Thursday, January 24, 2013

Making the Best Profile Pics

I have been asked from time to time, how to make a good profile pic that portrays one's personality and also takes best advantage of appearance.

(This was an accidental shot taken at sunset. Didn't realize the light was so dwindling, but it landed on parts of me and that made it even more mysterious--accidents sometimes work, so don't toss anything out until you see it on the computer)

Let's go through the steps -

ASSETS:  What do people tend to compliment you on? Do you have dimples? Pretty eyes? Full lips? Nice even skin tones? Awesome hair? And what expressions are you most known for? Look in the mirror and try out a lot of different faces from serious to sexy, funny to happy.  I realized the things about me that are most likely to draw the eye are my full lips and my big bright hair.
WEAKNESSES:  I hate my nose and my neck.

Personality: Are you perky and adorable? Introspective and deep? Goth or confident? The background, costuming, lighting, all should take advantage of those sides of you, indoor or out. 

(Rather than just a "here's my lips" picture, putting on a mysterious costume and then drawing focus to my mouth, I gave a mood and played up my asset.)

(Hair! a fan blowing, a bright light to pick up the color and it's all about this asset.)

Posing:  Let's first talk about how you should never be photographed--from beneath! No one looks good with the photographer being lower than the poser. You are forced to look down, create a soft jawline and double chin, and generally look bigger than you are. Hand the camera to the tallest person in your group, have them stand on a retaining wall or sit down while they shoot you from a standing position. You know what I'm talking to -- those group shot line-ups where a friend took the shot and everyone looked bloated and awful because everyone was standing - photographer and posers.

Best pose:  Set the camera on timer, put it on a dining table or equal height. Sit in a chair about 8-10 feet away. Lean forward in the chair, arms on your knees and look up at the camera and smile. You will get a sharp jawline, no double chin, and a more youthful look.

Expressions: Don't be afraid to let your hair hang in your face, tilt your head, look off into the distance. Straight on isn't always the best shot. I like to imagine someone just either said something cute or asked me a question. Just before the camera goes off, remember something private and naughty.  It's not always easy but really important - if you smile, at the moment you smile, open your eyes wide too. They tend to become squinty when we smile and that makes you look cheeky and older.

Makeup:  Women know that you need a lot of makeup or you wash out in a pic. The key here is to know how to do it. Give your lips color without using pure red--harsh. Define your eyebrows so you don't look tired and scraggly. Don't line your eyes or they look beady and you look old, but do consider putting a thin black line on the upper eyelashes. You need to powder up a lot to keep away greasiness. Cheek color--do not forget this! Take a test shot and look at it and you'll see where you're getting washed out.

Aids:  Fans--I like the fact that they make things come to life by taking the hard edge off of hair, feeling outdoorsy and also keeping you from getting too shiny in the face. Some folks will use lights and if you use CFL bulbs inside, you will turn out very yellow. Try ideally to do a shot indoors in daytime with window blinds open. You get plenty of light, but not directly so you aren't squinting. As hard as it can be to do, consider opening your eyes wide when you smile as the camera is about to click so you don't end up squinty eyed. I advise to not use the flash if you can help it and lighten and contrast when you go to after effects. Flashes can wash you out and make you squint more.

Cropping:  You will want to crop a shot down and get whatever portion of you makes a good head shot. Remove the bust or keep the bust depending on what kind of shot you will use it for, personal or professional. Remember too that it might take 50 shots to get one that looks good to work with. Don't be discouraged, models take just as many to get that "sweet" shot.

Don't be afraid to try cropping to make yourself a mystery. You get 4 different attitudes about me in these profile pics cropped from the same photo -

(A little shy)

(a good listener)

(a little naughty)

(me, but not everything)

Photo retouch: You can get Paint free online.  I use Photoshop and although I only know very crude basics, I can take a photo like this one (below) taken on an overcast day indoors and soup up the light and adjust it so my outdoor hair color shows. I can even crank up the contrast to turn it into a piece of art. What you are most likely to use are contrast and brightness, color adjustments (usually more red and yellow look good), and perhaps clone stamp if you want to stamp out a blemish, scar, or undereye circles.

(raw shot)

(more contrast, more brightness, more red, a little bit more yellow so my hair is my outside color without being in the sunlight and squinting)

(Very high contrast)

Get comfortable, "talk" to the camera as if a dear friend is in the room, or someone you'd like to flirt with. 

I very nearly threw out this shot that has become one of my favorites. I was sitting down and leaning forward to test the camera's distance and a fan I had left running on the floor caught me. I got a test shot with the camera, saw it on the screen and thought it was a dud until I brought it up on the computer. A dear friend said "I know that expression. It's the `we're going to go on another adventure' look." I realized that if it struck a note of familiarity, it was portraying me well.

**At noon EST, I am putting up a post on how to do a profile pic using nightvision/IR**


  1. If I have any control, you'll never see a profile shot of me. Hate my profile. Frankly, I hate candid photos, so I tend not to give up control. LOL! Good tips though. You're definitely right about getting far enough away from the camera. Most point and shoots have a fairly wide angle lens and so the closer you get, the more distorted you can become. You might be looking fatter in the face than you would be had you, as you said, placed it on table instead of holding it at arms length. So, zoom, focus, and expose for that chair you'll be sitting in; set the timer and have fun. Also, I would recommend that you explore your camera's settings. Many cameras these days allow you to control how much flash you're getting. This is important if you seem to be getting washed out. You might still want some fill light but don't want to become overexposed, so try dialing down the flash from full power.

  2. Not your usual type of post, but very helpful info!

    And you're absolutely right! Photoshop (et al) can do wonders with photos, even ones you might think didn't come out well.

    Play with the lighting, contrast and color; you might be surprised how good some of those shots turn out!