In a world dominated by social media, looking professional online is paramount to success. The right LinkedIn profile can net you sales leads, exciting career opportunities, and a networking event every night of the week (if that’s what you’re in to).
But these things won’t just come rolling in. There’s an art to crafting a killer LinkedIn profile, and one of the most vital components is your choice of photo. Merely having a photo makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others, but a well-taken professional portrait can elevate this to the next level.
Choosing a photo can be pretty stressful though, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Should you smile? Is it best to look moody and mysterious, or friendly and approachable? What should be in the background? And what on earth should you wear?
All these questions and more will be answered in this guide. We’ll talk you through the key ingredients that elevate a LinkedIn photo from bog standard to exemplary. The first three chapters in this guide will help you with the basics: what to wear, where to take the photo, and what expressions and poses make for the best professional portrait. The final chapters will cover the technical elements of portraiture, for all the budding photographers out there.
1. Looking your best: what to wear for business portraits
Office dress codes have changed a lot in recent years. Suits and formal attire have taken a backseat to more casual dress, especially in creative and tech businesses. This can make picking an outfit for your LinkedIn photo difficult. Should you dress up or keep it relaxed?
An often cited rule is to dress for the job you want. So if you’re on the hunt for a job in a hip start-up, maybe ditch the three-piece suit and opt for something a bit more laid back. On the other hand, if your dream job’s in investment banking or government, wearing a t-shirt and jeans in your photo is a big no no.
It’s a good idea to check out some of the top dogs in your industry and see what they’re wearing on LinkedIn. If you start seeing trends emerge, you should probably follow suit. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and dress up a bit.
Avoid anything too distracting – we’re talking t-shirts with obnoxious slogans, heavily patterned dresses and the like. Solid colours in more muted tones tend to be your best bet.
If you wear makeup, a neutral look is normally best. That said, if you’ve got a signature look (like a lipstick you wear everyday), go for it! It’s more important that you’re easily recognisable.
Here are some more resources to help you look the part:
2. Strike a pose: expression, posing & more
Save that blank expression for your passport photo. It might not feel like it, but you’ve got a lot more room to be creative with your LinkedIn photo. Neutral expressions can be hit and miss as they’re at risk of being misinterpreted. A photo that to you says “focused and professional” might read as “bored and annoyed” to a would-be connection.
Posing is key too. Small things like tilting your forehead towards the camera, adding a slight lean and having the photo shot from above can make a world of difference. Plus, always look into the camera so you’re making eye contact in the photo itself.
A genuine smile is by far your best bet as it makes you look more approachable. You’re essentially marketing yourself, so make your personal brand a positive one! Make your smile shine by “squinching”, which is narrowing your eyes when you smile. It’s the mark of an authentic grin and makes you appear personable and friendly.
It can be hard to get this right, especially if you’re taking your own photos. It’s often better to hire a pro, as they’ll have the skills and knowledge to bring out your best qualities in the final photo.
Here are some great articles that will help you nail that photo-ready smile:
3. Lighting & location
You can take a photo pretty much anywhere, as long as your photographer’s got the right lighting equipment. The location shouldn’t be the focal point of a professional portrait. You want a background that’s plain and neutral, so that your face draws the eye.
This means the fundamental question is whether to take the photo indoors or outdoors. Natural light can be really flattering, especially around dawn and dusk. Indeed, the ideal time for portraits is during the first hour of light and the last hour of light, when the sun is lower in the sky and so the light is gentle and diffused. A word of warning though - the harsh midday sun is not your friend.
The downside to shooting outdoors is that you’ll have less flexibility in terms of lighting set-up. Indoors, especially in a studio, your photographer will have plenty of lighting equipment to help you get the perfect shot. Plus, you can still take advantage of any natural light by taking photos near large windows. Just make sure the light is coming from the side or the front, and isn’t too harsh.
Here are some guides explaining the best lighting set ups for portraits:
4. getting technical: aperture, iso & shutter speed
There’s a science to all photography. Setting the camera up properly and picking the right lens can make or break a portrait.
For instance, a short telephoto lens between 50mm to 200mm is nearly always the lens of choice for portraits, and it’s normally all that’s needed – you won’t need a full collection of lenses to take a good LinkedIn photo. A short lens lets the photographer get close to the subject, and fill the frame effectively.
Camera settings should be adjusted to suit the lighting, location and mood of the photo. A popular trick with portraits is to blur the background so that only the subject is in focus. It’s an easy way to give your LinkedIn profile picture a professional polish. This can be achieved by manually setting the aperture and shutter speed. A narrow aperture brings everything into focus, while a wide aperture will blur the background and make the subject sharp.
For shutter speed, a speed of around 1/200 of a second will normally do the trick. This is fast enough to capture a photo even with some movement, meaning that a more natural look can be achieved.
ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the ISO, the better a camera will be at taking photos in the dark. As you definitely shouldn’t be taking your LinkedIn photo in the dark, a lower ISO will normally be fine. As a guideline, 100 tends to work well in the sun, but this can be doubled to 200 if it’s cloudy.
For more technical guidelines, check out these articles:
5. touching up: how to edit photos for a professional finish
A professional edit can bring an extra level of polish to your LinkedIn photo. However, any changes should be kept on the low-key side. For instance, removing blemishes, editing out flyaway hairs and even whitening teeth are all fine, but LinkedIn isn’t the place for extreme transformations. Edits should be subtle and nearly imperceptible to the average profile viewer.
Here are some guides on how to achieve a flawless edit:
6. common mistakes
We’ve all made mistakes on social media, but LinkedIn can be particularly dicey. A lot of profile pictures that are perfectly acceptable on Facebook just won’t cut it for LinkedIn. For instance, LinkedIn isn’t the place to share photos from your cousin’s 21st. You should be the only person in your photo, so leave your friends, family, partner, pets etc out of it. Recruiters and connections are interested in knowing who you are, so make yourself the focus. On a serious note, it’s worth remembering that LinkedIn have actually banned profile pictures that don’t include your likeness (e.g pictures of animals and company logos), and you can be stopped from uploading photos if you’re a repeat offender.
On a similar note, keep your photo up to date. That photo from 5 years ago might well be the best you’ve ever looked, but it’s not much use to anyone if you don’t look like that anymore.
A final word of warning: avoid selfies. No matter how brilliant your selfie skills are, people will still be able to tell and it’s not the most professional look. A business headshot from an experienced photographer is always your best bet, but at the very least hand over your phone to someone else and let them take the photo!
Here are some more common mistakes to avoid:
7. additional tools & resources
Finally, if you’re struggling to know where to start, here are some additional tools you can use to figure out if your LinkedIn photo is any good. Both these tools use image recognition and machine learning to rank your photo on different factors, and give you some tailored advice on what you can do differently: