A foolproof trick to take a good driver’s license photo


Like most of us, I believe myself to be the queen of crappy ID card photos. I could never take a decent photo for a driver’s license, ID card, or passport to save my life.

When I was 16 and got my first driver’s license photo I spent 10 minutes fixing my hair in front of the DMV mirror to get it just right. I smiled into the mirror and froze my facial muscles into that perfect smile as I slowly inched to the chair, carefully lowering myself into the seat without creating any breezes that could move my hair. I looked into the camera with my perfectly practiced smile. Suddenly the woman operating the camera stepped away from it. “Hang on, I need to grab something,” she said, and disappeared. I held my perfect smile as long as I could, but she didn’t seem to be coming back any time soon so I relaxed and looked around. I noticed my shoelace was untied. With no sign of the camera lady showing up anytime soon I bent over and tied my shoe. Three seconds into shoe tying and I hear a “hey- look up” come from the camera. *FLASH* And there it was. My first driver’s license photo: my head at the bottom of the frame, half bent over, with a dopey look of shock on my face.  Since I don’t have that license anymore, here’s an approximate recreation:


My second attempt about 10 years later wasn’t much better. There was a long line so I again spent some time in front of the DMV mirror, but this time practicing a half squint in one eye. My right eye is just slightly bigger than my left, which you don’t really notice in person but in a photo it can be pretty obvious. So I practiced closing my right eye juuuuuuuust a little bit so they were the same size. I even tested myself by looking away from the mirror, half squinted my big eye, then turned to the mirror to make sure I did it right. When they called my name for my photo I sat in the chair, smiled at the camera, lightly squinted my right eye and then *FLASH* There it was. A photo of me winking.  Again, here’s a recreation:


For my third driver’s license photo I said “the hell with it,” and didn’t prepare at all: I just sat down and smiled. It was the best ID photo I’d ever taken. The curse was broken.


I recently changed my last name after getting married and again had to get a new driver’s license photo. Upon great personal reflection, my past experiences at the DMV had taught me two important truths:

  1. People operating the camera at the DMV don’t give a rat’s behind what you look like and will snap a photo as soon as your butt is planted in that seat and your face is front and center.
  2. Any special tricks you attempt to fool the DMV camera of doom are futile. It is immune to smizing.

So I got a new foolproof strategy for this last time around. Are you ready? Here it is:

Don’t look at the camera until you’re ready.


I realized that the DMV folks won’t take the photo until you’re looking up at the camera and your eyes are open, because those are pretty much the only two requirements for a driver’s license photo. So I sat down with my head bent over and fixed my hair until I was sure it looked okay and wasn’t sticking up all over the place. Then I smiled naturally and as friendly as I could make it look, still facing my lap, and then finally looked up at the camera when I was ready.


So that’s my super secret trick: when you sit in the chair, keep your head down or turned to the side while getting your hair in place (use a hand mirror if you’d like) and don’t look at the camera and smile until you’re ready.

And while we’re at it, here are some other general tips:

  • Avoid shimmery makeup—it will reflect the light of the flash and wash our your face.
  • If you have longer hair, try to place it evenly on both shoulders so it frames your face.
  • Don’t wear stark white or black, or anything with logos or patterns that are really busy.
  • If you’re having the picture taken in the winter, make sure you remove your coat, scarf, and hat.
  • Smile! So it doesn’t look like a mugshot. This might be the photo the news uses when you save drowning puppies from a lake so make sure you look friendly and not like a convict.
  • If you can, go to the DMV during a time of the day when they’re less busy, or even a DMV in a smaller town so you can have more time to prepare and don’t feel too rushed.
  • Remember to be nice to the people working at the DMV. They have a reputation for being crotchety, so if you’re extra nice to them they might return the favor and let you take a little extra time to refresh your lipstick before you photo.

And for tips on how to take a great headshot for your professional headshot with Organic Headshots, head here!


Leave a Reply