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

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?

I say 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. I’d go so far as to say that 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. Here’s an image taken with a Canon G9 (a camera that’s almost 3 years old):


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. This is why I recommend having 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.

Eric Doggett is a photographer based in Austin, Texas. He also runs, a photo lighting and business site laced with a splash of humor.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Abigail July 7, 2013 06:27 am

    Thank you for the much needed and helpful information.

  • Alexandra February 21, 2013 08:44 am

    Here are some great tips from photographer Peter Hurley demonstrating how to get the best head shot ;)

    Say CHEESE! :D

  • RG January 31, 2013 11:28 pm

    Hi, I just wanted to say thanks so much for this post! I'm helping a friend with their linkedin profile photo this weekend, using their DSLR, and these tips (particularly on lighting but also the aperture tips - I was worried about the background looking too prominent) are so helpful. Really appreciate the step-by-step approach!

  • kannadasan January 22, 2013 08:37 pm

    really thanks a lot for this post. Timely help for me, now iam going to shoot my client with this technique.

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  • Pawe? February 15, 2012 07:49 pm

    Thanks for that useful tips. I will try to make some good profile pic this weekend :)

  • zed July 24, 2011 02:17 pm

    this is my first visit to your digital photography blog Darren, I heard of it so many times on your books .. I really like it. keep it up :)

  • Jay April 8, 2010 03:09 am

    The G9 maybe 3 years old, but it's a darn good camera. Not what I'd call a drag to the bar point and shoot. It was probably about $400-450 new? It's also kind of big to fit in a pocket, so it's probably not the best example for a average P&S camera.

    Generally good stuff otherwise, though I agree profile pic is personal taste and not ever one is going to want to use a "nice" portrait.

  • davwith April 4, 2010 08:03 am

    Great tips new to the game I heat all photos of me I will take new one and im glad with your simple start about lighting will look out for your tips again thank you

  • Matthew Duke April 3, 2010 09:55 pm

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

    Some of the free iphone apps such as moreLomo can add a different effect as well for a self portrait profile picture.

  • Eric Doggett April 3, 2010 05:29 am

    Thanks everyone for the comments. While I would agree that this is definitely a 'basic' post, hopefully it will help some new people interested in good profile pics.

    Of course, I could overwhelm you with discussions of gels, white balance, non-hdr hdr, lighting modifiers, etc., but since it was my first post here I thought I would start pretty simple :)


  • Kyle Bailey April 3, 2010 02:18 am

    Great tips as usual. I am taking new profile photos this weekend and I'm going to use these tips to improve what I'm using now, a picture of my car. Follow me on Twitter or check out my blog at for the results plus information about my journey from Rookie to Professional photographer.

    Great resource - thanks for all the tips!

  • Aggie Villanueva April 3, 2010 02:14 am

    Eric, this was wonderfully concise, and so informative. I'm posting it in my revolving posts so people have a chance to see it more than once!

  • Arbaz April 2, 2010 10:51 pm

    Thanks so much for this very informative post, i have used all the steps you mentioned but with my iPhone 3G, and i found it very useful, and now my new display pic is my facebook profile's pic. thanks again for this, i mean no know just tell these tips to anyone as photography is a hell of job

  • Horse Gifts April 2, 2010 10:43 pm

    I like social media photos that are brands or icons.

  • Simon April 2, 2010 07:31 pm

    My current Facebook photo is a casual shot of me leaning against a signpost, taken by a fellow traveler in Peru... I like that much better than any carefully posed effort.

  • Steven April 2, 2010 05:48 pm

    good post, but a bit too simple. i would think a person who reads DPS already knows all these basics.
    what i was expecting was something more detailed, like different shooting angles and the impacts they give, face position, body position (in other words those tips for portrait photography which would be relevant here).

  • Pixellentino April 2, 2010 03:13 pm

    i believe this is an april fools article!

  • Nick April 2, 2010 01:34 pm

    Great Tips! I really need to take a better photo of my self too, but I gotta order the wireless remote for my dslr a try to make a good pose, but I don't know. We will see.

  • Jacey April 2, 2010 12:30 pm

    The one thing I found to be annoying about this article was the bit towards the end, about Aperture and Av mode, because "most any point and shoot camera that’s available today. I’d go so far as to say that the beer-smelling camera you used at the club last week" most likely is not going to have any sort of controllable aperture settings. I myself have a DSLR, so thats not a problem, but if this article is intended to be used by people with P&S's, I think the aperture bit may confuse them

  • Brenda C. April 2, 2010 05:47 am

    My daughter takes the best shots of me. We usually go outside for good natural lighting and look for a pleasing, non-busy background. My favorite profile pic came at the city park. I was sitting on the fountain's edge while she snapped shots. Suddenly a breeze lifted my long hair, she snapped, and she captured a great shot! I received the most complimentary comments on that shot. [eimg url='' title='B_YT_profile.jpg']

  • Tyler April 2, 2010 05:06 am

    my avatar is rarely me.... right now it is worms and worm castings, last week it was some bloody steak, before that is was wilford brimley's mug on a piece of salami..... don't take social networking so seriously.... ok, back outside i go.

  • Zack Jones April 2, 2010 03:01 am

    Speaking of avatars, etc how does one get an avatar to show up beside their comments here at DPS?

  • Karen Stuebing April 2, 2010 02:41 am

    I hate every photo of me, taken by me or anybody else. I use a luna moth as my avatar.

    I'm really not going through all that set up for some tiny thumbnail you can barely see any way.

    Maybe that's why I hate all photos of me. :)

  • Devin April 2, 2010 02:30 am

    As an experienced amateur, I have always forgotten about light first. A really good tip here. Thanks Darren.

  • Dawn DiLorenzo April 2, 2010 01:54 am

    Thanks for the tips! I'm always trying to figure out how to get my head in that little box (not my plants though!).

  • wizziewoo April 2, 2010 01:52 am

    3 cheers for a very simple post for the newbies! While some of us find may these tips a little basic,everybody's gotta start somewhere. Great post and easy tips, good job!

  • Jenn April 2, 2010 01:45 am

    Good Article... These are some great tips on basic self portraits, and I would have to say that the cropping is the most important part of the taking pictures for social media...

    @Greg I completely agree with you that you want to show your personality and be recognizable.. your profile is the first impression people have for you.

  • Jason Collin Photography April 2, 2010 01:39 am

    I would definitely not elect for the hamming it up/goofy smile/super weird avatar profile photo for something potential business clients may see.

    @Greg I definitely like avatars that show what a person likes to do or is into. My own avatar is of my skimboarding.

    An alternative example of an avatar shot (than the one just on a fence) you can make just using one off camera flash in a regular location, can be seen here:

  • Shannon April 2, 2010 01:38 am

    Finding the good light is always the first step in any photo.

  • Greg Taylor April 2, 2010 01:01 am

    The biggest thing I considered when shooting my avatar photo is that I wanted to let people know something about me in one photo. Mine is a self portrait of me playing guitar.

    Don't be afraid to show some personality and your interests in your photo. Many times people will judge how much they'll trust you and how loud your voice will be based on your profile photo.

  • Jay McIntyre April 2, 2010 12:56 am

    A profile picture is a matter of personal taste, it should reflect your personality. I would say that this is a great post to explain a great way to take a self portrait, but confining yourself to some silly set of lighting and posing guidelines for a profile picture is a little bit ridiculous.
    [eimg url='' title='new%20profile%20pic.jpg']

  • Kaiser Sosay April 2, 2010 12:43 am

    A couple things... (1) are there any good set-up diagrams for this? (2) Should I have a strobe as rim/hair light? (3) And what about gels. I've heard that there are a couple that are good for color correcting (blue/orange).
    Lastly, why do the dates on these comments say April 2, when it's the 1st. Is that an April Fool's joke or is the server in Australia?

  • Matt April 2, 2010 12:31 am

    This is really sad. Can we get some better content?

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 2, 2010 12:30 am

    I have taken EVERY single photo for my profile picture for that last three years. Mostly its because my husband HATES the camera or I am always the one behind it, but it has afforded me the change to become quite practiced at self portraits. It's quite fun!

    PS: New photo contest announced today on my blog!

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 2, 2010 12:30 am

    I have taken EVERY single photo for my profile picture for that last three years. Mostly its because my husband HATES the camera or I am always the one behind it, but it has afforded me the change to become quite practiced at self portraits. It's quite fun!

    New photo contest announced ::today::

  • Dave Hodgkinson April 2, 2010 12:21 am

    "Once your happy with your image, you’ll need to crop it."