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December 02 2016
Why the Photo Tool on the US Department of State website is not fit to validate your US passport or visa photo
Important note: the Photo Tool is not related at all to the internal software that is used by US Department of State to validate US passport and visa photos.
That is, it does not share code with that internal software. And thus 'failing' in the Photo Tool
does not mean your photo is incorrect and will be rejected.
Why the Photo Tool fails
Fact: the Photo Tool doesn't validate lots of correct photos that fully meet the requirements.
We noticed this from complaints of our users, and over time we have accumulated many photos that passed
the US visa and passport application, yet they looked incorrect in the Photo Tool.
Moreover, if we use the best photo settings with the head size just below the allowed maximum,
then it is pretty likely to 'fail' validation in the Photo Tool.
The Photo Tool uses an oversimplified approach with 2 green ovals.
However it misses a big thing: the vertical offset and shift along the vertical axis of the photo image
in the official requirements is determined only by the possible distance range between the eye line
and the bottom of photo. But the Photo Tool doesn't have a notion of eyes at all.
And thus it lacks a vital part of validation.
In fact, if you look at the photo specification here:
you notice that it defines just two parameters for the head layout inside the photo: head size (defined as 1 - 1 3/8 in),
and eyes to bottom (defined as 1 1/8 - 1 3/8 in).
Since the Photo Tool misses the eyes altogether, it may only make a guess where the head should be located on the photo layout.
On a side note: the Photo Tool is designed in Flash, and thus does not work in webbrowsers that do not support Flash.
Example of Incorrect Work of Photo Tool
In this example the image has head size of 1.29" (allowed 1-1.375") and eyes to bottom of 1.31" (allowed 1.125-1.375").
Yet it doesn't fit the biggest of the green ovals.
Why visafoto.com photos are correct
This is because we follow the guidelines in full. First, we measure the head and scale the photo to make the head just below the allowed maximum (i.e. just below 1 3/8 in).
Then we shift the photo to make sure the eyes are just above the allowed 1 1/8 in from bottom.
This is why we always pass at US Department of State website.