Our brains process visual material – like pictures – almost times faster than the accompanying text! In fact, I bet you that your eye was drawn to the big, colourful figures and you almost missed the sentence above (and if you did miss it, read it now and I’m sure you’ll find my first sentence makes a lot more sense). You see, I just did it again!

It’s a no-brainer, then, to ensure that you have a great profile pic anywhere that you have a profile, whether it’s online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, online directories) or in traditional hard copy format like business cards or brochures.

LinkedIn stats show that having a profile picture makes your profile 14 times – yes, I just cant resist the temptation now—more likely to be viewed by other people and stats from an OKCupid (an online dating site) experiment showed that the text in your profile only counts for about 10% of people’s impressions of you. But enough of the fun and games with the typography—even if it proves yet another point!

So, what if you’re like me? I really don’t think I’m photogenic at all, and there are hardly any pictures of myself that I like. In fact, the thought of having pictures taken has about as much appeal to me as eating a live frog! So how does someone like me fill this important gap in an online profile? How do I get an end result that I am happy to put out into the public domain, that represents who I am and what I look like now?

First, get hold of a professional photographer. It really is worth making this investment as your profile photo is often the first and lasting impression that people have of you. Professional photographers have the equipment, lighting (and Photoshop for those dark circles under your eyes from a sleepless night fretting about the impending photoshoot) to make sure you are showcased in the best possible way.

An experienced photographer will also hopefully have years of experience in putting you at your ease in front of the camera, and helping you strike poses that show you off at your best without emphasising the things you don’t like about yourself. Many photographers also have a variety of props that you can use to make your photograph stand out, and can also help you brainstorm creative ideas to show you “in action” in an appropriate and flattering way.

There is a rule in photography called the rule of thirds.   It’s one of the most basic rules of photographic composition in order to create a balanced picture.   Apparently, our eyes are not naturally drawn to the absolute centre of a picture, but somewhere slightly left or right, slightly below or above centre. In other words, if you take the space in which your picture will go and divide it into three equal parts horizontally and vertically (making 9 parts), you want to place the focal point or the most interesting elements of the picture to be where the lines intersect. For example, you would probably want your eyes and mouth to fall where the lines naturally intersect. So instead of taking a picture of yourself dead on, you might want to angle your head and body slightly away from the camera to be able to compose the final picture according to the rule of thirds.

The eyes are one of the most important components of a great profile pic. Research done by the Department of Psychology at University of York on over 1,000 different profile pictures looked at 3 components: youthful attractiveness, approachability and dominance. They found that the eyes were the highest scoring areas in a profile pic for giving an impression of youthful attractiveness, and particularly that the larger the subjects’ eyes were, the higher their score in youthful attractiveness.

Speaking of eyes, eye-tracking research has shown that our mirror neurons make us follow the gaze of other people. This can be used to great effect if, for example, you specifically want to direct your viewer’s gaze towards a call-to-action just to the right of your pic – like your social media icons, or a button to sign up for your email list.

The mouth was the feature that most communicated approachability, and specifically that pictures that show the person smiling were perceived as most approachable (for obvious reasons). However, PhotoFeeler – a website where you can upload a profile pic and get thousands of strangers to rate it – found that a pic of you laughing greatly increased your likeability, but it diminished the perceptions of competence and influence. Their advice is to smile naturally, showing teeth as this ticks the likeability, competence and influence boxes.

PhotoFeeler has another piece of advice for increasing other peoples’ impressions of your confidence, approachability, likeability, competence and influence scores: squinch™. The squinch™ was first discovered and coined by Peter Hurley, the top portrait and headshot photographer in New York. He defines it like this: Squinch™: v.  to narrow the distance between your lower eyelid and your pupil.” and goes on to say: “The eyes are only designed to open and close and this pinching as I like to call it of the lower lid is a normal occurrence throughout our day. Unlike squinting, a squinch will have lower eyelid movement upward with little movement from the upper eyelid downward.” I’ve included a picture of a non-squinch (left) versus a squinch™ (right) below from Peter Hurley’s website so you can see what he means.

Squinch™ picture from https://peterhurley.com/news/2017/four-years-later-its-still-all-about-squinch

Experiment with different angles. Angle your body about forward towards the camera.   Angling your body and face slightly away (about 45o) also creates an interesting play of shadows, and one of the other useful findings on PhotoFeeler is that having a shadow under the chin contributes to likeability, competence and influence. Who knew? Another benefit of angling the body slightly means that the shoulders (the widest point of a head-shot) don’t dominate the picture.

Shoot from slightly above, or slightly higher than your line of vision. This has the effect of compressing a prominent jawline and makes you look ever so slightly thinner. It also helps to hide a double chin or loose flesh under the jaw line, both of which are aging. Another way of reducing a double chin is to push your head slightly forward and down (without overdoing it).

Take a variety of outfits for your photoshoot so that you can play around with looks ranging from formal and business-like to casual and playful. Make sure that your clothing is comfortable and fits you well, and most important: make sure that you really like all the items of clothing. Those in the know also advise you to choose colours that are not too similar to your natural skin colour or you could end up looking washed out or just uninteresting. Avoid large patterns and rather think of the clothing as frames for the most important part of the picture – you don’t want to be competing for attention with a loud Hawaiian print or fussy jewellery.

Experiment with different colour backgrounds to break from the boring and conventional white. Try a dusky rose or a light grey. For something unusual and punchy, you might want to try a really bright, high contract background like a punchy red, cyan blue or the 2019 colour of the year, Living Coral, which we’ve used in the SA Coaching News logo. Colour has its own psychology so do some homework before your photoshoot into what message you want to convey, and what colours you can use (in your clothing, accessories or background) to help get your message across.

I could go on forever, but hopefully some or one of these tips will help you feel more confident about getting hold of a proper professional, and getting some really great, flattering profile pics done that do you – the professional – full justice. Happy squinching!

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of SA Coaching News.  To read this, and more articles on how to build an effective, sustainable coaching practice, visit www.sacoachingnews.co.za






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