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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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 You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Jonathan Teemer October 11, 2012 05:54 pm

    Thanks lots

  • Kasie Birk October 11, 2012 12:31 am

    Somewhat Darn neat ! I would level out.

  • Gerard December 31, 2009 12:03 pm

    If I finally managed to get this to work I can die happy.

  • Stephanie Harrison December 15, 2009 07:02 am

    Here is my avatar, please tell me honestly what you think. Thanks!

  • starrpoint December 14, 2009 10:12 am

    i must say this is a good and timely topic.

    I am so tired of really bad photos, pictures of your cat, pictures of what? We are supposed to be photographers, so hopefully, we can do better!

  • Michaela December 14, 2009 06:58 am

    I love your #5. Couldn't have said it better myself. So vain!

  • Gerard December 13, 2009 05:13 pm

    One last try at getting the avatar to show. If this does not work I give up.

  • Börnard December 12, 2009 08:18 am

    [eimg link='' title='Cat-eyes' url='']

    Here's mine!

  • Martha Swann December 12, 2009 02:57 am

    Natalie, I love your articles! I just read your tribute to auto focus, and this short on avatar portraits was short, sweet and to the point. The articles prompted me to visit your web page-- you do beautiful work!

    I'm trying to break into family/portrait photography here in CNY and I'd love to ask you a few questions-- like what sort of direction you give your subjects and how you go about location scouting. If you had a few minutes to share some tips I'd love to shoot you an email!

    Thanks again for sharing!


  • Mark D December 12, 2009 01:26 am

    I took this self portrait for a local camera club's self portrait challenge. I have no studio lighting so I lit the scene with 3 desk lamps and placed the camera on my computer desk shelf, resulting in the unusual angle for the portrait. I now use it for various sites like twitter, flickr, smugmug, etc.
    [eimg link='' title='sSelfPortrait' url='']

  • Carol Lundeen December 11, 2009 11:55 pm

    You can also think of creating your own avatar as doing a self portrait. What do you want to show about yourself? What you look like, how creative you are, how funny your are? It's up to you. Notice I don't have an avatar for this site. One of these days, Alice.

  • heidileon December 11, 2009 03:58 pm

    excellent article! I specially loved @rachelwonders avatar.

  • runswith3dogs December 11, 2009 02:08 pm

    I prefer those that hide my wrinkles!

  • Linda December 11, 2009 01:56 pm

    lol.. dont you just love the ones taken in the bathroom mirror??? with a toilet in the background? Thanks.. great article.

  • Paul December 11, 2009 10:35 am

    How about the one that shows less grey hair than you actually have!

  • Talei December 11, 2009 10:20 am

    Heres my Twitter avatar... which is cropped from my fb dp...

  • Marco December 11, 2009 09:34 am

    I'll keep that in mind!

  • angelique December 11, 2009 09:22 am

    how much fun...I never thought people thought about these things, but photographers seem to think about it all...even the smallest detail. I guess that's their job :)

  • BebopDesigner December 11, 2009 09:11 am

    Brilliant article! I really enjoyed it. Guess I should get busy eh? thanks for sharing.


  • craig broad December 11, 2009 07:14 am

    Made this about 3 weeks ago.

    Was playing with a home made ring light. The only LED's i had at the time were blue ones, hence some 'arty' pics,lol.

    [eimg url='' title='img_4854.jpg']

  • rd December 11, 2009 06:58 am

    I try not to scare people off, so I don't put my mug up as avatar - ever. but I'm always amazed at the avatars on IK, and wonder if I would want one of their images. there is everything from kookie faces to one lady that looks like a starched puritanical school teacher. One guy, looks to be perhaps about thirty, unshaven (not a real beard, just scruffy looking) baseball cap on backwards, looking at you over sunglasses dropped down to the end of his nose. what are they thinking?

    If you can go back to an older, back several months, forum and find Eileen's avatar - that's sort of what I mean about people having no understanding of the perception others will take from your avatar.

    I realize that an avatar on twitter should perhaps be "fun".

  • Author: natalie norton December 11, 2009 05:36 am

    @Bull Rhino

    I love your avatar! It makes me smile! Aaaaand I clicked through to your photos and LOVED the peek at Temple Square. Makes me homesick. ;)

  • Bull Rhino December 11, 2009 05:31 am

    I'm hoping that my avatar conveys having fun. At my age I don't need to be serious and "professional" any more. My blog is about having fun with photography, so I hope I'm carrying through with the theme. From an objective point of view, does it work? (I'm assuming I got the gravatar thing right and my avatar will show up.)

    Nice article. - When I see an avatar with the camera I wonder if the owner is confused and thinks the camera takes the photo. If so, they are probabaly not very good.

  • James December 11, 2009 04:03 am

    I have a b+w self portrait studio shot as my avatar:

  • Liz December 11, 2009 03:55 am

    That was awesome - she cracks me up!

  • Tom Twogg December 11, 2009 03:29 am

    Just an iSight/Photo Booth snap with a little PS dressing up.

  • Anna aka.BeachMama December 11, 2009 03:14 am

    I have been using this avatar for a while, and want to do a new one, thank you for the tips!

  • craig broad December 11, 2009 03:03 am

    Funny this should come up now...was playing last week with a home made ring light.

    unfortunately, the only LED's i had at the time were blue.

    But that led to some interesting pics! So my current Avatar is below.

    (and for once, it ticks nearly all the boxes)

    [eimg url='' title='photo.php?pid=2830064&id=536230237']

  • Vitaly December 11, 2009 02:51 am

    Hey, Natalie!
    Perhaps if you'd show a bit of cleave in your avatar you wouldn't have to spend Saturday night on Facebook....
    Just sayin'. ;)

  • Gerard December 10, 2009 09:38 am

    This was an interesting and thought provoking post. It got me motivated to use an avatar picture but I have not been able to upload it.

    Thanks to Natalie, I am now obsessed with getting the bloody thing to work!

    This is my third attempt at uploading an avatar, does anyone have any clues on the process?

  • cathyetta December 10, 2009 07:57 am

    I think its time for a new one. This one is years old. It would have been taken for my Three Sixty Five group a couple of years ago.

  • Moataz December 10, 2009 01:57 am

    Dont know if that is gonna show my avatar :)

  • bee December 10, 2009 01:16 am

    Here's mine :)

    Another tip: Don't change your Avatar too often. I sometimes remember having talked to/chatted with someone not because of his name but his photo. When that changes, I get lost.

  • Terrance Charles December 10, 2009 01:01 am

    Great post, I always stress the importance of why you need a good avatar, especially for personal branding. It's what people see first, your first impression, and what they remember last, make sure it's clear, sharp, and nondistracting like you pointed out, and a one tone background color like, green, blue, or red is good to use to stick out.

  • Gerard December 9, 2009 07:56 pm

    I have just discovered that there are two different areas to upload a picture - the profile and a separate avatar section.

    Hopefully it is now visible.

  • fullfx December 9, 2009 06:23 pm

    this is what gave me during a power failure in my home :-)

    -- fullFx

  • Bill Vriesema December 9, 2009 05:00 pm

    [eimg url='' title='2907355b403b54e5d3ce302c51852dd7.png']

    Natalie--great article. Thanks for the idea. My gravatar is actually cropped off a family photo. Hope it shows up here...

  • Gerard December 9, 2009 04:01 pm

    I was torn between an actual photo of myself and some sort of silly image for fun, so I combined the two and used a heavily Photoshopped self portrait.

  • Robert Rowe December 9, 2009 12:31 pm

    Great article, with lots of good tips. I like using my portrait as my avatars since I regularly meet social media folks in person. By having a portrait avatar, it's easier to identify each-other in person (less awkward!). Might my add two more tips?
    1. If you can, have someone else take the shot. (helps avoid the "MySpace cameraphone shot" syndrome)
    2. Keep your avatar consistent across multiple sites to maintain your "personal brand". People will start to identify with your avatar (and of course, you) more easily.

  • Ed Hamlin December 9, 2009 07:54 am

    I see so many avatar photos that are unusable, blurry and so forth, I want to know the people I am interacting with! So a good photo of the person is important to me.

    In part being a portrait photographer there are rules I try to follow, one I use depth of field to my advantage, that I will use a zoom if I can to eliminate whatever the backrounds impact may be if I shot at f6-f64. I think contrast is important too, don't take a flat photo.

    If you don't have supplemental lighting, shoot the portrait during the golden hours, that is when the sun is low on the horizon and can provide bright softer light. Use shadows of trees, mountains, natural structures to your advantage if they are avalable. Bounce reflectors are cheap and can be used with awesome results.

    Get close, fill 75% of the frame so you can crop it to fit the square format of most avatar frames. Lastly take your time, if you rush, it will not look good. IMHO

  • Elizabeth December 9, 2009 07:18 am

    this is mine :)

  • Nathan December 9, 2009 06:48 am

    @Alex: That's pretty funny! I'm proud of the gear I have, too... but that just seems a bit narcissistic. :)

  • Andrew December 9, 2009 03:54 am

    Enjoyed this post. I laughed at the blurb about what not to do for an avatar. Reminds me of people that I have had to dump from friend list and whatnot.

  • Jason December 9, 2009 01:42 am

    Depends on my mood - I have a few... mostly rotate through my last 365 attempt.

  • Lloyd Tapper December 9, 2009 12:24 am

    ditto on what @john said earlier. An avatar is really a representation of your 'self' in the online world. Not a 'true representation', just a 'representation' on how you want people to perceive your personality. Though Wikipedia seems to have updated the definition to include profile pics.. I guess the English is a growing language so...

  • Nancy December 9, 2009 12:06 am

    So true. I've seen many avatars where the image is unrecognizable, or the font is so tiny you can't read it. Great post :)

  • Yogendra December 8, 2009 10:15 pm

    i love this post!!! frankly.. i have a very bad one on my flickr and facebook page... i want to show the world that i have turned a photographer... not now people see canon eos covering my face... i need to change that quickly :D

  • Alex December 8, 2009 09:10 pm

    I had to laugh about the hugging your 5D comment.

    I am so sick to death of pictures of photographers looking all earnest with with Canon/Nikon/Zone 6 Field Camera in shot.

    Reminds me of one local wedding tog who used to pose lying on his side with all his gear arranged infront of him. And this was plastered on the side of his studio wall no less!

  • Angela @ Homegrown Mom December 8, 2009 06:08 pm

    Here I am :) Thanks for these tips, my mom just asked me to take her pic for a blog profile. Not because I'm a photographer, I'm NOT! Actually, it's because I am the only kid with a digital camera. But anyway, I'll use these tips!

  • David December 8, 2009 04:07 pm

    All good tips! Thank you. I took a look and it is clear that I need to shoot new avatar shots for the whole household.

  • Clare Froggatt December 8, 2009 03:09 pm

    Thanks for that information. I have two blogs, two twitter accounts and one avatar. I use this avatar on both blogs but only one twitter account? I don't really know what is 'right' cause I'm totally new to blogging and tweeting so I was pleased to find you at pro-blogger. Hopefully I'll be a pro-blogger myself soon.

  • December 8, 2009 02:49 pm

    I did this about 3 weeks ago. I did all the setup et al, but the key ingredient was missing. I called my wife to trip the shutter (earlier I was using the wireless remote). Her presence brought the missing smile on my face.

    This is currently my avataar on social media sites, but can easily be there on others like LinkedIn. Click to view a larger size.

  • Bridget Casas December 8, 2009 01:45 pm

    I use the one above on Twitter and Wordpress. I need to put it on my website and Facebook.

  • Annabel Candy December 8, 2009 01:32 pm

    Just commenting so I can see how my avatar compares to the others! Well, actually it's my wedding photo and about 4 yrs old so it may be time to update it. The profile one sounds nice but I'm worried people may be put off by my hooked witchy nose...

    Rolando, you look familiar - are you related to the Kennedys? Nathalie's is nice too.

  • Dominique December 8, 2009 12:43 pm

    My avatar shot was taken at a wedding. Everyone was in a really good mood and the light was beautiful I broke those sunglasses a week later. God I miss those sunglasses! Hahaha

  • John December 8, 2009 12:03 pm

    Everyone has, ironically, entirely missed the original definitions of the word 'avatar'. Even among savy computer users, a true avatar is only a representation, or mere sign, of one's true self. In the original meaning it is never an actual picture of oneself. My avatar, or alter ego, is my St. Bernard wearing a birthday hat. I'm professionally a person who helps counsel people seeking rescue from difficult/dangerious situations; and I also see myself as a loving person who likes to party. How about some ideas for clever avatars, faithful to the meaning of the word?

  • adam December 8, 2009 10:11 am

    I do get the bit about not muggin with you D3 (thank you) but there is (for business folk) a need to maintain a brand or recognition in the Social Networking Jungle. Or maybe I'm just defending my Avitar/Profilephot/businesscard. That said, the recognizable but "oh hey that's cool" shot can be hard to cram into a 80pix by 80 pix window. That said, there is something a little DMV about the "bodyless head in a box" look some folks go with.

    Nat- I like yours, shows a little of your personality! Great Blog by the way too. Haven't commented for ages but I hit it weekly.

    Now lets see if mine loads...

  • (CMC) December 8, 2009 07:30 am

    [eimg link='' title='need4speed' url='']

  • (CMC) December 8, 2009 07:29 am

    my FB avatar:

  • alan December 8, 2009 07:03 am

    it's not necessarily facebook (or the other sites) themselves grabbing / selling your data. it's all those irritating little apps and games and quizzes everyone seems so dead set on. when you install these, you explicity allow a third party to access your data. they are data miners, just collecting information. additionally, if it's on facebook (private or not) you're data can be easily pulled as was made clear by a couple MIT students who ganked 70,000+ profiles with a simple shell script.

    if it's on facebook, or the internet at all, just consider it public knowledge. simple as that. if someone wants it, it's easy to get.

    and it's not just emploeyrs using facebook to spy on you, colleges are utilizing it as well.

  • TreeFrog Studios December 8, 2009 06:02 am

    Great tips! Also don't forget to update your avatar every so often. I just realized the other day that my photo was about 5 years old. One of the down sides to always being behind the camera I guess. :)

  • Steven Crawford December 8, 2009 05:58 am

    Here is mine. I shot this one using a work lamp to light the picture.

  • Shelly December 8, 2009 05:48 am

    I now feel so savvy! I've heard the word "avatar", knew I didn't know what it meant, and figured I'd leave it to the pros! Who knew I'd totally understand your explanation! I LOVE your writing, Natalie. Thank you!

  • Natalie Norton December 8, 2009 05:30 am

    @Fletch your comment made me laugh out loud. Nice.

  • Natalie Norton December 8, 2009 05:28 am

    What? You guys don't read gibberish?? :) Title corrected. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Todd Eddy December 8, 2009 05:04 am

    I've gone through a couple, never had a definitive profile pic though (for example the one that will show up in this post I've been using on forums for like 10 years or longer).

    Another tip I'd like to add, and it's demonstrated in the example pictures above, is use black and white. I've found those to be easier to see at tiny sizes than color ones. Another tip is to be consistent. Although i don't stick with this myself it's easier if you have one or two unique profile pictures. Like one abstract one for sites you may not want to post your real face for whatever reason and then your real face for sites like facebook. Reason I'd say use your real face on facebook is because I'll get friend requests and if I can't tell who it is by their picture I usually ignore the request right there.

  • Rolando December 8, 2009 04:53 am

    Nice article! Here's my avatar Hope you all like it!

  • Larry Eiss December 8, 2009 04:52 am

    OK, that was my old one. Here's the right Avatar--I hope!

  • Larry Eiss December 8, 2009 04:35 am

    This provides great perspective on avatar shots. Now let's see if mine shows up...

  • Sarah December 8, 2009 04:19 am

    Great tips, but you might want to fix the title of the post. :)

  • Matthew Dutile December 8, 2009 04:15 am

    Good reminder! I really need to get a profile photo put together for my FB/Twitter and Web about page. Now if I can just find someone to take it...

  • Wentworth December 8, 2009 03:20 am

    Thanks for the tips...

  • the clubhouse kid December 8, 2009 02:47 am

    boy, Facebook fiends are naïve.

    I'll most likely want distance from you if your face is in the picture.
    If your camera is in it then, buh bye.

    and yes dcclark, what is up with this title?!

  • Fletch December 8, 2009 02:32 am

    I though the best thing to do was chop your face out of one of your mates pics they took on the most recent night out!

  • Tara December 8, 2009 01:53 am

    While employers may spy on their employees using social media sites, we hear of this more and more often these days, they can only see what your privacy settings allow and, more importantly, what you put out there. I have yet to hear of any of these social networking sites selling information.

  • dcclark December 8, 2009 01:50 am

    The title of this post is a bit hard to understand...

  • Steve December 8, 2009 01:48 am

    what is an avatar?

  • Karol K. December 8, 2009 01:32 am

    Here's my avatar. I've decided to go with a bright colorful background. I think that this way it attracts more attention. What do you think?

  • Danferno December 8, 2009 01:31 am

    Eh, no they don't. At least Facebook doesn't (if they are, they're violating their own ToS).

  • egilje December 8, 2009 01:16 am

    #5 should be #1, I can't handle the porn shots and especially not the "check out my muscles" shot. Being a girl, that absolutely makes a guy look like a fruitcake to me.

  • Reznor December 8, 2009 01:14 am

    My advice is to not use a photo of yourself on any social media site AT ALL. All of them sell your information to make a profit and employers use these sites to spy on their employees. You really want that?