How is your personal brand represented in your online profile photo?

Is your personal brand being properly represented by your online profile photo? Simply put, your personal brand is the identity you have developed based on your reputation. The people you know have formed opinions based on their interactions with you over time. The people you have yet to meet will develop their own opinions based on their first impressions of you. Your brand is already there, hopefully it is everything you want it to be. An important question to ask yourself; is your online presence properly representing the personal brand you have worked so long to build? It is important to know how your online profiles represent you. Of key importance is the profile photo you are using. Social media is riddled with profile photos that do not properly represent the person behind the profile. Online profiles for personal use can have fun and whimsical pictures, but your online business profile should have an image that properly represents your personal brand to your potential employers and clients.

People are making judgments about you from the moment they first begin to make contact with you. This is not to say judgmental in the way we commonly speak of it, but rather a set of subconscious observations that form our opinion of each other. When you are going to meet a prospective client or employer you tend to spend extra time to make sure that you are presenting yourself well. You want that first impression to be the best it can be. This is the self-preservation of your personal brand in action. When the first time a potential employer or client engages us is online, it is important to have put the same care and attention into that first impression. Here are some things to consider in building your personal brand online.

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Quality Matters – Look at the negatives of your profile photo

Not those negatives, we don’t use those anymore. A lot of social media profile photos are captured at low quality or simply do not represent the profile owner well. Typical problems include poor color, poor lighting and improper posing, to name a few.  Many of these images are otherwise of good quality, but simply captured with improper lighting or color adjustment.

Color and lighting

It is true that digital camera technology has vastly improved over the past two decades. As with many other technologies, this turns into  a common assumption that the capabilities of that technology will extend to the end results. While digital cameras have an increasingly better ability to judge light and color conditions, the technology is far from perfect. Portraits that look really yellow or orange are captured with an improper color balance by the camera, because the automatic reading and adjustment of color balance in any camera has limits. A professional portrait will have proper color balance, showing natural skin and hair tones. This adjustment alone can turn a bad looking photo into something much more pleasing to the eye.

Just as with color balance, cameras have limits in how they can judge proper lighting for a photo. Not enough light, and you get a muddy and dull look. Too much light and you have bright spots on the skin and hard shadows. With proper lighting, the person becomes the obvious focal point. Lighting is also an important tool used by professional photographers to either emphasize or de-emphasize facial features. Light can be used either to broaden or slim the face, or to lengthen or shorten the nose. A good portrait should tell the truth about these features, but should also put them into their best perspective and balance.


Another common mark of quality is the way the photo is cropped. Many times, in order to crop a picture to the proper Facebook or LinkedIn profile photo size, people cut the image down way too far. This will show as a softened or sometimes low resolution look.

The quality of your portrait is something that people make immediate observations about, and this may be having an unfair effect on how your personal brand is being represented.

More Than a Photo – Your Personal Brand

I want to make an important distinction here. I think many people look at a social media profile photo the same way that they see their drivers license photo. The important difference is that the drivers license photo is an identification photo; your social media profile photo should be an identity photo. Your online photo is not simply to show someone what you look like. It’s purpose is to show someone who you are. There are multiple ways to bring this out, and I think the best way is in a set of images of a certain variety. Just like a set of golf clubs, each of these images has a purpose in your online presence, and will communicate certain elements of your personal brand.

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Traditional Business Photos

A traditional business portrait is a great first step in building your personal brand. This portrait should communicate some of the key elements that you want your online profile to project. Some of these might be trust, competence, strength, integrity, intelligence, etc. This is a head and shoulders shot, which will prominently display your face. These portraits may be captured against a traditional studio background or in an environment that shows a little bit about what you do. If you do nothing else, this portrait should be in your profiles, and should be the portrait you lead with. This portrait should be the main LinkedIn or other business profile photo that people see when they look at your profile. There is only so much a single image can communicate, so it is best not to use just one image. If you use a set of three to four images in your profiles, you will present more of a well rounded identity to people.

Lifestyle Business Photos

This optional, but effective portrait will show you with some combination of what you do, where you do it or the tools you use. A popular example of this is a chef in a commercial kitchen (sometimes in the action of cooking), a banker in a bank lobby or near a bank vault, an attorney in a courtroom or in a law library. You get the idea. These can be very impactful photos, especially when professionally taken. This photo is most effective with precise color balance, vivid color and perfect composition. Like a traditional business photo, it will need to communicate some of those key elements of your personal brand. In this kind of image, we would focus on words like creativity, passion, vision, tech savvy, service, etc. This is usually more of a full-body or three-quarter body shot. You should be identifiable in this photo, but what you are doing is of equal importance. Use this photo in digital marketing and targeted business profiles on sites that are specific to what you do. A lifestyle photo is also great on the about page of your blog.

Casual Business Photos

It sounds like something I have spoken against, but a casual photo can be a valuable part of your profile. A casual photo is an opportunity for people to see you in less formal, but classy attire. This can either be against a studio background or in some other fitting environment. The purpose of this image is to project approach-ability, openness, flexibility, etc. There are many creative ways to compose these images, and a good  photographer can work with you to achieve the look that is best for you.  Use this photo on the about page of your blog if you don’t have a lifestyle photo. You could also use this for a profile picture on Facebook, while using your formal portrait on LinkedIn.


Your Social Media Portraits

If you are using a social media profile picture that was captured in the quickest way possible, or was cropped from another picture at an event, chances are it does not have all of the elements necessary to make the best impression. A portrait should communicate the persona that you want to project to the people you meet. This requires a thoughtful process from your photographer, in addition to the proper skills in posing, lighting and camera work. A well-planned set of images that are targeted to your personal brand can last for a few years before needing an update. When your portrait becomes simply a price decision, you may be compromising in the wrong places. How is your personal brand represented in your online profile photo?