Create alluring entryways {the art of the profile picture}

Other titles for this article include “the photo you don’t want to think about but you probably should”, “the photo you need to change” or “the photo you are changing way too often”.

It’s one picture you use across all social media (that’s what I recommend; one photo, all social media), and likely your website and the websites of others too.

And it's a picture that matters.

Every time this little bio photo is displayed it’s an entryway for your potential audience, customer, and tribe to find out more about you.

It’s worth it to make that entryway as alluring as possible—attracting the right people and giving them the right idea of what to expect when they walk through it.

In photography there are best practices and formulas for amazing results. The formulas are replicable and teachable. But there's always something spectacular waiting that breaks the formulas. Profile pictures are no different—sometimes the most powerful capture won’t follow the formula. So this guide is the formula to follow until you find something more powerful that breaks it.


Who should be in your profile picture?

Your profile picture should represent the voices and themes behind your brand—so think about whether adding other people to your picture is relevant to your brand.

So if it's just you behind your blog your profile picture should be just you. But, if you write about love and relationships you might want to include your partner in your profile picture.

Logo or your photo?
We connect with people—not logos—so show your face! (Or not your face, but we'll get to that later.) And with many social media platforms (like Twitter) we can use our cover photo to incorporate our logo.

some inspiration  @missbeathnykate_ holds her stylishly clad little one in her profile picture, telling you exactly what you’re going to get from following her account: style inspiration, and daily life of mama and kiddo

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Classic headshot or not?

Sometimes you can tell your viewers more about what they can expect to find from you—your style, your personality, your location, your interests—from not showing your face.

Headshots on the other hand, make you more recognizable—especially if they see your face in a few more places around the internet. The familiarity and recognizability of a headshot helps people know and trust you.

some inspiration  None of these bloggers’ profile pictures show their face, but all of them have clear style and personality—telling you why you'd want to follow them.
@ curatedbyam | @ tifforelie | @ eighthandstyle

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Composition

For most social media you want your profile picture to be a square. I say square because that is not the same as a rectangle with white bars on either side.
TIP: it might help to shoot in landscape mode to capture a profile picture that crops well into a square.

Social media platforms have had a trend to flip flop between displaying your picture as a square and as a circle. Centering the subject(you) horizontally is a safe bet if you want something you know will work in circles as well as it does in squares.


It can totally be an iPhone selfie but…

It shouldn’t look like an iPhone selfie. As a rule of thumb I recommend being far enough away that both the top of your head and the top of your shoulders are in the frame (although there are definitely a lot of creative exceptions to this one!)

Another issues with selfies, is they can blow out the highlights of your face. This means that the area on your forehead, brim of your nose, or cheekbones is completely white with no detail or texture. Not only is this something our brain recognizes as a selfie, it also looks less like you when the details are blown out.

Here's the thing, we think we look better when our details are blown out because what we judge to be our imperfections are blown out too. And that is being way too hard on yourself! Instead of trying to judge how you look in a picture, ask someone who knows you well if it's a good representation of you. Hint: people will always recognize you from—and connect with—your smile.


Keep in mind the context

Your profile picture doesn’t appear on it’s own, it appears in conjunction to all the content you post.

Keeping in mind the context is especially important on Instagram.
Your profile picture appears on top of every photo you post, as well as with the first six pictures of your profile.

So whatever type of imagery you post, keep in mind how your profile picture will look next to it.
Your profile picture could be cohesive + similar to the content you post
...or your profile picture could be contrasting + complementary to the content you post
...or your profile picture could be minimal + recede in comparison to your content

some inspiration   @inkandpulp | @helloemilie | @wayfarehub

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So what’s with the white background thing?
Although not the only way, it's an easy way. A white background makes it super easy to gel well with the content you post—whatever content you post—because we all know white goes with everything.


 The golden rule: keep it simple 

Every element of your profile picture has to be recognizable and non-confusing when it’s the size of a thumbtack.

On Instagram, your photo displays at 44px with every photo you post (if you don’t speak pixels—that’s super miniature!)

So what do you do?

  • Distinguish yourself from the background. Simplify the background as much as possible, and separate yourself from it as much as possible. The easiest way to accomplish this? Find a simplified background like a wall, or stand far away from your background when shooting photos. When you add significant space between you and the background it will become out of focus and blurry (and you will become more defined against it.)
  • Take out any unnecessary elements. Maybe there’s a poster on the wall behind you that can be removed, or a scarf that's blending in with your hair.
  • If you do keep any objects in the frame, make it a familiar one. If you’re standing in front of a tree—even though it’s teeny tiny we’re going to recognize that it’s a tree. But if there's some sort of a modern art sculpture kind of in the background...maybe not so much.

Communicate one thing
You don’t need to tell the whole story of you and your brand in your profile pic. You don’t need to be wearing your favourite outfit right down to the shoes with a facial expression and your logo overlayed—that is probably too much to tell in the little 100 pixel square. But, it’s worth capturing one aspect of your personality—which could be as simple as your smile, your sense of style, or tattoo.


I thought about one more title for this article: "the most words you've ever read about a 100px picture".

Your profile picture is an entryway—make it alluring and make it impactful.

Happy shooting,

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