How to Take a Great Social Media Profile Picture in 4 Easy Steps

In the real world, we all make an effort to look our best when meeting new people. We make sure that we have on clean clothes. That we brush our teeth (mostly). That we look good. It all goes to show who you are, your personality, and your ability to not look like Pigpen with a laptop.

Not so surprisingly, this translates right into the virtual world, and it all starts with your profile picture. It says “This is me!” And, whether you like or not, people’s first impressions can be greatly affected by the quality of your photo. Too often, picking a photo results in a choice between some shot from a party that you don’t remember taking (or even attending), or some dated, blurry image from an event just to show that, yes, you do get out of your house.

Oh – my high school picture, the cool shot of my aloe plant – which one to pick? Which will help me attract new friends? Ditch them all, and get yourself a new pic! Now, before you freak out and start calling photographers in your area with an offer to barter images in exchange for social media training, you can actually get great results with most any point and shoot camera that’s available today. The beer-smelling camera you used at the club last week will work just fine. It’s all a matter of following a few simple steps.

1. Find The Light Before The Background
Forget the scenic overlook shot for your background. Great profile pictures are about great light, and that will always look better than a great background. What is good light? It’s light where the shadow transitions are soft, as shown below:

Where do you find said light? Open shade. Find a side of a house or building where the sun isn’t shining directly on you. Where the light is soft all around you. Where there aren’t strong shadows on your face or objects around you. That’s your spot.

2. Clear Up The Background
When you find your sacred photo spot, look at what will be behind you. Try not to have anything directly behind you for at least 15 or 20 feet, if possible. Solid and pattern walls are good, however. It’s ok if the area behind you is dark, but what you don’t want is for it to be significantly brighter than where you are. Ideally, you want all of the lighting as even as possible (this is why alleys and the sides of buildings make great places to take these shots).

3. Strike A Pose (And An Angle)
Whether you are using a timer with your camera on a tripod, or having someone take the picture, you want the camera to have a great angle on you. This doesn’t mean it *has* to be straight-on (although that’s the most popular). To thin yourself out a bit, angle your body about 45 degrees away from the camera, but keep your head looking at the camera. Try different ideas with your arms (straight down, on hips, one arm on hips, arms crossed, etc). These movements do more than give you busy work for your hands. They shift your frame (including your shoulders) around, which gives you more variation to your look. Also, try stepping back with one leg a foot or two, again to shift your weight/perspective.

4. Set Up Your Camera
You can share this part with your most-excellent-photographer-partner, who will be taking your picture. The ’safe’ (read: boring) way to do this part would be to put the camera in “little green box mode” (i.e. automatic) and take your picture. Yawn. Let’s spice things up. Zoom in all the way. Now, step back until the subject fills the frame (and leave some space around all the sides). Make sure the flash is off (it’s really quite evil in this scenario). Take a picture. Did it rock? Cool! If not, try this trick to get the background to go out of focus:

  • Turn your camera into Aperture Priority mode (usually designated as Av).
  • Dial the aperture number (which is a number like 2.8 or 5.6) as low as it will go. 2.8 is great if it will go that low, but sometimes point and shoot cameras will start at 5.6 when you are zoomed all the way in.
  • Take the shot again.

It’s that simple! If the shaded area was a little blueish in color tone, you can warm up the image using Photoshop Elements or any other software that supports it. 

Once your happy with your image, you’ll need to crop it. Facebook supports a 2×3 crop ratio, which means that they’ll take your image and display all of it. Twitter uses a square aspect ratio of either 73×73 pixels or 48×48 pixels. This means either you or Twitter will crop the image to fit inside a square. Have a space around the image when you take it, so that you won’t be cutting your own head off when it’s time to crop, because that would kinda hurt.

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