How to: Take a better driver’s license photo

Not many photographs (aside from a police mugshot) are approached with more trepidation than the dreaded drivers license photo. It seems to have a way to bring out the ugly in even the most attractive of individuals. I spent an entire year apologizing for a horrible picture and feeling ashamed every time I got carded. Why didn’t I just get the picture retaken? I really hate going to the DMV, and had a hard time justifying spending an afternoon in line for the sake of vanity. Eventually I lost that card- perhaps it was subliminally intentional, but I happily had the picture redone and got a new photo taken that I have yet to feel ashamed about.

So how can you help beat that tiny digital camera of doom? Well, if you lived in New York City it would be much easier, as the makeup artists at Physician’s Formula Cosmetics once camped out at the entrance of the 34th street DMV and did Drivers License makeovers as a marketing campaign. Unfortunately, we aren’t so lucky so I’ll give you some pointers on taking a good ID photo.

Start with a clean canvas–  Conceal blemishes and under eye circles with a creamy concealer. If you have problems with uneven skin tone or broken capillaries, consider using a liquid foundation to even you out (even if you don’t normally day to day). A dusting of translucent powder will give you staying power and cut down shine. I’m currently in love with Make Up Forever’s High Definition loose powder ($30 at

Curl your lashes– Upswept lashes give a more wide-eyed, rested appearance. Make sure to curl before using mascara, or you’ll risk pulling them out as they’ll stick to the lash curler!

Add some color– Blush or bronzer (or a little of both!) will add color where the foundation took it away. No face is completely monochromatic, so one with foundation and nothing else looks washed out and unnatural. Dust bronzer on the top of your cheekbones, forehead, nose and chin- all the areas the sun would naturally hit your face- try Nars bronzer in Laguna. Blend your favorite blush onto the apples of your cheeks for a healthy glow.

Color your lips– Dry lips tend to look chalky, and a touch of lipstick or gloss can help them stay visible in a photo. Avoid colors that are lighter than your natural lip color. A DMV photo isn’t the time for a mod style nude! Clinique’s Glosswear for Lips in Guava gives a nice punch of color while still look natural. Bonus- it’s super hydrating, too!

Frame your eyes– Eyebrows can easily disappear in a photo without added definition. Consider using a pencil or powder to fill them in, or if you’re blessed with fuller brows use a clear mascara to groom them and keep them in place. Smashbox Brow Tech practically has a cult following, and for good reason- the small compact has both a brow powder and a wax to set them in place. Also, use black mascara on your lashes. Brown or other colors tend to get lost in photos.

Look lean- Give yourself a more trim appearance by angling your shoulders away from the camera very slightly. Also, bringing your chin up and craning your neck out a tiny bit will prevent the dreaded double chin. It may feel odd, but will look fantastic in the picture.

Don’t distract- Give some forethought to your outfit. Avoid busy patterns and bulky accessories. Solid colors work best, but avoid white as it tends to not photograph well. Button front shirts look nice, as do v-necks and plan tees.

I’d love to hear any other tried and true tips in the comments!

  • Annette Mullen

    Make sure you do a quick check of your hair… A quick brush through or tease in the flat spot. Nothing worse than a huge cow-lickesque bush of hair when your face looks perfect and your smile is top notch, without a hint of a double chin. Bring a pocketbook mirror so you can check right before the flash if they dont have a mirror close by….