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8 Rules to Create a Perfect Profile Picture

In a fraction of a second you have made a first impression. In fact according to a study published by Psychological Science, it takes as little as 40 milliseconds for a person to decide whether you are someone they trust, would like to get to know, or want to do business with.

In the online world, the majority of the time that first impression comes from your profile picture. The right profile picture sets you apart from your competition and sends the right message. Luckily by using the secrets of body language science, some creativity, and a touch of psychology, you can make that first impression… picture perfect.

Rule 1: Make sure the picture is actually you. This really shouldn’t have to be said, but yet scanning business related profile pictures from around the internet, I have found that quite a few profile pictures are of family pets, children, celebrities, and pop culture icons. Better yet pictures with two or more people in them. Which one is you? This does not instill confidence in people looking for a reliable business person to work with.


Cute, but doesn’t instill much confidence.

Rule 2: Use a high quality picture. This does not mean go to a professional photographer and get portraits done (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea). It means follow these basic rules when picking a picture to use…

  1. Use as good a quality picture as possible. You want it to be clear and not grainy.
  2. Make sure the picture is well lit, neither to dark or too light. Natural light is best if you can get it.
  3. You want the picture to be clear, and sharp, so avoid any picture that is fuzzy, blurred.
  4. By starting with a quality picture people will clearly start seeing the message you are trying to send.

Rule 3: Look at the camera. When a person can see your face and especially your eyes they make an instant connection and will find you more competent and trustworthy. If you are trying to create art and are looking in another direction, either “down and away” or “up into the future” you are missing this opportunity to make a quick and powerful connection.

Who would you rather do business with?
Looking at camera

Looking at camera

Looking away from camera

Looking away from camera

Rule 4: Smile. A smile is extremely import to making that great first impression. Although not just any smile will do. According to research by PhotoFeeler.com a picture with no smile will reduce your perceived competence, likability, and influence while a smile with teeth showing drastically increases all three. Therefore a smile is a must, but make sure it is a genuine smile. Research has shown that a real smile makes you look friendlier, more authentic, trustworthy, and confident. Who wouldn’t want that?

Smiling vs. Not Smiling: Who would you want to do business with?

Not smiling

Not smiling




Rule 5: How much of you to show and how. It is best to show your head and shoulders and second best is to show your head down to your waist.

For head and shoulders (headshot)…

  1. Face towards the camera. Your shoulders can be slightly facing right or left but your face should be forward.
  2. Use a genuine smile, don’t show any micro-expressions such as anger, fear, or contempt (smirk).
  3. Don’t wear sunglasses or anything that blocks your eyes.
  4. Don’t touch or block your face from being seen with your hand, a cup, or any other prop. When you block your face, the observer finds you less trustworthy and likeable.

For head down to waist (torso), everything above and…

  1. Keep your shoulders back, have good posture and an open body position. This is a high confidence pose and tells the world that you are ready for any challenge.
  2. Make sure your hands are viewable. Keep them out of pockets or hidden behind your back. Going back to prehistoric times people have always looked for a person’s hands for a weapon to see if they are friend or foe. If your hands are not visible it subconsciously sets off red flags. Therefore hang them loosely at your side or steeple them in front of you. The most important thing is to look relaxed and confident.
  3. Don’t cross your arms or use a prop such as a laptop, notebook or purse between you and the person who would look at the picture. It makes it look as if you are hiding and shows the world you are not confident. In the body language world this is called blocking, and on a subconscious level is seen as a sign of weakness or fear.

For both headshots and head and torso style photos…

  1. Pictures taken from above looking down on you make you look younger, but they also make you look weaker and more vulnerable. On a psychological level it has been compared to looking down on a child that needs to be protected.
  2. Pictures taken from below portrays you as more confident, sociable, and more attractive. On a psychological level this has you in the parent role, and the person looking up to you as they would more powerful role models when they were young. Of course don’t go crazy taking the picture from too far below or it won’t have the same effect.
  3. So for business you want to have the picture taken from straight on or slightly below for the best results.
  4. Research showed that there was no significant difference in perception between color or black and white pictures.

Headshot and Head and Torso



Head and Torso

Head and Torso


Rule 6: Wear clothes that send the right message. Yes in a business setting the clothes you wear speak volumes. The more formal the clothes you are wearing the more confident, competent and influential you appear.

  1. If you are a man, wear a dark suit or at least a sport coat and a lighter colored solid (non-patterned) shirt. Solid color shirts are more formal than patterned shirts. The more formal the clothing the more authority you are perceived to have.
  2. Women should also wear darker clothing with lighter accents for the same affect.
  3. Different colors matter.
    1. Blue is a universal color that makes a person seem more intelligent, trustworthy, and confident.
    2. Women don’t like men in a brown suit, so avoid wearing one if that is your audience.
    3. A recent study showed that a person wearing a red accent piece such as a tie or scarf was perceived to be more reliable, accurate, and persuasive. It doesn’t have even have to be as big as a tie or scarf, it was discovered that even something as small as a pocket square or broach had the same affect.


Rule 7: The background really doesn’t matter much. Yes I said it. As long as it is not so bright and busy that you are hidden in it…research done by the good folks at PhotoFeeler.com showed no difference in perceived competence, likability or influence whether the background was solid, in a studio, in nature or other urban settings. So go nuts and make you background part of your branding statement.

Rule 8: Be authentic. This is really the most important rule of them all. Be proud of who you are and let your profile photo reflect your amazing self. You are trying to make a real connection and a fantastic first impression so show the world the real you and you can’t lose.

Ok, so you looked at your profile picture and you think it needs some work, but is it worth all the hassle? Definitely!

Body language studies have proven that 60-93% of all communication is completed on a non-verbal basis and your profile picture says a lot about you. It has been proven that updating your profile picture can make significant difference in not only how you’re perceived, but significantly boost your business as well. In a recent experiment Cyrus Shepard of The Moz Blog increased his free traffic by 35% just by changing his Google+ profile picture. Wow a 35% increase is not something to take lightly. So if it needs to be done, do it.

So what are the biggest takeaways?

  1. The picture should be of you and you alone.
  2. Use a high quality picture with good lighting.
  3. Look at the camera and smile a genuine smile.
  4. A headshot is best.
  5. Dress nice. The more business formal the better and add a splash of red.
  6. Take the picture from straight on or slightly below.
  7. Use the background you want.
  8. Be authentic.

Perfect Profile Pictures

Good example man

Good example man

Good example woman

Good example woman

If you follow these 8 simple rules you will have a perfect profile picture. A picture that sends the message that you are intelligent, trustworthy, confident, likable, and influential. Now that is 40 milliseconds well spent.



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