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How to create a great profile picture

563677_45352028Our identities in social media play an increasing role in our lives, both the private and professional part of it. And our visual image, the profile picture, is a central part of that. A colleague asked med for some hints about how to create a great profile picture, and here’s my answer. Note that this is written with a professional in mind, but you can apply the same process if you want to make a profile picture for purely personal use. That is actually even more fun as you often can be bolder and more creative.

Plan the message – your “personal brand”

Ok, so you want a profile picture. Let’s first think about you and your profile. Why did you create the profile? What are you trying to tell the world? What kind of impression do you want to deliver with the profile and its picture? Do you want to be seen as a leader, an expert, a visionary, an entrepreneur, an entertainer, a trustworthy partner or just as a nice and comfortable person? And what’s the scope? Is it limited to your professional role only, or do you have hobbies, sports, organization memberships etc. that you want to expose as well? But be focused and don’t bring in too many things. And what’s your primary target audience?

Start by thinking about your personal brand for a while.

Plan the image

When you know who you are and what your brand is, then it is time to plan how to express it visually. Here come’s some points you should consider and which hopefully help you decide what your picture should look like.

But you could start by checking your own photo collection, or ask a friend who likes to shoot. There may already be a picture of you that match your personal brand. If you find a candidate you have to decide if it is good enough or if you want build from scratch. Jump straight to the last section if you find a good shot.

  • A profile picture is small. It may be displayed at medium size on your profile page but most people see just a small thumbnail of it. Do not plan a picture with a message that depends on small details.
  • Make a long-lasting picture. Like the logo of a brand, your picture shouldn’t change frequently. Avoid using visual elements that are in right now, but may be passé tomorrow.
  • Portrait or not? Profile pictures were planned to be a portrait of the user, but there is usually no policy or technical limitation that enforce this. You can use any image, but this guide will focus on how to make a portrait of you.
  • Color or black & white? BW can be used to create an artistic impression, and it may help gaining attention among vivid color shots. But BW depends a lot more on form and shapes, which are hard to express in small format. Color is a safer choice.
  • Think of feelings and adjectives that would support your brand. Like calm, reliable, energetic, empathy, joyful, fun, dignity, etc. Keep the selected words in mind throughout the process.
  • Get inspired by others’ profile pictures. Use Google’s image search with keywords like “profile picture” or “portrait”. Add another word to the search if you want pictures with a particular concept. Also browse through your favorite social media and pay attention to others’ profile pictures. Don’t be shy to steal ideas and build upon them, but avoid copying people in the same digital neighborhood.
  • How bold do you dare to be? You fight for attention in a boiling kettle full of vivid images, but your role and brand may require some dignity.
  • Find out what aspect ratio your favorite social media use for profile pictures. Are they shown as squares or are they higher than they are wide? This should be taken into account when planning the composition.
  • Just a portrait or some environment too? Putting a person into an environment tells a lot more than just a face. Could a particular environment be a good way to express your brand? Are you interacting with the environment or just posing in front of it? But do remember the restriction about image size and small details.
  • All pictures have a background even if it isn’t an environment. Dark or light? Smooth or textured? Solid color or gradient color? Just remember that the background shouldn’t compete with the object unless it has an important story to tell.
  • What colors do you like and what colors would support your brand? If you want to address a global audience, remember that colors have different meanings in other cultures. Check this and this before you decide.
  • Your role may demand a certain type of clothing, and you may have some strong personal preferences in this area. You can be mainstream by following the code or revolt by going your own way. As profile pictures are small you are quite likely to do just show head and parts of the upper body rather than full figure, so the lower parts doesn’t matter. A hat works fine, if it fits your brand.
  • How do you want to pose? Do not plan a too fancy pose as those rarely feel natural in the final picture. Remember that your hands tells a lot about your feelings, also plan their position.
  • Are there any personal attributes that definitively are part of your brand? A typical piece of clothing, or maybe a ponytail?
  • The face expression is important. Use the feelings and adjectives mentioned above when figuring out what expression is best for you.
  • Even subtle changes in the camera angle can have a significant impact on the feeling of the picture. You are on the same level as your peers. You may look helpless and begging if you look up on your audience. And a powerful rulers looks down on his people. These rules may not apply anymore if you go for dramatic camera angles.
  • The lighting of the subject is important. A sharp harsh light creates sharp shadows and make the picture more dramatic. So does light from an unnatural direction, like illuminating a face from below. Smooth even light from every direction eliminates shadows but make the picture dull. The right lighting is usually somewhere between these extremes.
  • If you don’t need an environment you can play with the framing of the face. A dramatic effect is to frame the face really tightly, or even focus on a part of it.
  • Looking into the camera creates a connection between you and the audience. But you may want to differ by looking out of the picture or at an object in the visible environment.
  • Accessories may emphasize your story. You can bring in items that relate to your role and brand.
  • You may want to add graphical elements in post processing. It is good to plan that before you start shooting. These elements will become part of the final composition and affect the visual balance of the picture.

Yes, a lot of different aspects to think of. You do not need to pay a lot of attention to all of these, but they are all things that affect the picture. You may pick some of these points and focus on them. Hope this section puts your mind in creative mode so that you can come up with a great idea.

Take the photo

OK, now you should have a visual idea in your mind about what you want to create. Let’s start doing it by shooting the picture. Some hints that makes it easier to succeed.

  • Ask someone to help you. Sure, you can use a tripod and timer to shoot by yourself. But it is so much easier if you don’t have to run back and forth between your pose and the camera. It is of course a plus if that someone has experience in portrait shooting. Depending on your planned shot, it might be good to have an assistant as well.
  • Plan what camera to use. You do not need the latest megapixel monster as the picture will be shown small. But you should definitively use a camera that produce sharp pictures. Some mobile phone cameras are already good enough, but cheap pocket cameras may not be. Most cameras manage to take decent photos in good light, but use a system camera if you want to play with low-light scenes.
  • Scout the place to shoot where you have the right environment or background.
  • Plan when to shoot. The light conditions depend on weather and time of day. Other conditions, like traffic for example, may dictate when to shoot if you are planning to do it in a public place.
  • Plan the lighting. Will natural light be enough or do you need artificial light to achieve the desired result? If the light is sharp, you may want your assistant to reflect light onto the shadow side of the face using a light flat object, like a sheet of Styrofoam.
  • Shoot wide. Leave enough room on all sides of the object. It is easier to crop and create the perfect composition afterwards on the computer.
  • Control the balance between object and background. You can make the background less distracting by making it darker or less sharp. You can blur it by moving the object further from the background and/or using a larger aperture setting in the camera.
  • If you plan to replace the background using Photoshop, then it should be as even as possible. Select a color that creates a sharp contrast around all parts of you.
  • Be careful with focusing, especially if you try to blur the background by using a large aperture. Always make sure the primary area of interest is in focus, which almost always is the eyes in portraits.
  • Work on the technical details first without minding pose and face expression. Shoot, check the result on the camera’s screen, adjust something and shoot again until the light and exposure are right.
  • Then continue to find the right pose. Just shoot until you are satisfied with what you see on the screen.
  • Finally work on the face expression.
  • When done, look through the shot carefully and check all the details. Load the picture into a laptop and view it on a proper screen before you pack your stuff and leave the shooting scene. At this point it is still easy to correct small details and take another shot.
  • Why not try some variations when you are up to speed. Change clothes or pose or something else and shoot some more. It’s good to have more shots to select from.

Finalize the image

Now you should have a decent picture of yourself. It might be good as is, but all pictures can be improved by post processing. Use Photoshop or your favorite image editing program, or ask a savvy friend to help. These are examples of things that can be used to brush up the picture.

  • Adjusting overall exposure, contrast and color saturation.
  • Putting more or less attention on objects by making them darker or lighter.
  • Selectively blurring unimportant parts.
  • Cropping the picture.
  • Concentrating focus to the center of the image with a vignetting.
  • Cloning out distracting details.
  • Replacing the background.
  • Adding graphical elements like frames, logos and symbols.
  • Maybe doing more advanced manipulations like combining two shots with different face expressions. Your imagination is the only limit. (And the limited picture size of course.)
  • Or why not get a cheap round of plastic surgery if your Photoshop operator is savvy enough for that. :)
  • Remember to zoom out and view the picture as small as it will be shown in reality. Does it still work?

OK, that’s it. Now you should have a great profile picture. But as always, testing is important. Show the picture to someone else and ask them for honest opinions. Your test audience should not know how you have planned the picture and what you have tried to achieve. Even better, use people who don’t know you at all. Ask them to describe the person in the picture just based on what they feel when seeing it. (Some persons are better than others on this.) It’s a success if that match what you tried to achieve.

And last but not least. This is important but it is after all just a picture. It helps you get attention and new followers, but in the long run people will still judge you by what you post.

Safe surfing,
Micke

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Your digital memories – will they vanish or persist?

If you like sailing and tall ships, I can recommend this podcast about Pam Bitterman’s book Sailing to the far horizon. It’s a great story about the last years of the community-operated ship Sofia, covering both a lot of happy sailing and the ship’s sad end in the early eighties. But this is not about hippies on a ship, it’s about how we record and remember our lives. In the podcast Pam tells us how the book was made possible by her parents saving her letters home. Perhaps they had a hunch that this story will be written down one day. Going on to state that e-mails and phone calls wouldn’t have been saved that way. That’s a very interesting point that should make us think. At least it made me think about what we will remember about our lives in, say, twenty years? We collect more info about what we are doing than ever before. We shoot digital pictures all the time and post status updates on Facebook. We are telling the world where we are, what we are doing and what we feel. Maybe in a way that is shallower than letters home, but we sample our lives at a very granular rate. The real question is however how persistent this data is? If we later realize we have experienced something unique enough to write a book about, have our digital life left enough traces to support us? Pam wrote the book about Sofia some twenty years later. A twenty year old paper is still young, but that’s an eternity in the digital world. Will you still be on the same social media service? Do you still have the same account or have you lost it. Does the service even exist? And what about your e-mails, have you saved them? How are your digital photos archived? You may even have cleaned up yourself to fit everything into a cheaper cloud account. Here’s something to keep in mind about retaining your digital life. Realize the value of your personal records. You may fail to see the value in single Facebook posts, but they may still form a valuable wholeness. If you save it you can choose to use it or not in the future. If you lose it you have no choice. Make sure you don’t lose access to your mail, social media and cloud storage accounts. That would force you to start fresh, which usually means data loss. Always register a secondary mail address in the services. That will help you recover if you forget the password. Use a password manager to avoid losing the password in the first place. Redundancy is your friend. Do not store important data in a single location. The ideal strategy is to store your files both on a local computer and in a cloud account. It provides redundancy and also stores data in several geographically separated locations. This is easy with younited because you can set it to automatically back up selected folders. Mail accounts have limited capacity and you can’t keep stuff forever. Don’t delete your correspondence. Check your mail client instead for a function that archives your mail to local storage. Check your social media service for a way to download a copy of your stuff. In Facebook you can currently find this function under Settings / General. It’s good to do this regularly, and you should at least do it if you plan to close your account and go elsewhere. Migrate your data when switching to a new computer or another cloud service. It might be tricky and take some time, but it is worth it. Do not see it as a great opportunity to start fresh and get rid of "old junk". If you are somewhat serious about digital photography, you should get familiar with DAM. That means Digital Asset Management. This book is a good start. Pam did not have a book in mind when she crossed the Pacific. But she was lucky and her parents helped her retain the memories. You will not be that lucky. Don’t expect your friends on Facebook to archive posts for you, you have to do it yourself. You may not think you’ll ever need the stuff, just like Pam couldn’t see the book coming when onboard Sofia. But you never know what plans the future has for you. When you least expect it, you might find yourself in a developing adventure. Make yourself a favor and don’t lose any digital memories. Safe surfing, Micke  

Oct 13, 2014
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On Ello you’re not a product, you’re a feature.

Most of us have some kind of relationship with Facebook. We either love it, hate it or ignore it. Some of us are hooked. Some have found new opportunities, and many have got themselves into a mess on Facebook. Some are worry-free and totally open while others are deeply concerned about privacy. But we probably all agree that Facebook has changed our lives or at least impacted our ways to communicate. Facebook has showed that social media is an important tool for both business and private affairs. Facebook was in the right place at the right time to become the de-facto standard for social media. But the success of Facebook is also what makes it scary. Imagine the power you have if you know everything about everyone in the civilized world. And on top of that with quite loose legislation about what you can do with that data. Ok, everything and everyone are exaggerations, but not too far from the truth. Others have tried to challenge Facebook, but no one has succeeded so far. One reason is that social media automatically is monopolizing. The most important selection criteria is where your friends are, and that drives everyone into one common service. The fact that even Google failed with Google+, despite their huge resources and a ready user base from services like Gmail, just underlines how solid Facebook’s position is. Ello is the latest challenger and they certainly have an interesting approach. Ello tries to hit Facebook straight in its weakest point and provide a service that respect user integrity. They may lack the resources of Google, but they can be credible in this area. The choice between Facebook and Google is like a rock and a hard place for the privacy minded, but Ello is different. Their manifesto says it all. Will Ello survive and will they be the David that finally defeats Goliath? Ello is in a very early phase and they certainly have a very long way to go. But remember that their success depends on you too. You may not be a product on Ello, but you are certainly a feature. The main feature, actually. The team can only provide a framework for our social interactions. But people to be social with is absolutely crucial for any social network. So Ello’s raise or fall is mostly in our hands now. They need enough pioneers to make it a vibrant society. The development team can make the service fail, but they can only create potential for success. Ello needs you to materialize that potential. So what’s my honest opinion about Ello? The fact that the service is based on privacy and integrity is good. We need a social media service like this. But there are also many open questions and dark clouds on Ello’s sky. People have complained about its usability. And yes, usability is quite weird in many ways. It’s also very obvious that Ello is too premature to be a tool for non-technical users. Now in October 2014, I would personally only invite people who are used to beta software. But both usability and the technical quality can be fixed, it just takes more work from the team. A bigger question mark is however the future business model of Ello. On Facebook you’re a product and that’s what pays for the “free” service. But how is Ello going to strike a balance between privacy and funding the operation? This is one of the big challenges. Another is if the privacy-promise really is enough? Many of us are already privacy-aware, but the vast majority is still quite clueless. What Ello needs is either a big increase in privacy awareness or something clever that Facebook doesn’t provide and can’t copy quickly. It may seem futile for a small startup to challenge Facebook. But keep in mind that Facebook was small too once in the beginning. Facebook showed us that we need social media. Perhaps Ello can show us that we need social media with integrity. But anyway, you are among those who decide Ello’s future by either signing up or ignoring it.   Safe surfing, @Micke-fi on Ello   Picture: ello.co screen capture

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How should we deal with defamation and hate speech on the net? – Poll

Everybody probably agree that the net has developed a discussion culture very different from what we are used to in real life. The used adjectives vary form inspiring, free and unrestricted to crazy, sick and shocking. The (apparent) anonymity when discussing on-line leads to more open and frank opinions, which is both good and bad. It becomes especially bad when it turns into libel and hate speech. What do you think about this? Read on and let us know in the poll below. We do have laws to protect us against defamation. But the police still has a very varying ability to deal with crimes on the net. And the global nature of Internet makes investigations harder. Most cases are international, at least here in Europe where we to a large extent rely on US-based services. This is in the headlines right now here in Finland because of a recent case. The original coverage is in Finnish so I will give you a short summary in English. A journalist named Sari Helin blogged about equal rights for sexual minorities, and how children are very natural and doesn’t react anyway if a friend has two mothers, for example. This is a sensitive topic and, hardly surprising, she got a lot of negative feedback. Part of the feedback was clear defamation. Calling her a whore, among other nasty things. She considered it for a while and finally decided to report the case to the police, mainly because of Facebook comments. This is where the really interesting part begins. Recently the prosecutor released the decision about the case. They simply decided to drop it and not even try to investigate. The reason? Facebook is in US and it would be too much work contacting the authorities over there for this rather small crime. A separately interviewed police officer also stated that many of the requests that are sent abroad remain unanswered, probably for the same reason. This reflects the situation in Finland, but I guess there are a lot of other countries where the same could have happened. Is this OK? The resourcing argument is understandable. The authorities have plenty of more severe crimes to deal with. But accepting this means that law and reality drift even further apart. Something is illegal but everybody knows you will get away with the crime. That’s not good. Should we increase resourcing and work hard to make international investigations smoother? That’s really the only way to make the current laws enforceable. The other possible path is to alter our mindset about Internet discussions. If I write something pro-gay on the net, I know there’s a lot of people who dislike it and think bad things about me. Does it really change anything if some of these people write down their thoughts and comment on my writings? No, not really. But most people still feel insulted in cases like this. I think we slowly are getting used to the different discussion climate on the net. We realize that some kinds of writing will get negative feedback. We are prepared for that and can ignore libel without factual content. We value feedback from reputable persons, and anonymous submissions naturally have less significance. Pure emotional venting without factual content can just be ignored and is more shameful for the writer than for the object. Well, we are still far from that mindset, even if we are moving towards it. But which way should we go? Should we work hard to enforce the current law and prosecute anonymous defamers? Or should we adopt our mindset to the new discussion culture? The world is never black & white and there will naturally be development on both these fronts. But in which direction would you steer the development if you could decide? Now you have to pick the one you think is more important.   [polldaddy poll=8293148]   Looking forward to see what you think. The poll will be open for a while and is closed when we have enough data.   Safe surfing, Micke  

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