Why is it that most people don't like their driver's license photo? It is simply because the camera and flash are not set up to take flattering images. Also, that sweet state clerk behind the counter taking your picture really doesn't give a rat's backside whether you look good in your photo or not. Besides, even if the clerk did, the DMV will limit you to no more than two takes. With that being said, we know the likelihood of you getting a picture nice enough that you would wish you could enlarge and hang it over your fireplace is fairly slim.  However, if you want to increase your chances of getting a nice driver's license renewal photo, there are few things you need to know before going into the DMV.

First and obviously, you will want your hair to look nice. Don't consider a hat or even to put sunglasses on top of your head; the DMV does not allow it. Wear your hair the way you would if you were going for a night out on the town.  One thing you do need to concern yourself with, is to make sure you do not style your hair too high.  Most of the cameras used at the DMV will automatically crop the image. By default, the camera will crop the image from top of hair down.  When the hair is too tall the bottom of the crop can end up in the middle of the chin.  Sometimes the clerk can fix this, but DMV offices are busy places and the clerks want to get everyone out as fast as they can.

The camera's flash is harsh, and If you have any shine to your skin or in your makeup. it is going to make you look stark.  Ladies need to make smart makeup choices and should use lots of powder to avoid the shine, and if you are a gentleman and don't feel comfortable putting on powder, than at least dab your face with a paper towel or hand kerchief to get rid of the oil and sweat.
Although the image is only from head to shoulders, you do need to think about how your clothes will impact the photo.  The background at a DMV is usually white or light blue, so if you are light-skinned and don't want to look completely washed out, wear a darker top.  The image will be of your head and shoulders, so do not wear something that is strap-less unless you want to look naked in the picture. Consider a top with an interesting collar instead. If you like your eye color and wish to emphasize your eyes, wear a color that matches them.


If you have a distinguished profile like Alfred Hitchcock and wish that for your driver's license photo, you are out of luck.  The DMV will take your photo from straight on only.  However, you do have options for positioning your chin.  Please, if you have two of them, don't try to get rid of one by lifting your head. There is a better way that looks natural and doesn't unnecessarily expose us to your nasal passages. Instead of lifting your head, push your chin forward slightly.  It will diminish or altogether remove that extra chin and since the photo is taken from straight-on, no one will know you have your head pushed out like a turtle.

If you are uncomfortable with how long your nose is, then that is when you lift your chin. By doing so, you will diminish the appearance in length of your nose.  Do not go too high though; remember, we really don't want to see up your nose. bad drivers license photoCredit: Bart Everson

If you would like to make your eyes appear larger, then that is when you lower your chin.  Lowering your chin while still looking at the camera causes your eyes to open up some. Don't try to force your eyes open too much to either make them look larger or to avoid a blink.  I have a problem with this when having pictures taken of me.  In some photos of myself you can see the whites above and below my pupils and it looks as if I have the crazy in me.  Unless you want to look like Charles Manson, relax your eyes.

To smile or not to smile?  Unless you live in Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada, or Virginia where tyrants have forbade it from driver's license photos, I say smile. The people checking your license are often looking to give you a hard time.  Show them your happy face and you might soften them up a little. I have worked as a portrait photographer for 17 years and I know that someone looks their best when they are feeling their best.  So if it is in you, let it shine.  If you are not feeling it though (Afterall, you have waited in line for 2 hours with a bunch unsupervised brats running around ), but still hope to look somewhat happy and without a fake smile, then just try an easy closed mouth smirk.  As the clerk is taking your photo, think of the person you love the most and feel it in the corner's of your lips and in your eyes. This will help you be in the right mood for that brief crucial second. You may want to practice this in the mirror.

nice drivers license photoCredit: Jack Estephan

One last thing and it relates to the previous paragraph, be prepared to avoid an unpleasant visit to the DMV.  Take something for the wait.  A book, your smart phone, or whatever else that can occupy your time.  Make sure you call the DMV beforehand or go to its website and check what required paperwork you need to bring with you so that you are  not turned away.  Make sure you have your checkbook to cover any fees you expect and the ones you may not. Be nice to the clerks;  They have a very difficult job and have to deal with difficult customers all day long. Instead of being grumpy they will reflect your kindness back to you.   Follow these tips and you will be in the right mood to take a nice driver's license photo.