For most bloggers starting out, one of the very first tasks in stepping into the online arena is to upload a photo of themselves.
For some, putting a profile picture online is a way of creating an authentic connection with their readers. For others, it is the equivalent of Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon:
“This is my space,” it says. “Here I am.”
But what kind of profile picture should you choose? Is there such a thing as the perfect shot? And if there is, how do you get it?
According to profile photographer John Reyment, the first step in getting a great photo is to relax. Easier said that done right?
“So many profile pictures on blogs and on LinkedIn look like they are terrified of the camera,” he says.
“A great trick is to get someone talking about their favourite family holiday, or better still, their kids. Their faces instantly relax and they very often smile very naturally.”
John also says that stress can make people in front of a camera stop breathing normally. “Sometimes just taking the time to take some long, slow breaths can make a big difference,” he says.
But how should you best compose a photo? Are there any elements that are particularly important?
A surprising amount of research has been conducted regarding what makes a great photo and which elements have the greatest impact.
Why a Great Profile Picture is a Blogger’s Most Powerful Tool
Princeton psychologists, Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis, ran a series of experiments in order to identify how and what people judge in facial appearances. They studied 1,000 faces and discovered that, from a single profile photo, most people form an opinion about someone within 100 milliseconds.
And it turns out first impressions can indeed be manipulated.
Without going into too much detail, it turns first impressions come about as the result of a number of factors at play in your chosen picture.
Below are some of the key take-aways from this research and some simple methods to ensure you get it right in your own profile picture:
- Smile with teeth
- Dark-coloured suits or light coloured button up shirts
- Head and shoulders
- Asymmetrical composition
And some things you should avoid:
- Hair or shadows over the eyes
- Overt sexiness
In case you are still not convinced that your photo has an enormous impact, take a look at this study by OkCupid.
Although OkCupid is a dating site, not geared toward bloggers, the company does a lot of interesting data analysis and this study has a critical message for bloggers.
Researches wanted to know how much the pictures influenced the viewers’ first impression about a profile.
Providing two sets of data, users rated the profiles with picture and text against those solely with a picture. The results resoundingly suggested that text matters little – the text influenced only 10% of the users’ impression about the profile.
So let’s dig a little deeper – how to make a good first impression with your photo.
According to the teachings of social psychology, a person’s innate sense of judgment is based upon two key attributes – trustworthiness and competency.
As a blogger, when you post a profile photo, you want these two attributes to be positive.
You don’t want your viewers to think you’re 1) untrustworthy and competent/incompetent, or 2) trustworthy but incompetent. There is only one thing you want your profile pic to shout from the mountaintops:
“I am trustworthy, and I am competent!”
If this message comes across to your viewers, your credibility will be established, and they’re more likely to be interested in what you’re selling.
Here’s a few ways to achieve this successfully.
1. Make Eye Contact
Consider those of whom you find most likeable – Is their eye line cemented to the floor, or do they often look you in the eye? Probably the latter.
Not only does eye contact make people more in-person likeable, according to researchers at PhotoFeeler, it also makes images of people more likeable. Studies often show that the more we look into each other’s eyes, the more we’re attracted to the person, boosting their likability factor exponentially.
In regards to our images, when a person’s hair or sunglasses obstructed their eyes or shadow/glare impacted their look, the profile picture frequently received a lower rating when compared to those who made direct eye contact with the viewer via the camera lens.
2. Give a Toothy Grin
It turns out that, for some reason, humans generally like teeth…A LOT. According to PhotoFeeler’s study, even if you’re smiling in your profile pic, a closed-mouth smile is only half as likeable as a toothy grin. And if you really want to win them over, laugh while you’re smiling…but only if you have a nice laughing face. Influence and competence is still all-important to the first impression.
If you’re not confident in your toothy smile, cheesy as it sounds, you should practice it in front of a mirror or even in front of a selfie stick. Being able to flash a nice grin for the camera will make you appear friendlier in every shot you take.
3. Dress for the Job You Want
This tip should be old hat by now…but somehow, people still seem to forget that first impressions are largely superficial and clothes do matter. Or, it may be a matter of differing tastes in clothing. In the case of a professional profile pic, however, an “impressive” wardrobe should be one that’s a) professional and b) somewhat formal.
The research from PhotoFeeler uncovered that perceived influence and competency levels were highly impacted by the dress of those pictured. For men, dark suits and light-colored button-downs coupled with ties were the defining wardrobe. In fact, a classic professional look scored better across the board than anything trendy or bright in color.
4. Showcase Your Strong Jaw
Apparently a weak jaw reduces your perceived competence, influence and likability. Those photos with a shadow line the entire way around the jaw to outline and accentuate it increased these scores significantly.
Again with the eyes! They are the window to the soul, so I suppose it makes sense that so much attention is placed upon them. It turns out a slight squint – aka, a squinch – also boosts the general perception of influence and competence.
Think of it this way – a wide-eyed child comes across as unsure and vulnerable (ie, incompetent and uninfluential). Now imagine someone squinting slightly. They probably appear shrewd, as though they’re thinking about something, thus giving them a more influential, competent, certain, and confident look.
6. Do Not Overexpose or Filter
Filters may be all the rage for Instagram and Facebook, but they’re no place for your profile pic. Highly saturated photos knocked scores down a peg across the board, as did images that were too dark or with high contrast.
Instead of counting on filters to improve your photography skills, either hire a professional photographer or set up your “studio” to capture the best shot. To do this, set your shot so that soft lamplight gives you a warm glow or the light filtering through a window behind you casts you well. Overhead light sources or direct sunlight will make your image oversaturated and harsh.
7. Frame the Torso or the Bust
A torso (head to waist) or a bust (head and shoulders) photo scored much better than close-ups of only the face or full-body shots. The full-body shots made viewers feel the subject was less influential and competent, while the close-ups reduced the subject’s likeability rating.
Keep it simple and shoot a torso or bust shot that frames your profile properly.
8. Experiment with Colour
Colours are proven emoters. They make us feel. They influence our moods. They can produce in us calm, anxiety, happiness, and even encourage us to buy, buy, buy! Some Market researchsuggests that it takes only 90 seconds for a customer to decide if a product is worth buying and around 62-90% of their opinion is based solely on the product’s colour.
Like the sense of smell though, feelings about colour are highly subjective and founded in experiences. Therefore, no solid guidelines exist linking colour to emotion; however, you might consider that colour choices can help you light a fire in a forest of selfsame LinkedIn profile pics.
9. Use Imagery Related to Your Field
Understated company branding within your profile pic can set you apart, give you a professional appearance and showcase your marketing skills.
Christine Georghiou, contributor to yesware, notes, “Marjorie Kase, a solutions consultant at Adobe Social, recommends incorporating imagery that reflects the field you work in…A great example of this comes from none other than Mr. Social Selling himself — Koka Sexton of LinkedIn. His cover photo clearly shows who he is, what he values, and his area of expertise.”
10. Play with the Layout
You might be keen on symmetry, but try asymmetry on for size. The “something different” might just surprise you. Design often uses the Rule of Thirds to visually affect the viewer’s psyche, so test it out on your profile pic.
As described by Kevan Lee, Content Crafter at Buffer, “The Rule of Thirds is a method for composing the elements of an image to be visually pleasing and to be in sync with the way our eyes prefer to scan an image. Photographers know the Rule of Thirds well; it is a foundational piece of photography.”
By dividing your image into three same-size grids, horizontally and vertically, and placing the most important elements of your photo across these intersections, the asymmetry you create is more interesting to the human eye than anything centred and visually bland. Doing this can draw the viewer in, so keep different layout options in mind when composing your profile pic.
11. Use All Tools & Apps at Your Disposal
PhotoFeeler is a free tool that allows you to have your profile pic rated by strangers, helping you determine which of your many shots is the best. By scoring your photo based on authenticity, trustworthiness, likability, and competency (among others), strangers’ ratings determine the verdict for your photo. You can either choose to purchase votes or get them for free by “voting” or rating other users’ photos. This earns you credits, which you can exchange for feedback on your profile pic.
PicMonkey is an all-in-one online editor, allowing you to touch up your profile pic, clearing it of blemishes or marks. It can also customise your photos dimensions for cover photos on social networks, like facebook.
12. Get Tips from the Experts
Check out blogs like LinkedIn’s official blog or entrepreneurial- or business-oriented sites.
For instance, Jerome Knyszewski, Authority Marketing & Online Reputation Management services and LinkedIn contributor, ran his own PhotoFeeler test of a select group of profile pics. He notes, “You will notice that my pictures, depending on the angles, colours, cropping, stern look or smiling etc impact slightly or dramatically the results.” Take a look at his findings here.
Or check out Kim Lachance Shandrow’s Entrepreneur article, which discusses what NOT to do with your professional profile pics. “Never post a profile pic that makes you look incredibly intense, Dwight Schrute-serious or, worst of all, pissed off,” she advises. “Instead, post a happy (but not too I-just-won-the-lottery happy) headshot that shows off what Richard Branson calls your ‘competitive advantage, ’your smile.” Read more do’s and don’ts here.
How about you? Do you agree that your profile picture has an enormous impact on your personal brand? Was it a priority when you first started out? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy Wilson is the founder of Elite Reputations, a boutique online reputation management company that specialises in ensuring their clients look as good online as they are offline.