ISO/IEC 19794-5

Photograph for ID and travel documents (passport, ID card)
The photographs for ID and travel documents, showing the portrait of the holder have a long history of use. Nowadays the digital images are replacing the traditional photos on photographic paper in all kind of applications: from human examination to the automatic face recognition.

The Part 5 of the ISO/IEC 19794-5 standard, which is mentioned in the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) recommendations about the travel document, defined the standard formats for digital images of faces in order to guarantee  the correct execution of operations of:

  • human examination of facial images with sufficient resolution to allow a human examiner to ascertain small features such as moles and scars that might be used to verify identity
  • human verification of identity by comparison of persons against facial images
  • computer automated face identification (one-to-many searching)
  • computer automated face verification (one-to-one matching)

To enable many applications on variety of devices, including devices that have the limited resources required for data storage, and to improve face recognition accuracy, this International Standard specifies not only a data format, but also:

  • scene constraints (pose, expression etc)
  • photographic properties (lighting, positioning, camera focus etc)
  • digital image attributes (image resolution, image size etc)

ICAO completed the ISO standard publishing in Document 9303, part 1, volume 1, examples of acceptable or not acceptable photographs for travel document based on this standard. Those recommendations are used in several countries also for the issuance of driver licenses or residence permits.

General information
Disclaimer: The present description is a simplified version of the standard and the recommendations and has not the pretension to be exhaustive. The photographs showed below have been published by ICAO.

The photographs for travel documents usually needs to be recent - not older than 6 months - if submitted as a print, it should be on high quality paper with high resolution.

Specifications summary

Position of the subject and background
The subject shall not be to close nor to far from the camera: the distance between the eyes need to be a little bit less than 1/4 of the width of the image. The face has to be centered both vertically and horizontally. The background has to be uniform.

Too close
Too far away
Non uniform background
Face not centered


The applicant shall be shown facing square to the camera, not loking over one shoulder (portrait style). The head should be upright so thaht an imaginary horizotal line drawn between the centres of the eyes is parallel to the top edge of the picture.

Portrait style
Eyes tilted


Quality of the photograph
The portrait shall be in sharp focus from nose to ears, of high quality with no creases or ink marks. If in color, it should show skin tones naturally.

Ink marked/creased
Washed out color
Pixeled (low quality)


Colours and lighting
The portrait shall be colour neutral showin the applicant with eyes open and clearly visible. Exposure calibration with white balance with a gray 18% sample si recommended.  Dynamic range of 128 levels in the face area is recommended. The ISO standard donesn't allow digital alteration of the image to correct the dynamic range or the colours.

Unnatural skin tones
Satured colours
Too dark
Too light


Hair style and expression
No hair shall obscure big areas of the face or the eyes. The applicant shall be looking at the camera with a neutral expression and the month closed. A smile with closed mouth is permitted.

Occluded eye
Eyes closed
Looking away
Mouth open


Lighting of the applicant and background
The lighting shall be uniform with no shadows and no reflections on the face, no red eyes and the background shall not present any remarkable shadow.

Reflexion on the face
Red eyes
Shadow in the background
Shadow on the face


Eye glasses
The portrait shall show the eyes with no light reflection off the glasses and no tinted lenses. If possible, avoid heavy frames. The frames shall not cover any part of the eyes.

Dark tinted glasses
Flash reflection on lenses
Heavy frames
Eyes partially occluded


Head coverings
Head coverings shall not be accepted except in circumstances which the comptetent State authority specifically approves. Sich circumstances may be religious, medical or cultural.

Not permitted
Not permitted
Face covered
Shadows across face

States may issue special recommendations for children. In some cases a non neutral expression and closed eyes may be acceptable. In any case the child shall be alone with no other people, chair backs or toys visible.

Shows another person
Toy too closed to the face