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Unflattering ID Photo

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"To enter Europe, you must have a valid passport with a photograph of yourself in which you look like you are being booked on charges of soliciting sheep."
Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need

A character's identity card has an ugly, badly shot, misframed, mistimed, or otherwise unflattering picture of them. This is a popular sight gag, most commonly associated with passports, school IDs, or driver's licenses — although even a library card can count, as long as there's a photo on it. If they've had the card long enough, it tends to become an Embarrassing Old Photo; an occasional twist on the joke is to have the photo seeming to show somebody completely different, implying that either the character's appearance has changed a lot or the picture is just that bad.

In some cases, the actual taking of the bad photo is part of the story. Perhaps the new photographer was still learning to use the equipment. Perhaps the person was hungover and looked terrible. This can extend to school picture days as well, if the day in question is actually shown. The photo may be messed up as the result of a Last-Second Photo Failure that happened to be the person's only shot at the picture.

Truth in Television to some extent, people may radically change their hairstyle, shave off their beard, or have funky glasses that they once thought looked cool, but upon reflection was a bad style choice. This trope is actually enforced to some extent as most ID offices (like a passport office) have rules for getting your picture taken, meaning you're not allowed to smile, the person taking the photo is an office worker, not a professional photographer, and the lighting is just fluorescent overhead lights, which can lead to eerie, untrustworthy-looking mugshots of someone.

Compare File Photo Gag.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Aggretsuko: because she's still smarting over a recent breakup, when Retsuko gets her driver's license photo taken she ends up with a grimacing, sunken-eyed look. She immediately switches to Rage Mode upon seeing this.
  • In the AKIRA film adaptation, a military police officer looks at Kaneda's ID photo, in which he has an aggressive, defiant sneer. He then looks up and sees Kaneda himself, who combed his hair and has the dopiest smile on his face to try and look innocent. It doesn't work.
  • In Dragon Goes House-Hunting, Letty's status screen photo shows him with one eye closed and one eye half-open. This, coupled with his pathetic stats, makes him worried about his prospects of survival after being kicked out of his nest.
  • Food Wars!: Soma's photo on his school records has him with a drunk-ish expression.
  • My Hero Academia: Izuku Midoriya's growing confidence in his abilities doesn't apply to photos. The picture of him on his Provisional Hero License looks bug-eyed and extremely nervous.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Misato Katsuragi's NERV ID has a picture of her looking either grumpy or dazed.
  • Kei flashes her card in an episode of Dirty Pair; the photo shows her glowering angrily at the camera.
  • Discussed in Sakamoto Days: After a JAA guard pulls a gun on Slur and Gaku for not showing their identification, Slur explains had a license but he threw it away because he didn't like the photo. Gaku agrees they never give you enough warning to get a photo as he violently murders the guard.
  • During the beginning of the Sonic X episode "Depths of Danger" Sonic and the gang are given passports, and Amy is angry that they used a picture of her angrily using her hammer.
    Amy: I look terrible! Why did they have to use this picture? I look like a lunatic!
    Mr. Tanaka: Now now, Ms. Amy, I wouldn't say it makes you look like a lunatic... exactly.
    Amy: It makes me look like an insane, off-the-wall out-of-control maniac! I HATE IT!!!
  • One chapter of 'Tis Time for "Torture," Princess starts with Tortura getting her driver's license renewed. Her license photo embarrasses her to the point she hits the building's cafeteria for some comfort food.

    Comic Books 
  • In one issue of MAD, The Burger King (who we remind you, is a creepy mascot whose face never moves) gets his driver's license with a photo of him that makes him look twice as bad.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin's dad sneezes while posing for his driver's license photo, and the photographer manages to capture him mid-sneeze. Calvin thinks it's the greatest picture ever, while Dad announces that he'll be driving exactly the speed limit until he can get a replacement license.
  • Cathy spends all morning fixing her face in preparation for her driver's license photo. Once Cathy faces the camera, however, she starts a cycle of doubts and worries that sabotage her appearance. When she gets her new license, Cathy lets out a triple-A "Aaack!" at her mid-meltdown mug.
  • One cartoon of The Far Side features a photographer at the Department of Motor Vehicles telling a customer to "Look like a jerk!"
  • Implied in a 2010s Garfield comic. Garfield and Odie snicker at something in Jon's wallet, which he angrily snatches away. Still laughing, Garfield calls out, "Best drivers' license photo yet!"

    Film — Animated 
  • Lalaloopsy Girls Welcome To LALA Prep School: In the montage of the girls getting their pictures taken for their student IDs, Jewel Sparkles ends up having a bad photo taken of her while in the middle of trying to straighten her tiara. She asks to have a second photo snapped, only for her cat to jump up in the middle of the shot just before it's taken. Jewel's third and final attempt has her declaring that she's finally ready to have her picture taken, only for the photographer to end up catching her with her eyes awkwardly squinted.
  • Monsters University: Continuing a Running Gag from Monsters, Inc., Mike's college ID photo is cropped off at the bottom, barely showing his face, with Mike being too excited about being in MU to care.
  • Rugrats in Paris: Before getting on the flight to Paris, all of the babies get passport photos taken, but none of them know how to pose for the photo. Phil and Lil pull a Bunny Ears Picture Prank, Tommy shuts his eyes, Chuckie looks terrified, Dil is picking his nose, and Dil photobombs Angelica's photo.
  • Zootopia: During the "They're all sloths?" montage at the DMV, a pig is shown waiting to get her picture taken. She starts out with a nice smile, but as time passes, her eyes keep glancing toward the sloth in growing confusion until she finally turns her head to see what's happening just as the camera clicks. Downplayed in that the unflattering photo is implied but not shown.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Amélie: Nino collects ugly passport photos that people have torn up and discarded, and puts them in an album.
  • Invoked in Escape to Victory: The prisoners' Master Forger tells Hatch as he is taking the picture for his fake I.D. to look dreary and uncomfortable so the picture will look realistic — most people's ID photos look similar nowadays.
  • Rags: On his first day as a janitor for Majesty Records, Charlie is caught messing around in Kadee's office by Kadee and her friends. To convince them he's not just some stalker, he shows them his ID tag with his awkward picture, pointing out that he wouldn't use said picture if he were faking it.
  • In National Lampoon's European Vacation, when the Griswolds are checking into a hotel, we see their unfortunate passport photos (Clark looks manic, Ellen is rolling her eyes, and both Audrey and Rusty look unimpressed).
  • We're the Millers: The TSA doesn't find anything suspicious about David's driver's license photo that shows him with a beard and different haircut, or Casey's photo where she has a dozen piercings, but Kenny looking exactly like his photo gets him strip-searched.

  • An old joke states that "If you look anything like your passport picture, you probably need the vacation."

  • Adrian Mole: In True Confessions, Adrian is not pleased with his passport photographs. Everyone but him has a good laugh when they see them.
  • The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: In the fourth book, Adrian, Anne, Gerald and Leonard all get passport pictures taken in what Adrian describes as one of those little booths that blind you four times before you can comb your hair or get the stool to the right height, then after about a week delivers a strip of pictures showing an alien life-form dressed in your clothes. They're all horrified by the results. According to Adrian, his photos resemble Alfred E. Neuman (Leonard thinks they look more like touched-up pictures of corpses retrieved from the bottom of a lake), Anne's look like a Cabbage Patch Kid, Gerald's look like James Dean trying to show emotion whilst under heavy sedation and Leonard's look like a homicidal maniac from a cop thriller. Gerald describes them as "Mr. and Mrs. Psychopath and their son Gerald Psychopath, accompanied by the Creature from the Black Lagoon", and quips that if they arrive at their destination during the day, the immigration official will probably be surprised they're not traveling by coffin.
  • Newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck published a book of travel essays called When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time To Go Home.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: In 2021's "Remotely Educational" special, Dulcé Sloan presents a segment on government agencies, and ends it by getting a photo taken for her license. Even though she's beautifully smiling when the camera goes off, she somehow looks half asleep in her license photo.
  • The "changed a lot" version shows up in the Doctor Who episode "The Vampires of Venice", where the (Eleventh) Doctor shows an old library card bearing a picture of the First Doctor incarnation.
  • Invoked in Freaks and Geeks when Daniel Desario gets his picture taken for a fake ID; the guy making it tells him to mess up his hair and look irritated, like he'd been waiting in line for hours, explaining that it renders the photo more realistic.
  • One episode of Home Improvement has Tim use his wife's driver's license picture to make a large portrait of her, to her chagrin. When she complains, he points out that her passport photo looked worse.
  • How I Met Your Mother: In "False Positive," Robin is excited to work at World Wide News, and promises that she'll wear a WWN ID badge around her neck by the end of the year. By the end of the episode, she takes a job at WWN and poses neatly for her picture, but her ID photo somehow ends up looking ugly and unfocused. She's still happy regardless.
  • Murr in Impractical Jokers gets this twice as punishments. The first is when they shave him bald (including the eyebrows, but not including a ring around his natural bald spot), then have him renew his driver's license. For the second, they shaved a full head of hair off Q, then made it into a wig for Murr to wear for an entire season. Oh, and he had to get a new passport on top of that.
  • Maya in Just Shoot Me! tries to avoid having her ID photo as she's never taken a good ID picture, or any other picture. Elliot assures her that he can take a good picture and takes one so good she becomes attracted to him. Unfortunately it's so attractive even her own father doesn't recognize her in it.
  • Abby Scuito on NCIS has a work ID photo that looks nothing like her usual Perky Goth look, instead it's of her dressed in a very professional outfit with normal hair and glasses. She tries to explain it by saying it was taken on a day where she had to testify in court.
  • A Picture Day example in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, has Moze is refusing to get her picture taken because she has trouble smiling naturally in front of the camera. Another example is all of Cookie's previous photos have him either sneezing or yawning. The one time he smiled perfectly, he happened to be wearing a shirt that was the same color as the backdrop, making him look like a floating head.
  • Odd Squad: In "Picture Day", Otto is keen to get a new ID photo as his old one shows him with his mouth open and his eyes closed. The end of the episode shows that his new photo is almost identical, except this time his eyes are open.
  • Red Dwarf Season 7 references this trope when Lister has contracted a virus and falls extremely ill:
    Lister: Look at me! I look like the grim reaper's passport photo!
  • In Sabrina the Teenage Witch, it's apparently the custom to take the photo for a witch's license at an unexpected moment.
  • Inverted in The X-Files; Mulder and Scully have ID photos (shown in the opening credits of every episode) that look like professional studio portraits.

    Video Games 
  • Among Us: The "Scan Badge" task sometimes shows a picture of the crew member having fallen over.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga features various locations in the Beanbean Kingdom where the Mario Bros. can get their photos taken, which get reused for their passports. The photographer tells you to avoid pressing the D-Pad directions to make silly poses, but won't bother retaking it if he snaps a passport ID photo of Luigi looking like he's wincing in pain.
  • Parappa The Rapper: Beating Instructor Mooselini's stage normally has a piece of confetti make Parappa sneeze when he's getting his driver's license picture taken.

  • Cirque Royale: Will's photo on his new ID has him caught mid-squint, with one eye shut and a half grimace.
  • Exterminatus Now: While Eastwood is in a fugue from hearing Morth's name, Lothar swipes his wallet and the team have a laugh at the contents, including a driver's license with a photo of him with a mullet.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: It's a small Running Gag that Gumball can't take a good yearbook photo. In "The Photo", after trying and failing repeatedly to get a photo where his face doesn't look like a mess, he has Darwin reconstruct his face into something that looks good. He ends up sneezing mid-photo.
  • Arthur has another school Picture Day example in the early episode "Francine's Bad Hair Day", as the kids shown getting their photo taken end up making not very good photos...
    • In The Teaser, Buster's photo is of him burping (he drank six cans of soda before his picture was taken), Prunella's hair is standing up from a static electric shock (she rubbed her feet on the carpet before sitting on the metal stool), and Binky is sneezing and knocking down the backdrop (he was allergic to his boutonniere flower). Francine's school picture from that time shows her being very messy and giving a somewhat goofy look.
    • Later during the actual school pictures after the kickball game, Buster declares to the photographer he was the one who burped, and ends up having his picture taken with his eyes closed. When it's Arthur's turn, the flash bounces off his glasses making a bizarre lighting effect that temporarily blinds him. Francine is still dirty, but has a more pleasant smile this time, while Muffy's photo shows her giving an annoyed look from fuming, "Oh, that Francine!"
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: In the pilot episode, Teen Genius Hiro Hamada gets his photo taken for his student ID card. Unfortunately, the Blinding Camera Flash causes him to flinch which, coupled with his diminutive stature, results in an unflattering photo of the top half of his face.
  • Carol and the End of the World: In "The Distraction," Carol is thrust into an administrative assistant position at an accounting firm, so her ID photo has her visibly confused and squinting at the flash, though the woman who takes her information seems proud of it.
  • When Daria finally gets her driver's license in the third season, her photo makes her look like she had just gotten out of bed, with her hair a mess and an odd-looking scowl on her face. Jane upon looking at it, jokes that the grotesque photo makes it "official".
  • Another yearbook example, from Dexter's Laboratory: The aptly-titled "Picture Day" reveals that all of Dexter's class photos look terrible. For the next school photo, Dexter remodels his face based on Dee Dee's teen magazines, causing him to look like a total hunk. Unfortunately, when the time comes to get his photograph taken, the face melts under the lights, so when the photo comes out, Dexter's face looks like a hideous blob.
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter's photo on his driver's license shows him clearly drunk (as pictured above). He claims he did this so that when he gets pulled over for drunk driving, the cop will think that's how he normally looks.
    • The episode "A Lot Going On Upstairs" has Stewie dreaming about bringing in Lois's driver's license for show and tell, pointing out how her ID photo shows her being very obviously drunk.
      Stewie: You could put a breathalyzer up to the photo and she'd get a DUI.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Bus the Two of Us", Bloo uses Frankie's drivers' license, complete with a silly-looking photo, to fool a traffic cop into thinking he's her (Fun Fact: It's the same photo used in Mr. Herriman's attack ad against her in "Setting a President").
  • The Loud House: Lincoln's passport photo looks like it was crudely drawn by a six-year-old.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Marinette Dupain-Cheng's school ID, as seen in "Oblivio", has an extremely overlit photo of her squinting and looking uncomfortable.
  • Pepper Ann: The very first episode is about Pepper Ann attempting to avert this for her yearbook photo, right when a zit forms on her forehead. She manages to take care of it, just in time to find out her mother is taking the yearbook photos, and the camera ends up capturing her sudden outburst. That picture haunts Pepper Ann as a Running Gag for the whole of Season 1.
  • Pet Alien: "Crater of Doom" has Tommy desperately trying to get a good picture for School Picture Day, as all of his previous pictures have been terrible (as the aliens' repulsed reactions indicate). Even at the end, his picture is ruined when one of Swanky's feathers flies up his nose.
    Tommy: Every year, I take the worst school photos. Even the kids at school call me Monster Face Von Franken-Photo!
  • Runaway Brain has a Mad Scientist install the mind of Mickey Mouse into the head of a hulking monster, and vice versa. After Mickey escapes the Shackle Seat Trap, he tries to convince the monster that the mind-swap process must be undone. The monster looks at an ID card in Mickey's wallet, which shows Mickey in a frame from Steamboat Willie from 1928. "Oh, ha ha," says an embarrassed Mickey, "that's old."
  • The Simpsons:
    • After failing a breathalyzer test in the episode "Duffless", Homer loses his driver's license. When it gets stamped "VOID", we see he has a very unflattering photo with him having one eye closed, another eye squinting, and his mouth hanging open.
    • "The Old Man and the Key": Selma is about to take Grampa Simpson's picture in preparation for getting his driver's license, when Grampa asks her if she can just use his photo from the latest issue of the Springfield Shopper newspaper instead. The photo depicts Grampa yelling at a cloud, under a headline that says OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD. The picture gets used for his driver's license.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Getaway", SpongeBob's picture on his student driver card shows him with a big dopey grin.
  • When Lance gets his driver's license in Sym-Bionic Titan, he has the biggest, most uncomfortable-looking grin on his face. Especially noticeable because Lance is usually The Stoic of the team.


Video Example(s):


Amy's Passport Photo

Amy is not impressed with the photo in her passport.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / UnflatteringIDPhoto

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