Your passport is a valid form of photo ID and your ticket to the wider world. Love to travel? So do we. Take note, however, that you're going to be looking at the same photograph for about 10 years. You want to take a picture you won't mind looking at over and over again. Below, we share our best picture-taking tips; be sure to check them out before you begin preparing for those international flights.

Be Natural

We know — all it takes is someone saying "just act natural" for things to go haywire with your facial expression. There's hope, however. Try closing your eyes for a couple of seconds before the photo shoot, and take a few deep breaths to relax your face and jaw muscles.

You may also feel more comfortable if you have a friend take your photo, as long as there's a white wall to use as a background. If you'd like a photo that meets all the federal passport requirements, be sure to hire a professional. However, make sure you're feeling relaxed and at ease when you arrive.

To avoid the dreaded sickly-pale look, be sure to try these makeup ideas for both men and women.

Smile — But Not Too Big

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The State Department's passport requirements require a "neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open." So, be natural and avoid showing your teeth. Think friendly and approachable. Whatever you do, refrain from sticking out your tongue or making what the State Department classifies as "unusual expressions."

Don't Say Cheese

The long "e" sound in cheese tends to widen our mouths unnaturally. For a more natural expression, try saying a word that ends with an "uh" sound, like cola or mocha. With these words, you'll also avoid the reflexive eye-rolling that usually accompanies the word "cheese."

Remember that it's the eyes, not the mouth, that is the most important element of any facial expression. A forced smile won't reach your eyes. However, a genuinely joyful attitude — like the one you have upon seeing a cherished friend or favorite pet — will always show in your gaze.

Angle the Camera Slightly Above You

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A passport photo needs to be taken with your shoulders facing the camera. You won't be able to use any of the more flattering side angles usually reserved for Instagram or social media accounts.

However, taking advantage of a small trick can make a world of difference in how you look in your passport photo. Instead of looking down, look up at the camera. This makes it easier to keep your eyes open and gives your face a more proportionate look. Looking down, on the other hand, risks the chance of losing your chin's definition, leading to an overall unflattering look.

Consider Your Jewelry

State Department regulations allow you to wear jewelry (including piercings), as long as they don't cover your face. That said, simplicity lends an understated elegance to any passport image. If you have a necklace that you wear daily, keep it on. You may want to think twice, however, before wearing your favorite over-sized party earrings. You may find yourself dreading the experience of looking at your passport photo in a few months.

Note that glasses are not allowed in passport photos, even if you wear them every day. This applies to sunglasses, as well.

Wear Solid-Colored Clothing

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Prints and patterns can distract from your face, in addition to being subject to fleeting style trends. So, if possible, wear a solid top in a color you like. Avoid wearing white, however. With the required white background, you may unintentionally end up looking like a disembodied character in a low-budget horror movie.

That said, you'll want to be mindful of your neckline, as well. A wide enough neckline, for example, can get lost in the photo altogether. A collar or other type of higher neckline is usually the best choice for keeping the focus on your face.

Finally, be sure to keep the other clothing restrictions in mind:

  • No uniform or clothing that looks like a uniform
  • No headphones or earphones
  • No hats or head coverings, except for religious/medical reasons and accompanied by a signed statement

Wear Your Hair Normally

There's a reason many of us dislike our middle school yearbook photos. From "big hair" mishaps to dye experiments gone wrong (along with the unavoidable awkwardness of the pre-teen years), there's plenty to make us cringe. So, for passport photos, stick with what works for you, and you'll be less likely to experience regret down the road.

If you have long hair and are used to styling it with your favorite hot iron, do so. Avoid trying a new hairstyle prior to the photo shoot, however, unless you really feel comfortable with the look. Regardless of the hairstyle, you'll need to make sure that your face isn't obscured in any way.

Follow the Guidelines

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There's nothing worse than taking a photo that doesn't meet all the requirements or having your passport application held up because you had to resubmit a new photo —the number one cause of application delays. To avoid any inconveniences, make sure you meet all the requirements the first time around:

  • High resolution color photograph
  • Photo taken in the last six months
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • Two by two inches in size
  • No selfie submissions
  • Full face in view
  • Plain white or off-white background
  • No shadows

Remember that your face needs to be centered in the photo. Generally, you should be at least four feet away from the camera to meet the dimension requirements.

Also, be aware that you must avoid using filters or altering your image digitally. The State Department will also not accept blurry or pixelated photos or photos with holes, creases, and smudges.