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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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Unbenannt-3-1

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  

Sep 8, 2014
BY Micke
Connecting people

Why is social media called antisocial?

You have all seen the pictures circulating on the net. A bunch of people all tapping at their smartphones and paying no attention to the world around them. With the title: ANTISOCIAL. And you have probably also seen this is real life. Sometimes a friend just seems to be more interested in the phone than in you. And maybe it has been the other way around sometime? ;) Most of these people are probably using social media. I do agree that it is rude to ignore persons who are physically present and pay more attention to the phone. Especially if you are alone with someone. And yes, that behavior seems antisocial from other’s point of view. But the funny thing is really that social media and our mobile devices form the most social system invented so far. Think about it. You can be in contact with people everywhere in the world. You can send and receive messages instantly and follow what others do right now. You can share your own feelings spontaneously. You can have a pure peer-to-peer exchange of thoughts not curated by any outsiders. You can select to communicate with a single person or a larger group. You are not limited to written text, you can use pictures and video as well. The real point here is that those “antisocial” types aren’t just tapping their phones, they are communicating with real people. Our traditional definition for the word social was formed before we had Internet. People associate it with personal face-to-face contact and are slow to update their mindsets. Or to be precise, we already have a younger generation who have grown up with the net and social media services. Their definition is up to date, but many of us older persons still see the net as less social or not social at all. Let’s all agree to never call someone who is concentrating on the phone antisocial. But the word rude may be justified. Let’s also agree to not be rude against others by ignoring them in favor of the phone. It’s of course OK to check the phone now and then at the party, but always prioritize people who are present and want to talk to you. And why not take it one step further? Turn off the phone and try to be without it for a couple of hours. Can you do it? Next time you go out for dinner with someone is a good time for that experiment. You may be less social on the net for a while, but your company will see you as much more social.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. If you must be able to take urgent calls and can’t turn off the phone, at least turn off the data connection. That will mute the social media apps.  

Aug 21, 2014
BY Micke
alice

1,2 billion passwords stolen, but does it affect me?

You have heard the news. Russian hackers have managed to collect a pile of no less than 1,2 billion stolen user IDs and passwords from approximately 420 000 different sites. That’s a lot of passwords and your own could very well be among them. But what’s really going on here? Why is this a risk for me and what should I do? Read on, let’s try to open this up a bit. First of all. There are intrusions in web systems every day and passwords get stolen. Stolen passwords are traded on the underground market and misused for many different purposes. This is nothing new. The real news here is just the size of the issue. The Russian hacker gang has used powerful scripts to harvest the Internet for vulnerable systems and automatically hacked them, ending up with this exceptionally large number of stolen passwords. But it is still good that people write and talk about this, it’s an excellent reminder of why your personal passwords habits are important. Let’s first walk you through how it can go wrong for an ordinary Internet user. Let’s call her Alice. Alice signs up for a mail account at Google. She’s lucky, alice@gmail.com is free. She’s aware of the basic requirements for good passwords and selects one with upper- and lowercase letters, digits and some special characters. Alice is quite active on the net and uses Facebook as well as many smaller sites and discussion forums. Many of them accepts alice@gmail.com as the user ID. And it’s very logical to also use the same password, it sort of belongs together with that mail address and who wants to remember many passwords? Now the evil hackers enter the scene and starts scanning the net for weak systems. Gmail is protected properly and withstands the attacks. But many smaller organizations have sites maintained on a hobby basis, and lack the skills and resources to really harden the site. One of these sites belongs to a football club where Alice is active. The hackers get access to this site’s user database and downloads it all. Now they know the password for alice@gmail.com on that site. Big deal, you might think. The hackers know what games Alice will play in, no real harm done. But wait, that’s not all. It’s obvious that alice@gmail.com is a Gmail user, so the hackers try her password on gmail.com. Bingo. They have her email, as well as all other data she keeps on the Google sites. They also scan through a large number of other popular internet sites, including Facebook. Bingo again. Now the hackers have Alice’s Facebook account and probably a couple of other sites too. Now the hackers starts to use their catch. They can harvest Alice’s accounts for information, mail conversations, other’s contact info and e-mails, documents, credit card numbers, you name it. They can also use her accounts and identity to send spam or do imposter scams, just to list some examples. So what’s the moral of the story? Alice used a good password but it didn’t protect her in this case. Her error was to reuse the password on many sites. The big sites usually have at least a decent level of security. But if you use the same password on many sites, its level of protection is the same as the weakest site where it has been used. That’s why reusing your main mail password, especially on small shady sites, is a huge no-no. But it is really inconvenient to use multiple strong passwords, you might be thinking right now. Well, that’s not really the case. You can have multiple passwords if you are systematic and use the right tools. Make up a system where there is a constant part in every password. This part should be strong and contain upper- and lowercase characters, digits and special characters. Then add a shorter variable part for every site. This will keep the passwords different and still be fairly easy to remember. Still worried about your memory? Don’t worry, we have a handy tool for you. The password manager F-Secure Key. But what about the initial question? Does this attack by the Russian hackers affect me? What should I do? We don’t know who’s affected as we don’t know (at the time of writing) which sites have been affected. But the number of stolen passwords is big so there is a real risk that you are among them. Anyway, if you recognize yourself in the story about Alice, then it is a good idea to start changing your passwords right away. You might not be among the victims of these Russian hackers, but you will for sure be a victim sooner or later. Secure your digital identities before it happens! If you on the other hand already have a good system with different passwords on all your sites, then there’s no reason to panic. It’s probably not worth the effort to start changing them all before we know which systems were affected. But if the list of these 420 000 sites becomes public, and you are a user of any of these sites, then it’s important to change your password on that site.   Safe surfing, Micke  

Aug 7, 2014
BY Micke