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The Professional Guide to Good Profile Pictures

Profile pictures can tell your story. If done well, your profile pictures can act as a photo album of your life, illustrating the different layers that make you such a great catch. Good photos let your personality shine, underscore your interests and give a glimpse into your life, without methodically spelling out your stats.

If you want your profile to garner a second (or third) look, your photos should offer some insight into who you are − and some decent lighting never hurt, either. All it takes is a little know-how and some creativity to take those perfect shots.

1. Simplify

The most important rule of an effective profile photo is that the main snapshot should focus on you. Robert Craig from Robert Craig Photography advises, “You want the photo to highlight you; not your new car, your rose garden or your dog. The photo should highlight the subject and the subject only.” He suggests cropping or zooming a photo to remove the superfluous space around you. Especially if you are only featuring one photo, avoid other people stealing your glory.

Standing next to your brother, a sports team or a group of friends at a barbecue can complicate matters. Extra people may make the visitor confused as to which person is you, what your relationship is with these other people or − worst of all − spark interest in the supporting cast.

2. Let the Sunshine In

Taking photos outdoors allows you to make the most of your scenery. If you love sports, take an action shot of you behind the ball. If you like to stay active, perhaps you should choose a photo of you climbing to a mountain summit or playing Frisbee at the beach. Choosing your backdrop tells a lot about you and what you like to do.

Craig also advises shooting photos outdoors in the morning or late afternoon, which offer a natural light that is more flattering to your skin. He warns to avoid the harsh light from “looking directly in the sun,” since being squinty-eyed “is not a very flattering look for anyone.” Instead, he recommends facing the sun with your profile, keeping the scary squint at bay and presenting a more becoming natural glow.

3. A Thousand Words

Since pictures can reveal what is important to you, use this introduction in your favor. If you like walks on the beach, take a photo of yourself on the shoreline at sunset. If you like to create landscape paintings, feature yourself and the easel mid-project. Perhaps you value an animated sense of humor, so have a photo of you in the throes of laughter. Use your imagination and think about what you would like to see about someone else. Profile pics don’t always have to look like headshots. Jump in the air, model a favorite hat or strike a pose to jazz it up. By presenting an action in front of a thoughtful or fun background, your profile photo can show your personality without saying a word.

4. Eye Contact

Said to be the windows to the soul, your eyes can show intensity, playfulness and emotion. Craig insists, “The biggest thing that makes any photo stand out from another are the eyes.” Eye contact can be just as engaging in a photo as it is in person. Hold the camera at eye level to capture that mesmeric gaze. You don’t need to look directly into the lens for a stare down, as it’s just the level that matters. A coy look, smiling eyes or an introspective black-and-white all capture emotion with the eyes. You may also want to accentuate your peepers with a complementary color to make your baby blues pop.

5. It’s Time for Your Close-Up

Zoom on in to show off your stuff. Present at least one profile photo that just highlights your face. Up close, you can reveal telling details, like a mischievous smile, a sprinkle of freckles, or flecks of gold in your eyes. These close-range shots don’t necessarily have to feature you at the bull’s-eye of the picture.

For a little interest, try peeking from a corner, using a different color wash or experimenting with a reflective surface. Avoid zooming in too close, or your photo might turn out blurry. One focused shot can make it seem like the visitor and you are eye to eye and that you have nothing to hide.

6. The Whole Shebang

While up-close-and-personal shots are interesting, throw in some other angles for good measure. To give visitors a good idea of what you look like all over, include a minimum of three or four shots. Craig recommends including “a headshot, a close-up of the face, a three-quarters shot that includes the head down to the torso, and a full-body shot that includes the entire body from head to toe.” After all, he says, “this is just good advertising.” It’s common to highlight yourself from the neck up, especially if you are worried that you don’t have the perfect brick-house figure. However, honesty goes a long way and starts a possible relationship off on the right foot.