How to Make Your Driver’s License Photo Actually Look Good
By: Molly Shea
When Christina Mendez pulls out her driver’s license, she cringes. While her professional image — and social-media profile — is polished and glamorous, her license photo looks young and washed-out.
“I am totally embarrassed to share my ID because ‘glam’ Christina is so much better than ‘basic’ Christina,” says the 31-year-old plus-size model. The bare-faced picture was snapped nearly 10 years ago, and Mendez says she’s regretted it ever since.
When she takes her new picture, she’ll get professional hair and makeup help — $50 and $75, respectively, through the service-booking app Glamsquad. “[The] next picture will have big hair, contour, lashes, a smoky eye and my best smize,” she says, referencing Tyra Banks’ go-to “smile with your eyes” gaze.
Even the DMV isn’t immune to the narcissism of our age.
Thanks to a rise in selfies, contoured makeup and phone cases with built-in flattering flash settings, New Yorkers are hyper-aware of how we look in photos — and determined to extend that image control to license pictures.
On a recent episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Khloé Kardashian heads to her local DMV to snap her license picture — with a makeup artist, hairstylist and a gigantic professional light manned by the show’s lighting director in tow. And in December, Chrissy Teigen Snapchatted her DMV trip, for which she brought along her hairstylist Justine Marjan to adjust her bangs before her photo.
Khloe Kardashian brought a beauty and lighting team with her to the DMV.E! Online
But it’s not just celebrities who need their license photos to align with their brand. Glamsquad director of artistry Kelli Bartlett says customers are increasingly requesting appointments to prep for important photos. “We’re finding that women want to hone their image,” she says — herself included. When she last hit the DMV, she got a blowout and full face of makeup.
“Everyone’s a little vain today,” says makeup artist Chris Lanston, who works with both celebrities and nonfamous clients through the booking app Romio. “I think in general, everyone’s starting to take more of an interest in how they look. In a way, it makes you feel more confident, if you go out and you know your license picture looks really good.”
The 42-year-old Hell’s Kitchen resident went to his most recent DMV appointment with a coating of primer, foundation and concealer, and took three tries before he got a photo he liked. “I had to coach [the employee] on how to take a picture,” he says. “I think Helen Keller could’ve done a better job.”
Mendez wants her next license photo to be better than her current one (above).Annie Wermiel
According to an NYC DMV representative, reshot requests aren’t prohibited, but employees have the right to refuse a retake if there’s a line.
“I tell them, ‘This is not a photo shoot!’” says another DMV employee based in Yonkers. “I don’t let them do more than five.”
The lighting equipment Kardashian used isn’t allowed, as photos need to conform to a certain standard, but the Yonkers employee says she’s had customers ask for mirrors, touch up their lipstick and even dash off to the bathoom midshoot. If they take too much time, she says, she’ll issue them a new ticket number.
And, according to the DMV rep, if a customer realizes they hate a picture once the license arrives, he or she will have to pay the $17.50 fee for a replacement license.
Lanston was able to nail his pic by adjusting the degree at which he tilted his head, and touching up his makeup based on the harsh fluorescent lights. “I noticed in the second picture that I was darker under the eyes, so I used a little concealer to make my eyes pop,” he says.
Even after indulging in glam touches, Lilly Ghalichi Mir still wasn’t happy with her picture.
Former “Shahs of Sunset” star Lilly Ghalichi Mir — who also has her own line of false eyelashes — got her makeup done, plus a voluminous blowout, ahead of her most recent license renewal.
Still, she wasn’t happy with the results.
“I took all this time to get my hair done, and they cropped the photo so close! And it’s so unfair, because my husband’s photo is so zoomed out,” she says.
Even worse, when she posted a picture of the license to her Instagram account to vent about the crop job, her 2.8 million followers revolted.
“I got a lot of criticism,” she says. “They’ll say things like … ‘You’re so self-absorbed,’ but that’s not the case. Why not have your best glam photo possible on your ID?”
It’s even easier, she says, to get a good passport picture.
Sarah Meister was so satisfied with her passport picture she uses it as a professional headshot.Courtesy of Sarah Meister
“I won’t name names, but I personally know celebrities that have Facetuned their passport photos,” says Ghalichi, who explains that friends will smooth out a nose or highlight cheekbones on the editing app before printing the picture and sending it in to be processed. (According to US Department of State, “digital alterations” of passport photos are prohibited with the exception of removing red eye.)
When it came time for Sarah Meister to shoot her new passport picture, she booked hair and makeup and had a professional take it at a camera store, rather than at the local Duane Reade. The 30-year-old Manhasset, LI, resident ended up loving the photo so much that she now uses it as her professional headshot.
“It’s the most beautiful passport photo,” says Meister, who had her makeup done to look like “Natalie Portman in the Dior ads … circa 2014 to 2016” for both her license and passport pictures.
“I got chided big time by my girlfriends at the office,” she says. “But now they’re all considering the same thing.”
Put your best face forward
“At the DMV, the odds are stacked against you [when it comes to photos],” says Glamsquad director of artistry Kelli Bartlett. “The lighting is not ideal, the backdrop is not ideal for [everyone’s] coloring, and you don’t have a real photographer. So you want to control the controllables.” The golden rule? Keep it simple. “This is an opportunity to look like the best version of yourself,” she says. Here are Glamsquad’s tips for a picture that pops.
1) Pick makeup that can hold up against a harsh flash but still looks natural. She suggests pairing a mattifying primer (try Laura Geller Spackle Under Makeup Primer, $32 at Ulta.com) with a full-coverage foundation like Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation ($46 at Sephora.com). Skip the false lashes if you don’t usually wear them in favor of individual accent lashes, which subtly define eyes.
2) Avoid using products with SPF, which can leave a white cast when a camera flashes
3) Skip the sparkle. Highlighter can help define cheekbones in the hard lighting, but should be kept to a minimum. “If you do too much,” says Bartlett, “it looks a little sweaty.” Eyes look best with “something light on the lid,” she says, adding definition without looking garish.
4) Blot away oil. “Right before you take your photo, you just want to do a quick check and make sure you’re not too shiny,” says Bartlett, who recommends bringing a mirror. In a pinch, “take the back of your palm and press it up against any hot spots,” to absorb oil without removing makeup.
5) Wear your hair down, says Glamsquad creative director Giovanni Vaccaro. Dramatic styles can distract in such a small image. Focus instead on smoothing your part. “Sometimes when women blow dry their hair, you see a lot of flyaways,” he says, which can make an otherwise crisp picture look messy. His advice? Pat a tiny amount of lightweight oil (he likes Ouai Rose Hair & Body Oil, $32 at Sephora.com) and brush hair down.