport photos be taken by a commercial photographer, and submitted via the standard application process.

Thumbnail courtesy of Sean Hobson, Creative Commons


The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca

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