How to Take a Great Photo for Your Social Media Avatar

How to Take a Great Photo for Your Social Media Avatar

I’d be lying if I said I had a flying clue what “avatar” meant even a year ago.  Now, with the absolute explosion of all things social networking, you’d have to be living under a clod of dirt in some remote corner of the galaxy not to have heard the word and it’s likely you actually have an avatar of your very own. . . or at the very least a profile picture or two or three adorning all the social networks you frequent.  Now with that big, fat (and hopefully PHAT), fancy shmancy camera stuffing your stocking this Christmas, you’ll likely be asked to photograph one for someone in the not too distant future.

Social Media Avatar Portraits

Twitter users left to right: @imageisfound, @amelialyon, @rachelwonders

Here are some tips so you’re sure not to disappoint.

**PLEASE NOTE: I understand that different profile pics are appropriate for different situations and that ultimately it’s all a matter of preference.  As a general rule of thumb however, I maintain that not all profile images are created equal.  9 times out of 10 I’m certain you’ll find that the majority of these tips apply. . .And it should go without saying that not EVERY photographer needs a picture of themselves hugging their 5d. . .we’re pushing a little far South of tacky there dontcha think?**

1. Fill the Frame

The most successful profile images, the ones that really make a distinct statement that is difficult to forget, are those that are easily visible even at minuscule sizes.  It’s important that your profile picture doesn’t require the viewer to squint and lean a nose length from the screen to determine what they’re actually looking at.

True story:  I was recently hanging out on Facebook (on a Saturday night. .  . with my cat on my lap. . . what?) and came across my friend’s updated profile image.  I looked at that thing for a solid minute and was absolutely CONVINCED it was . . . wait for it. . . a photo of a pelvic x ray.  I thought she’d broken her hip or something and wanted to show us all. . .Turns out I was COMPLETELY wrong. It was a picture of a tiny angel. . . ???  But at like 2 centimeters high, who the heck could tell?! Angel . . . pelvic x ray. . . angel. . . pelvic x ray???

2.  Keep it Natural

Help your subject relax.  Profile pics with relaxed, natural smiles are most inviting. Whether you’re shooting for a personal facebook account or a head shot type photo for linkedin or a less formal shot for a company’s twitter updates, a nice, natural portrait is best.  Natural portraits convey an air of confidence and competence simultaneously.  They also invoke feelings of comfort and a feeling of trust.

3.  Clean up the Background

Distracting elements in a profile image are a big no no.  Please don’t take someone outside and have them stand in front of a big bush.  That thing will swallow your subject whole at .5″ by .5″.  A nice clean background is best.  Create some distance between your subject and their background and shoot at around f4 or lower.  Be careful, you want to keep your subject’s eyes sharp.

4. Play with Angles

A profile picture should say something about who you are.  It should be interesting and hopefully eye catching and unforgettable.  One way to experiment with this is to play around with camera angles.  Exercise caution! A funky angle just for the sake of it is like the #1 sure fire sign of an amateur photographer. . . “I’m going to be creative and show how artistic I am by not holding the camera straight!”

Appropriate use of angles can also help make an image appear more flattering to the physique.

5.  Keep it Professional

Last but not least, keep it professional.  Aaaaaaaaand by professional I mean: cover yourself up for crying out loud! Girls, the kind of guy who wants to see a little peek at your cleave in your eharmony profile picture is not the kind of guy you want to bring home to daddy.  You can do SOOO much better. Just sayin’.  And boys, unless you’re trying to be my personal trainer (or the next Jacob Black in the Twilight Saga) I do not need (or want!) to see your pectoral muscles every time I log into my twitter account.

Happy shooting!!

PS: we’d love to see your avatars in comments below!
PS(2): did you know that you can show your avatar here on ProBlogger every time you leave a comment? The avatars on this site are pulled in automatically from Gravatar. Just get an account here but make sure that the email address you use in our comment section is the same one you set up your Gravatar account with.

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

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