5 Steps to Getting a Driver’s License Photo You Love

November 2, 2012

One night, as I was sitting in a hotel room in New York City I suddenly had a startling thought, “I think I forgot to renew my driver’s license!” I jumped off the bed and ran to my wallet and sure enough, it had expired 3 weeks earlier. It had totally slipped my mind! Of course, there wasn’t anything I could do at the time. It would have to wait until Monday, but being a law-abiding citizen and someone who prides herself on remembering details and dates, I was very upset and disconcerted. Now I had to go through an entire weekend with an expired license.

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At first my mind went to the inconvenience and seemingly certain unpleasantness of it all. We all have stories to tell of long, endless lines at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and rude staff. Although I chose to think positively about it and was picturing a smooth resolution to this, you can imagine how I felt when I arrived at the registry 10 minutes before they opened only to find 100 (yes, 100!) people in line ahead of me. I had momentary visions of being there all day.

That was not to be the case. Dare I say it? The registry in Revere, Massachusetts is amazing. They are organized, efficient, and (yup!) friendly. They moved everyone along easily, didn’t yell at or penalize me for being late, and I was out of there in less than 40 minutes!

All of that aside, often one of the things we dread the most about renewing our license is having our picture taken. It’s not like you will have another opportunity in a few months to redo it if you don’t like it. You’re stuck with it for 5 years! So, five years ago and again last month I practiced my system for taking a pretty good picture for my license (for example, here’s my old picture).

Let me share a few tips for getting a license picture you like:

1. Prepare. Sure, you’re only going to the RMV to wait in line but you’ll be staring at the results of that experience for the next 5 years.

  • Wear your best color and a flattering neckline (sometimes this will show and sometimes it won’t – as you can see from my two pictures)
  • Wear great jewelry, especially earrings (a necklace will not always show in the picture but earrings will)
  • If you wear makeup add a touch more since the flash will wash you out a bit.
  • Make sure you spend a few extra minutes styling your hair. Sure, this might not be the photo you’ll put on your mantel or your website but it’s still a photo shoot of sorts.

2. Keep a positive attitude. Okay, so this seems a tad new agey for the simple task of taking a license picture but I’m a big believer that your final experience will take its cue from the energy of your expectations (I help women with this all the time when we go shopping!). Allow for the possibility that your new picture will be fabulous and you’ll have fun doing it (normally I wouldn’t say that about the RMV but my experience was good and you can have that, too!). If you’re feeling stressed it will show in your picture so enjoy it as much as you can.

3. Start smiling before you get in front of the camera. This is the most important one of all! They snap it pretty quickly so the minute they say – go stand over there, start smiling – with your eyes and your mouth.

4. Keep your neck elongated. I would recommend practicing this one in private first so it doesn’t seem so weird when you get there. This one might seem funny but if you tuck your chin back, it will give you double chins that will be noticeable in the picture. Instead (and this is good information for picture taking in general), if you bring your shoulders down and back and feel like your neck is nice and long (but don’t lift your chin unnaturally) you’ll see the difference. Another way of putting it is to feel like you are leaning in towards the camera. Okay, if this all feels too weird and contrived, skip it!

5. Wash, rinse and repeat. Ask to see the photo and if you don’t like it ask the attendant if s/he can take another one (they will). Sometimes just the thought that you can do it again helps you relax so the first picture comes out better. Or, it at least lets you get the bugs out for the second take.

Tada! My newest picture is the bottom picture at the right (trust me, if I went without following any of the tips above, this picture would look completely different):

As one client said, “The tips you gave me for having my driver’s license picture taken helped tremendously: start smiling as soon as you sit down (you’re right, they take that photo with very little notice), keep your neck elongated, and wear a great color. I’m going to print these out and save them for five years from now when I have to do it again!

Of all the suggestions above, the most important is to smile! How many times have you seen someone’s driver’s license and they are grimacing or look super stressed out. An authentic smile goes a long way to softening everything and will help you smile the next time you pull out your license.

If all else fails you can ask them to keep your previous picture (if you like it) but you can only do this once every 9 years. I asked the woman if we could take the picture and if I didn’t like it could we keep the old one? She said, “Yes, but if you keep the old one you won’t be able to renew your license online in 5 years so I recommend taking a new one now.” Good advice! (If I had realized I could renew online I probably wouldn’t have forgotten in the first place!)

So, does this all seem over-the-top? Maybe. But what I like is that with a few minutes preparation I can have a picture I pretty much like for the next few years. If this seems silly, simply ignore it. I just like to share what I learn and hope it’s helpful to you, too!

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