I know everybody says this, but I have the worst driver’s license picture ever. Thanks to a 100-degree day in July and a three-hour wait at the DMV, this is what I present to bouncers and cashiers on a daily basis—blindingly shiny skin, matted and greasy hair, and a surly expression befitting of a mug shot (a particularly bad one at that). I cringe every time someone sees this horrendous version of me, wishing I’d listened to my friend, Sarah, instead.
Sarah’s a pro when it comes to taking good license pictures. She claims there are only a few rules everyone should follow to put their best faces forward. I was positive a flattering picture wasn’t in the stars for me, but after following her advice and looking into others’ recommendations, I know now that any of us can achieve the impossible—namely, having a driver’s license that doesn’t embarrass us!
The Rules of Perfect License Pictures
No need to schedule an emergency trip to the salon or spa before a trip to the DMV. Taking good license photos is deceptively simple and requires a manageable amount of effort on our parts. These tips also work for passport pictures, so keep them in mind the next time you plan a trip abroad.
1. Dress appropriately.
The tank top I wore to my appointment was perfect for such a hot day, but revealed more skin than I wanted to on my license. Opt for shirts or blouses that have complimentary necklines. Sarah recommends a collared shirt, as it shows a little skin but not too much. Leave turtlenecks at home!
As for colors, neutral tones like black, brown, white, or grey seem to work best. Blue’s also a nice color, but bear in mind that most license pictures use a blue background, so choose a hue that doesn’t blend in too much. Avoid flashy shirts with loud patterns.
2. Embrace minimalism when it comes to makeup.
A license picture isn’t the time to test out a new shade of lipstick or eye shadow. Stick with what you know works and stay away from colors that stand out too much. Skip darker or bright, glittery eye shadow shades and don’t overdo the lip gloss or lipstick. Go for a natural look instead.
3. Don’t get experimental with hairstyles.
Generally, leaving hair down or partly pulled up presents the best image. Don’t slick back your hair or go overboard on hair products to make it perfectly spiked. Bear in mind that wait time might be longer than expected. Your ’do might look perfectly coiffed when leaving the house, but may quickly wilt under the harsh lights at the DMV.
Spend a little extra time making your hair look presentable. Bring a mini brush with you for a quick fix up before the photo shoot. You may not care about that haphazard ponytail or cowlick at the time, but when that’s the image you’re showcasing for the rest of your life, believe me—you will.
4. Bring tissues for face blotting.
Even if it’s not a warm day outside, DMV offices can get pretty toasty, what with the large crowds of angry, frustrated people with raised body temperatures. Do a quick wipe down before standing in front of the camera. Unless you want the photo flash to accentuate your oily forehead, that is.
5. Choose jewelry wisely.
A nice pair of earrings or a necklace adds a touch of sparkle—just don’t pick overly bulky pieces that’ll take over the picture. Keep it simple and elegant.
6. Make posture and placement a top priority.
Obviously, make sure your face is facing the camera head on (the employee taking the picture will no doubt instruct the same), but try to angle your body away from the camera to create a flattering angle. Raise your chin upward slightly—not too much or your nostrils will become the stars of the shot—to make under-eye dark circles inconspicuous. Faces titled downward can create multiple chins, so remember that when you step in front of the lens.
Also, putting as much distance between you and the camera as is allowed prevents unfavorable close-up shots.
7. Say cheese!
Practice a natural smile in the mirror before taking the picture. Even a fake smile is better than a perpetual frown, constantly reminding you about that miserable day at the DMV. Smile for the picture, unless you live in Virginia, where they’ve outlawed smiling to eradicate fraud. Some DMVs, like the ones in Nevada, prefer a more stoic look because it makes facial recognition software programs more successful. But they do allow for small smiles, which are always better than a scowl.
It might seems silly to go through so much trouble for one picture, but think of all the people you’ll hand your license to on a daily basis. Do you really want such a cringe-worthy representation on display for the rest of your life? (Or until your license needs renewal and the DMV gods mercifully allow you to replace the old picture.) Life is short—far too short to waste it carrying around a shameful driver’s license photo. The effort’s small compared to the big boost of confidence you’ll feel when flashing a flattering license photo.