A profile photo that makes you look professional, friendly, intelligent, approachable, talented and trustworthy all at the same time? That’s not too much to ask, is it?
It’s a duty that many creatives put off for as long as they can: getting a proper profile photograph. One you can feel proud of and use on your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, blog sidebars, press releases and so on.
The good news is that you don’t have to go to great lengths or expense to get the photo you need. If you or a friend own a half-decent camera then that’s a bonus, but smartphone cameras have become so good that you can get great results with them too. Use these six straightforward tips and you should have an effective profile pic for any circumstances:
1. Get someone else to take it
Seriously. Selfies just don’t work. You can use a stick or a tripod, but you’ll still have that tensed posture and anxious look in your eye, no matter how much you smile. You’ll be worrying about the process, and this will show.
It also really helps when there is a feeling of interaction, when the person in the photo is looking back at another real person. It can be anyone, it doesn’t matter, as long as they can hold a camera steady. I have a profile shot taken by my 8-year-old. It worked perfectly.
2. Find 5 examples of ones you like
You need some kind of vision of how you want your photo to look. How close or far away? What clothes? Any particular composition? Looking at the camera or not? (It’s fine to look away from the camera, but it does imply the viewer is a voyeur).
Look at a bunch of other people’s profile photos and pick out five that you think will suit you and your style. Then show them to your photographer so they can understand what you’re aiming at. Again, this worked fine with the 8-year-old!
3. Keep the background simple
Don’t allow a background to dominate a portrait photo. The ideal background is no background; anything else will just distract from your good self.
Find a white wall, a plain curtain, or pin up a dark sheet somewhere. Stand far enough away from it so that you don’t cast shadows just behind your back. And remember that what goes on outside of the frame will never be seen by anyone else.
However, you might truly feel your personality is better shown by a sense of place. A writer by your desk, a designer in your studio, etc. This is fine, and will work if you follow the same rule as before: don’t let the background dominate. Step forward from it. Watch out for any distracting shapes or objects clashing with heads, etc. The photo should you be about you.
4. Use plenty of lights
Always try to use more than one source of light. It’ll soften the face and look more professional. If you’re indoors, balance the light from the window with a lamp on the other side (out of shot). If you’re in a room with multiple lights, turn them all on, and move around any that you can, if it looks better. Rooms with partly-glazed ceilings can be useful. Avoid flash.
If you’re outdoors, wait for the clouds to go over so the sunlight is diffused. Basically, there is nothing worse for a portrait photo than using a single, bright light source. Or a squinting subject.
5. Use more than one photo
If you aim to have just one awesome profile photo then watch out. That elusive picture is likely to become an idealised vision in your mind of what you think your profile pic should be. You’ll end up chasing perfection for hours and, as we know, it is usually always just out of reach.
Instead, aim for two or three shots from the session that you will be happy with, and that you can use in different circumstances. It takes the pressure off finding that one perfect photo. Over time you will probably find that you favour one in particular out of the three anyway, and this will become the one you use everywhere.
6. Don’t get hung up on how you look
You might think you look awkward in some way – a silly smile, a feature you don’t like, etc… News flash: nobody else thinks this about you. Everyone is self-conscious to some extent, but look around – do your neighbours, friends and family look a bit daft in any way? They do not. They look normal. So do you.
Get over it, drop it, lose it. Set yourself free. As long as you are relaxed and can pretend to be confident and in control, you’ll be fine!