How do you take a passport photo of a three-month-old baby?

Ellen's baby's passport photographs

Ellen's baby's passport photographs - Credit: Archant

If you have sold more than 100 million records, you can do whatever the hell you want, including changing your name to a symbol, writes Ellen Widdup.

Which might explain why the artist currently known as Prince has managed to bag himself a passport photo us mere mortals can only dream of.

The pop God shared his headshot on social media a week ago and it was clear it was no pharmacy photo job.

Such lip gloss, such eyeliner, such ‘fro.

This is one 57-year-old who won’t be cringing with embarrassment at check-in for the next decade. Unlike the rest of us.

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Get your hair out of your eyes. Don’t smile. Okay, smile with your eyes. Chin up. Head straight. Move closer. No, to the left.

We’ve all put in the effort to get a flawless result, been dazzled by a booth bulb and then had an agonising five-minute wait before confronting with crushing defeat what such flash photography does to uncover wrinkles we tried to bury in inch-thick foundation.

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The truth is most passport snaps – my own included - end up somewhere between simpleton and serial killer.

This is partly because there are a plethora of rules one must follow to get the perfect shot, starting with a “neutral” expression.

The Government also requires the picture is filter free, is not photoshopped or edited, is taken on a cream or light background and is not too light or too dark.

Eyes must be open, mouths must be shut, glasses should be removed and hair tucked behind ears.

Now it is hard enough getting a suitable pic for an adult.

But try getting an admissible photograph for a baby who is only three months old.

This has taken up the vast majority of my time in the last week.

The first problem is that a baby of 12 weeks cannot hold up his head without support.

Passport rules state that images should be of one individual only and no hand, support or props should be visible.

Cue a debacle worthy of any comedy sketch in the local chemist as I desperately tried to hold the little chap up to the camera while standing outside the booth.

For £5 you are given three attempts.

The first had my arm in shot, in the second he was screaming in discomfort as I crouched on the floor and held him aloft. The third had him looking at the floor, a trail of dribble escaping from his mouth.

Needless to say, none was suitable.

“I will take it myself at home,” I told my exasperated husband who was trying to work out if it would be better to dangle the baby upside down by his ankles into the frame to avoid being in shot.

I set up a studio in my bedroom against a backdrop of a white wall.

“Don’t smile,” I told the baby who gave me a goofy grin.

“Oi,” I said. “You have to look at the camera.” He continued to stubbornly stare at the cushion to his right.

With babies, attention spans correlate inversely with time spent in a room. Sadly they are not old enough to understand bribery. I knew I had to work fast.

I brought in the cavalry. My husband and son stood behind me pulling faces and my daughter was on positioning duty.

“Hold him steady,” I said as she manoeuvred him upright. Then my husband would start yelling, the baby would look up, my daughter would let go and snap, the picture was taken before he fell flat on his face in the pillows.

We repeated this sequence of events around 100 times.

Later on my computer I sorted through the selection in despair, finally settling on the only image I had where he was facing forward, had his eyes open, wasn’t missing the top of his head and wasn’t laughing, crying or pulling that face that tells me his nappy needs changing. I filled in the passport form, got my neighbour to certify my identity and sent off the package recorded delivery.

Two days later I received a brown envelope in the mail.

“Your photographs did not meet the standard numbers six and 13,” said the letter enclosed. “Please send us two further photographs that meet all of the above standards.”

I looked at the list.

Number six – a close up of the head and shoulders so that the face covers precisely 45% - 75% of the photograph.

Number 13 – Taken with the background free from shadows.

“Who do they think I am?” I cried in frustration. “Mario Testino?”

I returned to my ‘studio’ with an irritated baby but an hour later I was no closer to getting a perfect shot.

And let me point out that on top of wishing to adhere to the Government conditions, I also wanted to be sure my boy wasn’t going to end up with a mugshot he would be ashamed of.

Last year some father posted his son’s first passport photo on Facebook and ended up making the news. The poor kid had one eye open and four extra chins and, quite unsurprisingly perhaps, became the victim of a selection of unflattering memes, much to his parent’s horror.

But while I wanted my youngest to look attractive on his picture – I also wanted him to look like himself.

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Suaad Hagi Mohamud was temporarily imprisoned and had her passport confiscated by Canadian officials in Kenya who concluded she looked nothing like her snapshot and was therefore an impostor.

Now obviously babies change on a weekly basis at this age but keen to get the best likeness possible, my husband and I decided to stop wasting money on photo booths and seek the help of a professional.

We found a cobbler in Woodbridge who takes passport photos on the side and booked him in.

After a few minutes arranging him on a white sheet and one click of the camera, we were done.

The result?

Well, it should pass the remit set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation but, if I’m brutally honest, he looks like the love child of Mrs Potato Head and Phil Mitchell.

I can only hope that when we arrive at immigration control for our planned Easter break, the officials can see the funny side.


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