The social media profile photo (and why you need a great one)

I’m not going to lie here .. the first thing I notice about anyone on any social media site is their profile photo. Or avatar. Or avi. Or pic.

If I’m followed on Twitter I notice the users profile photo first, and then I’ll digest their bio. It’s the Debsy way.

And it’s nothing to do with being a photographer; I’ve always been switched on by good imagery and deflated by very, very, very bad photos. Blurred. Out of focus. Pulling a goofy face. You get the picture? (Ha … see what I did there? Ahem. Moving on…

OK, I realise I’m making a snap decision when I do this, but we most probably make more snap decisions now about what we perceive are low priority decisions than we ever have. Yes my friends … I have deadlines! I haven’t got the time to read through pages and pages of updates and their last five blog entries to get to the essence of what makes this person tick .. I need a quick decision and I need it now!

Seriously folks, let me level with you here. You’ll never hear me telling you what to do when it comes to social media for one very simple reason: none of us are experts because social media hasn’t been around for long enough for anyone to be an expert.

But we do know one thing:¬† it’s a mode of communication, and as such a profile photo is a huge part of what you are immediately showing your prospective audience. Or potential clients. Or future wife/husband. *gasp!*

So if you’re clowning around on your profile photo with your dad’s underpants on your head, or if you’ve cleverly captured yourself in the bathroom mirror with your smartphone (seriously, no no no!!!) … then please think again. Unless of course creating a good impression is of no consequence to you, in which case wear those undercrackers with pride, my friend!

If your budget does run to a professional photographer then trust me, it will be money well spent. Be sure to ask your photographer for permission to use their photo (copyright always remains with them unless they give you consent). Many photographers are now offering social media profile shoots  in which case publishing the photo online should be a given, but check with them any way.

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And if you’re initial response to that is “I hate having my photo taken!!” here are a couple of testimonials from two lovely clients, Frances and Vicki:

Frances Shippey is the Managing Director of The Bag Shop.

Here’s her profile photo ‘story’…

“Many people have a profile picture that is a contrived version of themselves taken in the mirror or by an amateur photographer. This just leads to a false impression and looks a bit sad and as though you are covering up something about your appearance or personality. We’ve all seen them and if it’s someone we know we might roll our eyes and feel a bit of pity. The alternative is to get a good photographer who can work on location and not in one of those awful studios with endless white background! A confident professional who can capture a good natural likeness in your own environment.

Mine was outside my work place on a sunny day in October and by a great professional photographer who just caught an uncontrived moment in a natural setting. It really took me by surprise that a massive makeover wasn’t necessary to get a really good picture!”

Vicki Head is a photographer (no pressure there then!), actor and director; this is her experience:

“In life, people make snap judgements in split seconds, usually at first glance, so it is vital that your profile picture says everything you need it to. In order to achieve this you need a trained eye and skilled hand… don’t leave it to chance, can you afford for people to get the wrong impression? My favourite profile pictures were taken by the very talented Deborah Lee, the shoot was great fun and I was thrilled with the results.”

When it comes to choosing a photographer to work with then in my humble opinion there’s only one thing to look for (aside from “can they operate a camera?”) and that is do you like them? The truth is if you don’t feel comfortable then any profile photo will look forced and stiff. I’d also recommend that the following should be made clear before your shoot begins:

  • Light retouching only; you don’t want to look like a caricature.
  • Natural light … anything else will look staged and unreal.
  • No weird props or poses … This is your shoot. If he or she wants to experiment then this isn’t the time.