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The Perfect Selfie: How to Take Great Profile Photos for Social Media

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Related course: Social Success Strategies

The formula for cool profile pictures is flattering angles, expressions, lighting, and poses.

Better self-portrait photography skills will impress your friends and attract more clients. We have cool profile picture tips to help you stand out from the social media crowd!

A young woman taking a selfie
Photo by from Pexels

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What You’ll Need

  • A tripod – the taller and sturdier, the better! It should reach your height so that you can be comfortable when posing.
  • A camera – this can be a smartphone camera too. But for the best results, I’d recommend using a DSLR.
  • A remote – this will take photos for you, which means you won’t have to run back and forth to get the perfect photo.
  • An editing program – a program like Lightroom or Photoshop is great for light retouching work.

Why Is It Important to Have Great Profile Pictures?

Social media is a puzzle in which profile pictures play an important role. First impressions are difficult to forget.

Accounts without profile images are suspicious. But low-quality photos aren’t an option either.

Think of real-life scenarios. Imagine going to a business meeting dressed in pyjamas and slippers. Your clients will think you’re unprofessional and won’t forget that! The same applies to the world of social media.

A profile photo of a business woman
Profile pictures with friendly smiles, simple backgrounds, tidy hair, and good light will attract people to the subject.

Choose the Right Profile Photo for the Right Platform

There are lots of social media platforms out there, and they all have different purposes. You need to adjust your profile photo style so it fits the specific platforms.

To get ahead with your social media profile, read our ebook – Social Success Strategies!


Facebook is for connecting with friends and classmates. Your profile photo can be more casual and you don’t need to keep that many rules in mind.

It can be a photo that was taken during travelling. Or showing you while you do something you love. For example, I’m using the one below. I like hiking and I admire the beautiful colours of Lago di Sorapis.

A casual Facebook profile photo of a girl posing in front of a stunning landscape
A casual Facebook profile photo showing what I like doing in my free time

Notice that it isn’t a professional photo. My face has unwanted shadows and there is a tree trunk in the background. But you don’t have to be a perfectionist about a Facebook profile photo.

When I worked as a tour guide, I used to have another Facebook profile photo. It is me, sitting in a gondola in Venice. I have my clipboard and phone in my hands which is how I was usually seen by my groups. I’m smiling and I don’t wear sunglasses which make my face open and friendly.

I always created Facebook groups for my travellers. They saw my profile before they saw me, so it was important to convey the impression of a friendly yet committed tour guide.

A smiling girl on a gondola in Venice
I liked using this photo because it shows me during work: a tour guide who is always busy but makes time to have fun with her group and enjoy the perks of the job too

If you are using Facebook to promote your business, you should have a more professional profile photo. Especially if you have a photography business.


Instagram is very similar to Facebook. Go casual if you use it for personal reasons. Opt for professional photos if it’s for business.

It’s smart to use the same profile photo for several social media platforms. People can find you much easier that way.

There are a few things you should avoid, even if you go for the casual look. Do not choose a profile photo that shows you in sexy lingerie or shows too much skin.

Also, it’s better not to have your new partner in your profile photos when the relationship is very fresh. You might end up changing your profile photos frequently. And everyone will know about your current relationship status.

A social media profile photo of a woman in sunglasses
Photo by Jermaine Ulinwa from Pexels


We shouldn’t forget to talk about LinkedIn profile photos. It is a social media platform for professional networking. People are posting their CVs and employers are posting jobs.

It is a platform for which you need to have a professional portrait photo. It can be a simple one where you are wearing business attire or a simple white shirt. You also want to get your hair and makeup done. Why? Because it shows the effort your put into the photo.

Make sure that you still look recognisable. Otherwise, you might experience some awkwardness during a job interview.

Social media profile photo of a man
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Technical Tips for Self-Portraits

Before you plan your shoot, you need to know how to use your camera’s technical settings to your advantage.

It should take you around 5-10 minutes to set up your camera.

Find a Well-Lit Location to Flatter Your Features

This can be a shaded area in a park, a room on a bright day, or any other place that has good lighting.

Natural light is the best source of light for good profile pictures. It will make your face glow, add depth to your eye colour, and light up your background. Unlike artificial light, natural lighting won’t create colours that are difficult to edit.

A young woman taking a selfie
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Avoid Hard Light for a Softer Image

Hard lights will add too much texture to your photos and make you squint.

Don’t take photos outside at midday. Instead, go out when the sun isn’t too strong. The golden hour is a great time to take warm, well-lit self-portraits. Soft and ambient lights will make your skin and facial expressions smoother!

If you’re indoors, photograph yourself in front of a curtained window. Diffused window light is one of the best lights for classic profile pictures.

A profile photo of a girl outside
Photo by Daniel Xavier from Pexels

Take Vertical Photos to Show a Pose

If you want to emphasise more than your face, rotate your camera to a vertical position.

Vertical photos will show off your outfit, posture, and pose. They work better for that than a horizontal photo. Vertical photos considered to be a rule in portrait photography.

Choose the aspect ratio wisely and stick to the common ones (e.g. 4:3, 5:7, 4:5)!

A girl in a field of flowers
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Use Autofocus to Ensure Sharp Images

Instead of guessing where you’ll stand, set your camera to autofocus. This will ensure that you’ll look sharp no matter where you stand.

Be careful when taking self-portraits in places with lots of foregrounds. If something is covering your lens, your photos can end up looking blurry.

If, for whatever reason, your camera can’t find you, hold your hand above your head to catch its attention.

Try to use a manual remote trigger or a remote app on your smartphone if your camera has a built-in WIFI!

An indoor portrait of a brunette woman

Have a Mini Test Photo Shoot Before You Start

Even if you’re using a remote, you need to make sure that your self-portraits are in focus.

During the first few minutes of your photoshoot, go back and forth.

Make sure that you’re standing in the right place and that the composition looks great and your image is tack sharp. Ideally, your eyes should have a crisp focus on your photo.

Check that nothing is covering your face!

This will help you improve your weak spots and find your best creative strengths.

A grid of different profile photo poses
Sometimes, pre-shoot outtakes end up becoming the best photos! Be as silly and open as you want before you start taking professional photos. The results might surprise you

Use a Large Aperture to Separate Yourself from the Background

A large aperture, such as f/1.8 or f/1.4, will separate you from your surroundings. And it will create beautiful background bokeh.

A smaller aperture, like f/6.0, will capture more details on your face and in the background.

The aperture you choose depends on your taste.

For me, the perfect profile pics use a large aperture. Separating the subject from their background makes them stand out.

Keep in mind that a wider aperture always requires more precise focus!

A cool profile photo of a girl posing against a soft background
I took this self-portrait with an aperture of f/1.8. Larger apertures are harder to work with because they focus on very specific parts of a subject. But they’re worth the hard work. If the background hadn’t been blurred here, the composition wouldn’t have looked that appealing.

Profile Picture Posing Tips

Posing might seem like a daunting task. But it’s very easy to master once you find your favourite go-to poses.

These tips and tricks have helped many photographers look cool in front of the camera.

Take Smartphone Selfies Before You Begin

It’s likely that you don’t stare at yourself in the mirror all day. This means that you’re not aware of your best angles and poses!

You don’t have to practise in front of the mirror. Use your smartphone camera to try out different expressions, angles, and poses instead.

You can even take a few photos to reference during your actual photo shoot.

A man taking a selfie with a smartphone

Stand up to Look More Comfortable

If you sit straight on a chair, you’ll look stiff. But if you stand upright, you’ll look both professional and comfortable.

A girl taking a self portrait
Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

Face the Sky to Avoid Unappealing Highlights

This is to avoid highlighting textures or under-eye circles.

Face the sky or any other light source you’re using. You don’t have to look away from the camera.

All you have to do is raise or move your head so that an even amount of light covers your face.

A young man infront of a green background
Photo by Martin Péchy from Pexels

Don’t Press Your Arms Against Your Body

If you press your arms against your body, you’ll make them look large.

Keep your arms away from your body to avoid this.

You can put your hands on your hips or stretch them away from your body instead.

A female posing in front of a red wall
Hands-in-pockets is another great pose for casual profile pictures.

Stand in Front of a Simple Background

Vibrant backgrounds can be distracting. So make sure your location isn’t filled with busy background details.

A female posing in front of a pink wall
Neutral and pastel colours, like this light shade of pink, will complement your profile picture.

Make Sure Nothing is Covering Your Face

The photograph below is a well-executed one. But it wouldn’t make a great profile pic. The subject’s face and expression are barely visible.

This includes hair, hands, sunglasses, or random objects in the foreground.

If your face isn’t easy to identify, your profile picture won’t stand out.

An interesting profile picture of a brown haired girl posing with hair all over her face

Be Extra Tidy for Professional Profile Photos

While fun profile pictures can be a little messy, professional ones demand tidiness.

Before your shoot, iron your outfit and style your hair. And be sure your eyebrow hairs aren’t all over the place (this is a common problem!).

In this way, you can also save time a lot of time on editing and retouching!

A cool profile picture of a dark haired girl posing indoors
The subject’s hair, eyebrows, skin, and outfit are all tidy. You don’t need to look this perfect to take professional profile photos, though. A few stray hairs, blemishes, and dust can be removed in Photoshop.

Best Backgrounds for Awesome Profile Pictures

Textured Walls

A slightly textured wall will make your profile photo stand out.

A cool profile picture of a girl in black hat
When taking photos in front of a textured background, such as a brick wall, ensure your aperture is large so that any distracting details are blurred out.

Plain Walls

A plain wall will put the spotlight on your subject.

profile picture of a female model holding a cat
When choosing a plain wall, ensure its colours complement your subject. In this case, the light brown wall works well with the subject’s hair and skin, and the cat’s fur.


Parks, beaches, and forests are all great background subjects. The mild greens and yellows of nature, especially in autumn, will complement your features.

Do not forget to use a lower aperture value to avoid the distractions from the background!

An outdoor portrait of a brunette woman

A Mirror

You can use a mirror as your background to create surreal effects in Photoshop. First, take a photo of yourself with a camera. Then, stand next to your mirror.

Merge the two photos in Photoshop and you’ll get an awesome profile photo with an even cooler background!

An artistic indoor portrait of a female model posing beside a mirror in which the photographer is reflected, examples of great profile pictures

Profile Picture Myths You Can Ignore

You have to look at the camera. Some of the most endearing and best profile pictures I’ve seen feature people laughing. Or they’re looking down or having fun in their own world. You don’t need to look at the camera if you don’t feel like it.

Profile photo of a woman in a summer hat
Photo by Tuấn Kiệt Jr. from Pexels

You must stand still. You may have had to sit still for your high school photos. But that’s no longer the case. If you love dancing, dance. Stay active, or do anything else that involves movement if you want to! The more expressive you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel. And the more authentic your photos will look.

a bright and airy portrait of a ballerina dancing outdoors, poses for good profile pictures

You’re not allowed to fake a smile. Fake smiles don’t have to look unflattering. Practice in front of a mirror. This skill will come in handy in a variety of situations. The best thing if you imagine making eye contact with somebody!

a bright and airy portrait of a male model posing outdoors for a social media profile picture

Self-portrait editing is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with light retouching. When I edit my profile pictures, I often lighten dark circles, remove blemishes, and brighten my eyes. You don’t need to blur your skin or remove every pore to look good. But to achieve high quality, the photo needs a bit of editing.

An outdoor portrait of a smiling brunette woman for a cool profile picture


You won’t look flattering in a profile photo if your photography skills aren’t strong. No matter how beautiful you are.

Knowing how to take self-portraits will save you lots of time and money. And it will help you leave a positive impression on anyone who visits your page.

Now, check our article on Instagram profile picture size!

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