I got a new passport a three weeks ago and had none of this trouble at all. Why? I used one of the newer passport booths that uses a digital camera instead. There is no flash, you just sit there and look at yourself on a screen. There's a circle on the screen that your head should be in, so you adjust the chair and lean to the left and right until you are in the circle and then press a button when you are ready. If you are not smiling enough you just do it again. Once ready the machine will print out four identical copies of the same picture, so no longer do you have to try and maintain the same grimace for three minutes of random flashes. This is a Good Thing.

What did bug me, though, is the stupid restrictions on the exact size of the photos, as described by heyoka in the writeup above. On the forms you have to fill in it actually specifies that the photograph you provide will be scanned into a computer, stored and printed as a digital image. So how hard would it be to crop and scale the thing?