The perfect social media profile picture

10 tips to create the perfect social media profile picture

Your profile picture (a.k.a. headshot), is the single most important personal marketing tool you have on social media, or any digital channel for that matter! It is always the first thing people see when they browse your profile, and quickly differentiates serious professionals from amateurs. If you want to be taken seriously, you need a high quality social media profile picture. So I put together a quick guide on how to get your perfect professional headshot for you to download.

Profile Photo Guide
Click here to download Profile Photo Guide (789.11 KB 20 downloads)

I had previously written about why you need to keep your “biography/text profile” up to date, here are the top 10 best practices for creating the ideal professional profile picture:

  1. You should be fresh & clearly in focus

    Don’t be artsy or put yourself in the background. You are the main subject of the photo. You should be perfectly in focus, with your eyes open and full of life. Not droopy, closed, tired, or worn out. Try to take the picture in the morning so you’re fresh.

  2. Only you should be present in the photo

    No group photos please. Remember that you are the star of this photo. Nobody else should be visible at all, not even in the background.

  3. Clothing

    Wear professional attire. For gentlemen this is a suit, shirt and tie. Freshly shaven or beard recently trimmed. Ladies please ensure your shoulders are covered, not strapless, strappy, flowery or floral. Jewelry should be minimal and professional. Clothing should ideally be solid colors, pin stripes are acceptable, not distracting prints or loud tartans.

  4. Posture

    Your posture communicates a lot about you, after your face it’s the first thing people tend to notice. Stand straight, shoulders back, chest out, slight angle to the camera. Chin ever so slightly up. Do not tilt your head to the side. You should look confident and capable.Your hands should not be near your face. Keeps your arms crossed – this will help position your shoulders too.

    Your photographer should be able to help you with this. For corporate profile photos, ensure that all subjects use the same two poses. (1) Facing the camera squarely (2) Facing the camera with torso slightly angled (as shown in the outline picture).

    Photofeeler has a brilliant article on posture and different poses for ladies & gents, it’s worth reading through; and good advice for pretty much any photo you’re going to be in!

    Anatomy of a perfect profile picture

  5. Smile

    It’s surprising how many people don’t smile for photos. You want to seem welcoming and open to conversation, so smile naturally.

  6. Background, location & lighting

    The background should be a single solid color. No patterns, no plants, nothing busy or distracting. The color should not be the same as something you’re wearing or your skin tone. This makes it easy for the background to be removed digitally, a more appropriate background can be added as needed. Ask your photographer to provide your headshot with a transparent background (a.k.a. no background).You want the lighting to be uniform, no harsh shadows or color lighting effects.

  7. Colors

    Full color only please. No black & white or sepia photos please. Don’t apply any Instagram (or other) filters.

  8. Professional photography

    Even if you have a friend that’s taken a course in photography, I always recommend going to a photo studio to get your photos taken. There’s a big difference between a professional studio photo shoot and one taken at home. This is the mental image people are going to recall, make it as brilliant as you can.

  9. Keep it up-to-date & use a recent photo

    Your profile picture needs to accurately represent how you look. That doesn’t mean you need to update it every time you cut your hair, but you shouldn’t be using a photo that was taken 10 years ago.

  10. Sizing & Positioning

    Whilst social media and other profiles will generally not use more than 500×500 pixel images, when it comes to photo sizes, the bigger the better. Please ensure your photographer provides you high resolution photos (Full HD or a lot more). This ensures that your photos can be used in print or on bigger screens. You don’t want to be chasing your photographer one year’s later when you need to print your headshot in a magazine.

    To ensure that your profile picture makes best use of the available space without over crowding, you should fit your photo to match the outline provided. This places your eyes at the 1/3 mark, leaving a feeling of empty space, without being too zoomed out or too close in.Most social networks will automatically resize your profile picture to match their requirements.
    You should ensure that your headshot is a large (16:9) format picture, but that your photographer also gives you one that is a perfect square so that it looks correct when scaled automatically.

    LinkedIN 400×400
    Twitter 400×400
    Google 250×250
    Facebook 180×180
    Instagram 110×110

Your photographer may have their own inputs & ideas, but this will provide the basic outline of what you’d like to achieve. If your photographer permits, take several photos, and ask them for a set both with and without backgrounds.

Here are some samples of what your profile picture should not look like:

What you don't want