Social Media Marketing, Taking a Good Profile Picture, Personal Branding, Digital Profiles
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 14 December 2016
5 Tips for Taking the Perfect Profile Picture
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Hannah Son
Content Writer
Redondo Beach

professional looking profile picture can elevate your personal brand and increase your chances of getting hired by your dream employer. But what if you can’t afford a professional head shot? You could always go the DIY route and make one yourself! I’ve taken many selfie profile pictures over the years and people are often amazed when I tell them I took my profile pictures myself. “How did you do that?” they ask. There’s an art to elevating the “selfie” from snapshot to self-portrait. Here are 5 simple tips I’ve used over and over again for taking the perfect profile picture:

1. Choose the right time of day

Whether you’ll be taking your photo indoors or out, paying attention to the light is key. Unless you have a full studio lighting setup, you’ll probably want to use natural light. My favorite indoor spot to create a DIY profile picture is in my living room in front of a giant set of windows. I have sheer white curtains hanging on the window to diffuse the light and I can shoot there pretty much any time of day.If you’re shooting outdoors, you’ll want to avoid times during the day when the sun is directly overhead and harshly bright. This can vary depending on where you live and the time of year. 

Most photographers love shooting during the “golden hour,” which is the time right before sunset. The sun is nice and low in the sky at that time and generally casts a flattering golden light. The time just after sunrise is desirable as well, but, let’s face it, who wants to get up before dawn for a profile picture??? Go for the sunset golden hour and you’ll be “golden.” So, how do you determine the best time to shoot outdoors? I like to use a free sunrise/sunset app on my phone, which will tell me what time the sun will set on a particular date. Or, you can just google it. I plan to start shooting about 30-60 minutes before the actual sunset. 

2. Choose the right gear


Pretty much any camera will do, as long as you know how to use it. I recommend one that has a self-timer or remote trigger functionality. You can buy a remote trigger for a DSLR for about $25. Avoid using your phone and selfie stick, since it just doesn’t look professional. You could always ask a friend to snap the trigger for you.


If you’ll be creating your profile pics all by yourself, you’ll definitely need to put the camera on a tripod or set it up on a table or some other flat surface. I’ve tried a table top before and it’s quite cumbersome, so if you can invest in or borrow a tripod I highly recommend it.


Whether I shoot indoors or out, I like to have a little pop of light reflected back onto my face. I’ll often use this trick when shooting in my living room window spot. I ask someone to hold the reflector for me or set it up on a reflector stand or even prop it up against the couch. This helps lighten up the shadows that show up on the side of my face opposite the window. Most pop-up reflectors have a white side and either a silver or gold side. 

Take some time to experiment with how each reflective surface affects the quality of light. The white side will cast a nice soft neutral light. The silver will add a cool light and the gold will add a warmer tone. If you don’t have a commercially made reflector, no problem! You can use a white piece of foam core board, which costs just a couple bucks at the craft store. Or cover a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil. You can also get a piece of styrofoam insulation board from the hardware store, which usually has a white side and a silver side. All of those solutions are quite bulky though, so it is handy to have a pop-up reflector if you plan on using one often. You can get one for about $35.


3. Choose a simple background and use a low aperture

For the most impactful profile picture, you definitely want your face to be the main attraction. Distracting items in the background will take the focus away from your face and will also make your image look amateur. Find a place with a clean, simple background for your photos. You can also shoot with the aperture wide open, at f/2.8 or lower, which will help blur out anything distracting in the background. 

4. Zoom in (avoid distortion)

 The lens you choose can drastically affect the way you look in a profile picture. By zooming in as far as your lens will go and not placing the camera too close to your face, you’ll avoid making your nose or forehead look bigger because of lens distortion. I use a 24-70mm lens 90% of the time and when I’m shooting close-up portraits, I always zoom into 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, even 200mm, which are even more desirable for portraits and profile photos because they lessen lens distortion. I would avoid using any lens wider than 50mm. 

5. Experiment with angles and expressions

When I take a DIY profile picture, I often have to take up to 100 photos before I get one that looks just right. Say what?! You’ll likely not nail your profile picture on the first try. Try posing differently, shooting from a different angle or adjusting your reflector until you get a profile picture you’re happy with. The nice thing about digital cameras is that you have instant feedback on the LCD screen so you can adjust as you go. If you want to know more, read here for what research says about "the perfect profile picture" 

Now you’re all set to create your DIY profile picture and start projecting a professional, consistent personal brand across the inter-webs! After taking your perfect pictures, don’t forget to clean up the rest of your social media profiles!