Passport photos are one of those parts of traveling abroad that should be inexpensive, but they're not. The Peace Corps requires me to send in two copies, the Zambian Embassy requires me to send in an additional two, and I also need an additional five spare sets, when I land. I've had these sorts of photos taken at drug stores, the post office, and even a little kiosk in a Parisian metro station. The former though, is by far the worst, and somehow, I always seem to forget that fact.
I went up to the CVS at the top of my street:
Do you all do passport photos?
"Yep, we do," responded the overweight sales clerk as she pulled out a decrepit old Kodak point and shoot.
How much does it cost?
"Thirteen bucks for two copies."
Now I'm just going to interrupt here to point out that it is 39¢ to print a standard, 3.5"x5" photograph, at this same location, using the same machines. So the only real difference here is the that this lady is going to ask me to stand against a wall, push a button with her chubby finger, and then put an SD card into the same machine that prints regular photos. So in the age of selfies and SnapChat, I'm paying $12.61 for someone to take my picture.
Alright, and what if I want four photos?
There was a rather long pause as she struggled with the mental arithmetic, "Twenty-six dollars."
So there isn't any kind of discount? You'll have already take the photograph.
"It don't work that way."
I then sit down at their do-it-yourself kiosks. On the far right is an ID photos option. The icon shows nine photos on a page.
How much does this cost?
"Oh, I don't know, but you don't want to do that."
"It don't work right."
So you're telling me that your product doesn't work?
"Nah, it's just it ain't good."
Other than you taking the photo and me taking the photo, what's the difference?
"I, ah.. I don't know. Most people come back and have us do it because it don't work right."
I went across the street to their duopolistic cohort, Wallgreen's, and they only wanted to charge me $55.
If I was in a rush or if I was a technological luddite, I might accept this fate and pay the exorbitant cost for her fat fingers to hit a button, but I didn't. I know how to use image editing software, so even if the kiosk just "don't work right," I could make a 3.5"x5" image that has two 2"x2" photos on it. Then come back and print it out. There's an even easier way to do it, though, that's less tech savvy. You could get nine wallet size photos, which are 2.5"x2.5". The key is to make sure the original photo is a little zoomed out, to accommodate for the half inch of cropping required. Use a straight edge, make a few cuts, and you're good to go.
It costs $4, including tax.
The State Department has a useful tool for cropping your own photos, before you bring them to the kiosk: http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/passports/FIG_cropper.swf
Also, if you're a member of AAA or have a good post office in your area, they'll do them for free.
If you're interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, checkout my post on how to join the Peace Corps.