Tips on Updating Your Business Profile Picture

August 2019

Photo: Arndt Vladimir/iStock

By participating in social networks, such as LinkedIn, or aligning yourself with a company’s brand on an “About Us” page, you are promoting yourself, and a high-quality portrait is imperative to your marketing success.

Your objective should be to gain positive responses to your portrait on social networks and in the business world. How do you leave the best impression when networking online with peers, businesses, prospective employers or employees, and industry leaders? The quick answer is spend some time and money on a professionally executed photography session to visually convey your best asset—you.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Social networks for business purposes are peppered with “Oh, my” photos—people in formal wear, fancy updos, awkward crops that leave viewers wondering which companion got cut out, you-and-boo pics, diffused faces (what are you hiding?), photos of pets as people-placeholders, avatars, the blank spot, and so on. Context matters, so have your portrait reflect the business-related nature of the work you are advancing.

You’ve been looking at this all wrong

We view ourselves in a mirror almost daily and our brains are familiar with our look. When viewing a picture of ourselves, our image is reversed and the results are subtly unexpected to us. This change of perspective creates cognitive dissonance and can make us think, “That doesn’t quite look like me.” The solution: Be kinder to yourself and not overly critical.

Time for a change

A friend recently changed her profile picture after more than 15 years. She was actually quite relieved with presenting a more accurate representation of herself, and pleased with the positive reactions from those in her network. In contrast, frequently updating your profile picture may signal attention-seeking behavior. Refreshing your profile picture every two to three years is reasonable.

Prepping for picture day

A professional photographer can offer guidance on what to wear (color, style, texture, accessories, hair and makeup). I’m not suggesting that one applies Kardashian-level makeup for a business profile picture, but a study that examined the impact of applying a smattering of makeup to boost attractiveness found that “makeup had significant positive effects on ratings of female facial attractiveness at brief and longer inspection times. Ratings of competence increased significantly with [a] makeup look tested on first glance and longer inspection.” The authors of the study also stated, “First impressions based on facial appearance occur automatically, are difficult to overcome, and impact decision-making.”

Applying makeup is not a standard typically shared by both genders, but research shows that foundation is the cosmetic that has the biggest impact on how women are perceived.

Making it picture perfect

How can you feel comfortable in front of the camera? Shawon Davis, a Medway, Massachusetts-based portrait photographer, says, “Feeling comfortable in front of the camera begins with your relationship with your photographer. That relationship begins with your initial consultation and you sharing more about yourself, how you see yourself being photographed, sharing what you’re excited about, and your photographer listening and getting to know you. From the initial consult, my studio goes a step further with an in-person or online wardrobe style and preparation consultation. Knowing that someone is making sure you’re styled beautifully will help you feel even more comfortable in front of the camera.”

Webb Chappell, a Boston-based photographer, suggests, “Hire someone you’re comfortable with … who will put you at ease. Keep it simple and make sure all the details look good—clothing, hair, makeup, etc. A simple, non-busy background is best. The cropping should be tight as business profile pictures run small.”

The eyes have it

People naturally make eye contact with someone to build a connection—even in a picture. Conduct your own experiment by looking at portraits by photographer Martin Schoeller. What do you find yourself looking at first while viewing his online portrait gallery?

And how do you convey those smiling eyes? It happens due to a happiness microexpression—a genuine response that lights up your face. Shawon Davis explains, “We will often mimic the energy that is displayed in front of us. I always want to be present with great energy that is warm, welcoming and encouraging throughout the portrait session. Those smiling eyes always happen when eyes are smiling back at you.”

Where to look

Looking into the black hole of a camera lens can be awkward. I recently updated my business profile picture and realized my eyes were darting from the lens of the camera to the photographer’s eyes. Supermodel and actress Shalom Harlow suggests engaging in a conversation with the photographer and looking at the photographer’s eyes while you talk, and then imagine “transferring” his or her eyes to the camera lens.

Ready to say “Cheese!”

In my role as a creative director, I’ve edited down vast galleries of a subject’s photo session to a single shot—from top Microsoft executives to White House staff. A key strategy to create a winning image is to go confidently into your session and allow the photographer to direct poses and capture authentic expressions that will connect with anyone who views your picture. Put your best “face” forward to allow people to visually read your warm and confident expression and, as a result, they will perceive you as more likable and competent.

—Maureen Joyce