If you’re fine-tuning your LinkedIn profile, writing a short bio because you’re seeking a new position, or want to build your business or personal brand, a lot hinges on getting everything spot-on.
However, one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of completing a short bio or LinkedIn profile is choosing the right image to use as your profile picture – and choosing the wrong type of image can potentially negate all of the hard work you put into fine-tuning your written content.
As the old cliché goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” – and if your picture gives the wrong impression, the people viewing it might not even get as far as reading the thousand (or hundred) words that accompany it.
If you want to make sure that your LinkedIn profile picture or professional bio image says all of the right things about you, or if you’re having problems taking or choosing an appropriate image – this article will provide you with some basic pointers to get you started.
The purpose and value of bio photos
Adding a picture to your LinkedIn profile or other professional bio helps to round out your profile and enhance the image that you portray as a whole.
According to LinkedIn’s own statistics, members with a profile photo receive up to 21 times more profile views than those without, which means more chances to connect, get yourself seen, and promote yourself or your business to potential prospects or recruiters.
When it comes to other applications for bio photos, picking the right image sets the tone and style for the content that accompanies it, and vitally, personalises it and puts a human face on what you are doing.
This helps you to connect with the people that view your profile or read your content and creates a more memorable impression. Your picture can get across to your prospects the image that you want to portray – be that professional, accessible, serious, positive, knowledgeable, or something else.
Using a bio image also helps to boost engagement, which should be obvious – after all, few people will buy a product that isn’t accompanied by images, so why would they buy in to what you are saying or doing without a visual anchor to support it?
However, choosing an image that isn’t a good fit for its intended purpose or that inadvertently generates the wrong impression will have the opposite effect, and can compromise perception of both what you say, and you personally.
Potential applications for your bio picture
LinkedIn isn’t the only potential application for your bio photo, and choosing a strong picture and incorporating it into profiles and bios that you use for other purposes can help to present a cohesive image across all of your professional collateral.
Here are some of the potential applications for your bio picture:
- LinkedIn profiles, posts, and articles.
- “About us” page content or “meet the team” sections within your business website.
- Blog post profiles and sign-offs, either within your own blog or when guest posting elsewhere.
- Advice articles, white papers, and other types of informative authority content.
- Your professional or business social media pages and feeds.
- Company profiles and mission statements.
- Corporate brochures and marketing materials.
- Endorsements, reviews, and recommendations.
- To attach to your CV – although there is a lot of debate over whether or not this is a good idea, and may even lead to your application being rejected by some UK recruiters. However, outside of the UK, a personal photo is generally expected or even required in some countries.
What type of image to choose for your bio picture
When you understand the value of using a bio picture, the next step is deciding what type of picture to use. If you use LinkedIn regularly or spend a lot of time online, you’ll probably notice that there are several different styles of bio images used for different applications.
These include the simple headshot, corporate logos, abstract artwork and designs, and product images/graphics that pertain to specific industries.
When it comes to choosing the right type of picture for your LinkedIn page or other bios, a headshot is almost always the best choice for two reasons. First of all, the image itself will be quite small, giving you limited space to work with. Secondly, what you are “selling” in this context is yourself, and your image as a professional.
On the other hand, if you work in a highly visual field such as graphic design or photography, an image of your work or a logo that you have created might be an appropriate choice. However, generally when it comes to your own professional profile that is written in the first person or designed to say something about you as a person, a headshot is most appropriate for its intended application.
The basics of taking a good headshot photo – and what to avoid
If you have decided to go with a headshot, there are a number of factors to consider before you even get as far as trying to capture the image itself.
Perhaps the most important point to open with is that you must never lose sight of the intended audience for your photo, and where and how it will be used. Just because you have a picture that you really like or that makes you look good doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for your profile or bio.
At its most basic level, this means that you’ll need to ensure that the image format and size is appropriate for its use, which means using a common file type like .jpg and ensuring that the resolution is crystal clear. You can always crop and resize the image as needed later on, but if you start off with a blurry or overly small photo you will soon begin to realise its limitations.
The photo should be taken in good lighting conditions – not so bright as to make the image washed out or too light, but never so dark that the image looks dull, unclear, or even sinister!
Using your camera’s flash can help to avoid producing an overly dark photo, but it can also cause reflection and glare. Good natural lighting conditions that don’t necessitate the use of a flash usually come out best.
The orientation of the shot is another important element – you will almost certainly need to provide an image in portrait rather than landscape to fit within the provided space for your chosen application. If you do take a shot in landscape, make sure there’s plenty of room in the shot on either side of you to allow you to edit it down to the right dimensions later on if necessary.
Think about the photo’s perspective and depth too. Many online platforms like LinkedIn will require you to crop the image to fit within a square or a circle, and so if the image is an extreme close-up without enough surrounding space to allow for this without trimming parts of you out, it won’t work.
You should be front and centre of the image itself, and not so far in the distance that your image is unclear or blends into the background, but leave yourself enough space to work with if you need to crop the image later on.
The background of your image
What’s going on in the background of the shot is important too. When you’re looking at a photo of yourself, you will tend to concentrate on you, which means you’re likely to automatically tune out the background.
However, when other people view your image or if they’re scrolling through a long list of pictures of different people, these things all serve to draw the eye and can take away from the focal point you want them to concentrate on: yourself.
Backgrounds that are too busy or distracting will compete with your viewer’s attention and weaken the impact of the intended focal point, and what’s going on in the background can be very telling as well so make sure it tells the right story!
Avoid using images that have other people (or pets) in them, that are overly busy, and vitally, that are messy, chaotic, or otherwise cheapen perception, like a picture taken in a pub or a bar.
To selfie or not to selfie?
There’s nothing wrong with using a good quality selfie for a bio picture. However, it is wise to steer clear of making it obvious that the image is a selfie, in order to ensure it doesn’t weaken your professional image.
This means ensuring that the hand and arm holding the camera aren’t in the shot, nor a mirror and the phone/camera itself. Taking the shot from a slight height can help you to capture a good image, but if the shot is taken looking down at your face from a sharp angle, this gives the picture away as a selfie too.
Tips on taking a good headshot picture
When you’ve got the basics down and know what to aim for in terms of orientation, resolution, perspective, and lighting, it’s time to think about how you present yourself and get down to taking your picture.
Your profile picture sends a very personal message about who you are in a professional context, which means that you need to look well-presented and professional within it.
If you usually wear glasses, then you may well want to wear them in your picture – but steer clear of dark lenses or sunglasses, and if you use reactive lenses check that they haven’t darkened in your shots!
The old adage of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” rings true here, so bear this in mind across the board when you’re planning your look for the picture itself.
The focal point of your picture
A good headshot should contain your whole head, neck, and shoulders, potentially extending as far as around the middle of your chest. Avoid taking a picture that crops out any part of your head, hair, or shoulders, and try to centre the image with some space above the top of your head and to the sides to provide perspective and allow for later cropping. This photo, for instance, won’t crop well:
Knowing what to do with your face when someone is taking a picture can be very challenging! We’ve all done it – taken a picture that we were sure was going to be awesome, only to be disappointed or horrified with the results.
A full smile that shows your teeth will make you look engaging, approachable, and friendly.
However, don’t go too far lest you end up looking like that manic dude at a party that nobody wants to get stuck talking to.
You might also want to consider a more enigmatic expression with a smaller smile that makes you look approachable but professional rather than as if someone just told you a great joke, like this:
If you want to look serious and authoritative, keep it subtle – donning a look of intense concentration is apt to result in looking frowny or stressed out, so try to keep your expression neutral and use clear, engaging eye contact with the camera to get your message across instead.
Your angle to the camera
If you take your profile picture head-on, you run a high risk of having it turn out like a mug shot.
Sitting or standing at a slight angle to the camera will generally produce a better effect and will add depth and perspective whilst still showing your whole face.
Taking the shot from just above eye level and looking up slightly will help to balance the picture and highlight your eyes, rather than the lower half of your face – providing the right focal point to create engagement.
Making eye contact with the camera will draw your viewers in and provide that personal connection you want to make, but don’t hold the camera too close to your face or overdo it, or it may come across as a thousand-yard stare instead.
Take lots of pictures
The key to taking a good photo if you’re not a professional photographer or a model generally comes down to experimenting, taking lots of pictures, and choosing the best one.
This will allow you to try out a range of different poses, facial expressions, and angles, and the more pictures you take in quick succession the more you are likely to relax and so, stand a better chance of getting the right shot.
Don’t check each picture after taking it – get a set of photos together before you start to go through them in detail. However, do take a cursory glance through your frames every 10 or so shots, so that you can check for anything obviously amiss like a wonky tie or those aforementioned dark reactive lenses in your glasses!
Don’t be afraid to try out a range of different styles and poses either. Trying something new will give you enough variety to make an informed choice on the best shot, and those last few images when you’re winding down and starting to relax will often be the best of the whole set.
Ideally, your final photo should be good to go with just minor cropping or colour correction – if you feel the need to edit your image heavily, this might be because you haven’t yet taken the perfect shot or are not totally happy with your appearance.
Remember that your image is intended for a specific purpose and that it is supposed to represent you, and not your skills with Photoshop, so using funky filters or otherwise altering the image aside from making minor corrections is best saved for pictures that you want to keep for personal use.
Should you use a black and white image?
On the flipside, black and white headshots and profile pictures are a good choice for some applications and can create a very crisp, classic effect that may well enhance your professional image. They can also help to cover a multitude of sins such as an overly bright tie or clashing background colour.
It is worth checking out whether other people who use a profile picture for similar applications to your own choose black and white images, and if you find that the majority do, consider going down this route yourself.
Even if you find that black and white images aren’t hugely common amongst your peers and competitors, making your own image black and white might give you an advantage, as it will make it stand out from the crowd.
Should you consider hiring a professional to take your profile picture?
If you’re a high-level CEO or a leader or authority in your field, you might want to consider hiring a pro to take your profile picture.
The same is true if you really can’t seem to nail a good picture of yourself or are unhappy with your results. However, it is really hard to be objective when it comes to assessing pictures of ourselves – and we’ve all faced the scenario where friends and relatives love a particular picture of us that we personally can barely stand to look at!
Getting others’ opinions of the pictures you have taken is really valuable in this respect. An impartial third party such as a colleague or someone else who understands the intended use of the picture and its target audience can help you to pick up on problems you might have missed. It can also provide objectivity to allow you to view yourself as others do.
This can help you to avoid homing in on what you see as your worst or most prominent feature and remind you that while you personally have to be happy with the picture you choose, it is the impression that it creates with your prospects that really counts.
Polly Kay is a British copywriter and content writer with a digital marketing background. After studying Marketing (BA Hons) at university, she first honed her skills as a copywriter by working in-house for an award-winning creative agency in London before branching out on her own in 2012. Today, Polly Kay Copywriting and Content Writing serves clients ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK to well-known multinational brands. Polly specialises in SEO-friendly content writing for online use, and both brand-led and direct response copywriting for all applications.Read full profile