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Passport pics’ PO problems

Port Macquarie photo specialist Chris Harris (Bay Park Photos, below right) says he has been experiencing a spike in passport photos rejected by the local Australia Post post office.

Bay Park Photos has been offering a passport photo service in Port Macquarie for years. It had one of the first installations of Brands Australia’s new ID Station Biometric Passport System, designed for new machine readable e-Passports. ID Station passport photo orders come with an ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) compliance certificate. (See separate story.)

One Bay Park Photos customer had her passport photos rejected twice by the local post office, only to have them accepted by the Government passport office on a visit to nearby regional city, Newcastle.

Earlier, when she showed the compliance certificate to the post office staff she was told that it wasn’t valid, which John Rule, Brands Australia general manager – and the photo industry’s acknowledged passport photo expert –  says is incorrect, along with the initial rejection of the passport pics.

The passport photo as requested by the local post office was so far out of compliance when scanned into ID Station Biometrics Checking software, said Chris Harris, that the ID Station software, doing what it was designed to do, would not even allow the picture to be printed – he had to move the file over to a minilab!

Post offices with passport photo services are in the difficult position of both competing for passport photo business and formally assessing the work of their competitors. The Port Macquarie Post Office competes for passport photo business in the local shopping precinct with Bay Park Photos.

Mr Harris sent four examples of work rejected by the post office to Brands Australia for initial assessment.

‘There’s nothing wrong with them,’ said Mr Rule. ‘The post office may not know what the compliance certificates are. They maynot be aware of the technology at all.’

There were perhaps 20,000 Australia Post and Licensed Post Office personnel involved in assessing passport photos: ‘How do you control 20,000 people and their perceptions and opinions over compliance?’ he asked.

Though the increase in rejections at Port Macquarie maybe an issue of commercial gain, it could just as easily be an innocent but incorrect judgement by a staff member or store manager.

‘What we do is have the photos sent to us and if the photo is compliant and they have been incorrectly rejected we will forward them to DFAT with a formal request that they investigate.’

He said that he had taken this course rarely, but DFAT had always carried through with an investigation. There were a range of disincentives for post offices to incorrectly reject, or indeed approve, passport photos in the shape of penalties from DFAT, added scrutiny from Australia Post management, the danger of being possibly being charged with fraud, and simply getting into trouble with the boss.

Software was being rolled out in some post offices to check and confirm the approval process.

‘It hasn’t happened that often over the years but there’s no question that despite all the checks and balances, things get rejected for the wrong or mistaken reasons. There are 20,000 staff making judgements. That’s why software is essential.’

While happy to advise ID Station/Polaroid customers and other photo specialists on difficulties with passport photo rejections, Mr Rule suggested first attempting to deal with the matter locally.

‘Before you go down the road of making a formal complaint it’s always a good idea to first raise the issue face to face’ he said, as the DFAT investigation will ‘get their backs up’ and having  a local mutually supportive and respected relationship works best for all parties longer term interests.

Mr Rule added that Brands Australia is a member of the Biometrics Institute and the ID Station helps meet stringent new ICAO requirements for passport photos. Biometrics software is a still a relatively new technology and not yet widely understood, but its implementation will in time  help to reduce human error perception with passport photos, he said.

The ID Station ICAO compliance certificate.


  1. Garrett Rooney Garrett Rooney August 2, 2012

    We had the same issue here for a 12 month period, with one case where the father of a half Asian child was distressed because they had knocked back the baby’s photo because the eyes were not open wide enough. At that point I contacted the passport office in Sydney looking for them to resolve the issue. It didn’t happen, they said that the local post offices had full authority to accept or reject applicants. I took a non confrontational approach and simply spoke to the postmaster asking how I could improve the quality of my photos to reduce the amount of photo’s being rejected. This has removed the issue completely.. and (touch wood) we have not had a rejection since…. (I guess the amount of time staff were wasting on rescreening applicants who should have passed the first time, made it more cost effective for the post master when we got it right for them, instead of an imagined profit from staff having to deal with the applicant on more than one occasion). 😉

  2. Alan Alan August 2, 2012

    Been there, done that about 3 years ago. We had an agency post office (about 10km away) rejecting ALL our photos and even when our local post office approved them, they would still reject them. Went to the state retail manger of Aust Post, and the issue was sorted.
    The information flow out to the post offices is average at best, and coupled with the fact that theyu are competing with us, makes for some interesting possibilities.
    I’ll say no more, except that our local post office four doors from us is great, and we both work together really well.

  3. stuart stuart August 3, 2012

    Had the same problem in Toowoomba for 12 months. You will find it is the Australia Post-owned offices that cause the most problems.They are set a budget to achieve every month, if they are not near that budget,they have to find a way to achieve it. Passport photos is the way to do it.It has settled down in Toowoomba now, due to a customer of ours who made a compaint to head office of Australia Post. We have no problems with the privately-owned post office in the shopping centre were we are located.

  4. Jason Jason August 3, 2012

    With 24 store around the country, we have issues with Australia Post offices regularly rejecting passport photos.
    They blatantly say to our customers they do not accept photos from Ted’s or anywhere else because they are not compliant and they will have to have it re taken there and charge them again and in many cases talking them out of returning to Ted’s or elsewhere to have the photo taken again. (Or let us explain that it is actually ok)
    We are continually having to send our store managers in to the Post offices to speak to the managers of the Post offices to insist they accept our photos – usually with a pile of the rejected images and the compliance guidelines and sizing tools, etc, to demonstrate they are compliant. Things normally settle down after that for a while.
    In over 10 years looking after this area for Ted’s we would have taken well over 500,000 passport photos. It is and will continue to be a battle with the Post Offices and their staff rejecting our good work. And now we are going to be forced to invest in Biometric systems to compete with Aus Post all over again. The only winners in this is the supplier of the very expensive media for the Bio systems, increasing the cost of producing a legitimate passport photo 6-8 times. We, like most of you out there, will be forced to move to the new technology, lower our margins or risk having this category stolen by the PO’s.

  5. David David August 3, 2012

    We have one PO which will always reject our passport photos. We simply tell our customers the situation before we take the photo and most are happy to take their application to another PO where it will pass.

  6. Chris Chris August 4, 2012

    Here they’ll point to halfway down the forehead & say that’s where the crown is, & they’ve even said the 32mm mark must be where the hairline is. The manager even said to 1 customer he’d be happy for me to go down to the post office for him to show me what’s acceptable.

  7. Harvey Gordon Harvey Gordon August 6, 2012

    Some years ago I and many others spent a considerable amount of time working with PMA and DFAT formulating a simple set of guidelines and checking systems for taking acceptable Australian passport photos using digital cameras
    At that time few post offices were equipped to take high quality photos and the system worked well once passport photo takers understood what to do. Now it seems all Post Offices have digital or analogue photo systems and have become, in this category, direct commercial competitors to the photo industry. Furthermore new commercial images systems that issues their own “certificate of compliance” are possibly confusing the interviewing officers and may even be adding difficulties to the competitive market. Perhaps it is time again for PMA or even this trade journal to participate to help educate passport photographers to achieve the correct results and protect this valuable dollar earning category.

  8. Tony Tony August 7, 2012

    Excellent points Harvey and all !
    We for one shoot the shots with a DSLR , a decent lens and some great lighting. Our silver halide prints are better than the prints produced by the new system but the main problem I see is with the cost of using the material. As Jason says, it increases the cost of producing a print from maybe 12cents to a few dollars. It would make a lot more sense if the accreditation card was printed on a separate printer, maybe a simple A4 inkjet certificate instead of a doubling of use of an already expensive substrate !

  9. cjs cjs August 7, 2012

    Surely it’s a clear-cut conflict of interest for Australia Post to be in a position of rejecting photos taken elsewhere, whilst offering a commercial passport photo service themselves.

    I have had photos rejected at one post office and then accepted at another. Not an acceptable situation.

  10. Chris Chris August 8, 2012

    If a post office is behind in budget & wants the monopoly on passport photos all they have to do is reject every passport photo taken by camera stores. We lose credibility & tons of trade through bully boy tactics. The local P.O. is telling customers the hairline must be between the 32mm & 36mm lines. I’ve just sent them a letter explaining that it’s the crown & not the hair line that must be between the 2 blue lines.

  11. Phil G Phil G August 9, 2012

    We also do 1000’s of passport photo, rejection is low after making trips to DFAT in person and having a dialogue with the local AP area manager. All of the other comments get me nodding my head, been there done that. We don’t need to support APS’s new business model until it is compulsory.

    Who knows like NZ it all may go digital, there is not a country that we don’t do passport/visa photos for and have templates and backgrounds for them all.

  12. Denise Denise August 10, 2012

    New Zealand hasn’t gone all digital, but we have just seen the introduction of Post Offices taking the photos. Maybe this is a lead up to them taking over , but not yet. Our Photos are sent with the application directly to internal affairs so there is no conflict there. We also do OZ passport photos and dont do all the compliance printouts but have had no rejections ( touchwood) so far ,so I wonder why the difference. We also have a good set up with DSLR and lighting and have no problem with rejections even for the European ones.

  13. PG PG August 17, 2012

    Denise likewise we do Kiwi passport photos everyday and never ever a rejection. It really is a PO thing here, our secret is to have a relationship with the local one and recommend customers go there they don’t reject ours!

    Re NZ I am on their comms list so get the changes, from what I see the NZ PO will become a real threat in the near future.

  14. Geoff Fernance Geoff Fernance August 20, 2012

    We have had the same problem with rejection of perfectly good passport photos, and we have an Australia Post Office right across the street from us. So we actively discourage our customers from having their passport interview at that post office.
    We advise every customer who has a passport photo shot to use the agency post office in the next suburb. He has never reject a set of photos we have done.
    (This must have a serious impact on their quotas for interviews which bring in much more revenue than a photo.)

  15. Catherine Catherine March 13, 2013

    I’ve heard that the Aus Post are fined $50 for each passport photo they accept that is rejected by the passport office.

    This makes it a lot easier for staff unable to make a decision to purely reject photos not taken by them

  16. Tim Tim March 13, 2013

    Funky web site! Well done. Great to see new sites through somewhere like photocounter, We should all be communicating this way.

    As far as the issue in hand,
    Yes I believe you are right as far as the fee and Australia Post staff can be a bit paranoid about the images.

    By the way, when I last had to renew my own passport I took along carefully taken shots from our shop and they critically looked at them and asked if I had done them myself.
    I cheerfully said yes, which was the wrong thing to say as then we went though a long discussion about what might be wrong with the shots, which was nothing.
    It was a pretty good process because it was clear they were rejecting anything done at home which is great !

  17. Ron Frank Ron Frank March 15, 2013

    When dealing with any government employee the first step is to insist that they identify themselves with either a family name or their staff No.despite their protest this is a legal requirement of their employment and your right to be able to correctly id any staff member so that if required one can proceed against the offending person in the small claims or other courts.
    When the offending party realizes that they will be taken to task for their incorrect and offensive statements the objections often fade away. If they still insist then the store that took the work has a claim against the party and their employer for defamation and i have yet to find a government employee that is prepared to take the risk of that occurring. If you are correct stand your ground and insist on compensation for the defamation and damages for the refund that they have advised your client to claim.
    Your time to have the matter corrected is chargeable at a commercial rate and as we live in a democracy the post office cannot demand that you work for free.Overall stop being a doormat.
    Having been a specialty retailer for 42 years i have encountered such behavior several times and NEVER backed away.
    Always insist on speaking to the OIC of the establishment and never let the establishment junior employee push you about.
    Complain to your local MP if you need to or issue a small claims action against the staff member.
    Cheers to all
    Ron Frank

  18. Chris Chris June 26, 2013

    We did have a win over the local post office. They continued to reject our photos so I collated all the rejected photos, sent them in with a 2nd letter of complaint & since then have had 1 rejection. As a result of our 2nd complaint the P.O. staff have to keep 1 of the rejected photos & write an explanation in a book as to why it was rejected. in the last batch of pics sent to DFAT was 1 of a bald guy – chin to crown was 33mm & clearly within limits. I deliberately left it as was to see if the P.O. knocked it back, which they did. They left themselves wide open & when I tell customers to be wary of Port Macquarie Post Office I tell them about that photo, stating that we feel they’re rejecting photos for the sake of rejecting them. I advise our customers to use Wauchope or Laurieton Post Offices as they’ve never rejected any of our photos.

  19. Phil G Phil G July 5, 2013

    I agree with Ron, if you stand up to them they back off very quickly and the rejections are then very rare. It is usually junior staff that cause the issue.

    So it goes to prove the Brands system is as good as the PO staff will allow it to be!

  20. Chris Chris July 6, 2013

    With Port Macquarie P.O. it was the post office manager who was the problem.

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