Expert Profile Photo Advice

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

A young boy taking a photo of a man in a beige suitWe get a lot of questions from our members about how to take the perfect profile photo; so we spoke to professional photographers Sue Westwood-Ruttledge and Lix Hewitt to find out how to take a flattering and natural-looking Main Photo.

We also tried our hand at following Sue and Lix’s advice using a Samsung Galaxy SII camera phone, to prove that you don’t need a fancy camera or any clever photo-editing.

For reference, the model (stop laughing) is 5’7” and she has not been a size 8 for more than a decade.

How to dress

When choosing what to wear creative photographer Lix advises not to “over stage it!” “Don’t go super hard on the make-up; don’t dress up like you’re going to a black tie event (unless you are going to a black tie event). A professional photographer may be able to make that work for you, but if you’re doing it yourself, chances are you’ll just look awfully wrong.”

Sue, who specialises in horse and dog photography said: “Wear a coloured top, rather than black, blue or brown and to find a background to compliment your clothing.”


When it comes to choosing a background, Sue says suggests “keeping backgrounds clutter free” and “if you are having photos done under trees, watch out for the green colour cast on the skin reflecting from the leaves.”


Avoid taking photos in the midday sun and avoid photos where you are directly facing the camera.

Lighting is perhaps one of the most important factors when taking a photo and can make the difference between you looking washed out, or fading into the background.

Sue said: “Natural light is most flattering but not in bright sunlight; ideally use a shaded area which is not too dark, for example just in from an external doorway. Avoid midday or early morning. The afternoon or early evening provides the most flattering light.”

Sue also says not to use a flash as “the light is harsh and you can get red eyes.”

Angle & Posing

When it comes to positioning yourself in front of the camera Sue recommends “turning your shoulder to the camera at a 45 degree angle” as photos taken straight on to the camera can appear to add extra pounds. She also suggests that a photo “taken slightly from above is great for slimming double chins and making eyes look bigger and brighter.” Unless you are friends with a very tall person, you can achieve this by sitting down for the photograph or by standing on a lower step than your photographer.

For a natural smile, Sue says to “look down, then look up and smile at the same time the photographer takes the photo, it might take a few goes to perfect but you have more chance of getting a natural not posed smile.”

Have the photo taken from above and with your shoulder turned slightly towards the camera.

Getting comfortable

For a lot of people, the thought of posing for a photo is a frightening prospect, so I asked Lix what steps people can follow to feel more comfortable in front of the camera.

Lix said: ”Set up a nice high shutter speed and keep the button on your camera pressed while you smile, maybe while someone talks to you! You’ll end up with a lot of pictures that are blurry or make you look ridiculous, but chances are you’ll also have a few where you look natural and comfortable. You can even dance around or make faces! I know it’s hard to see yourself like that sometimes, but trust that you’re harder on yourself than other people will be. Besides, you don’t want your profile pic to differ hugely from what you actually look like in real life. Someone’s going to love it, and you need to match!”

Colour vs black & white

Asked whether you should choose to use black and white photos, Lix said: “I think you should go with colour photos for profile pics unless you have a really, really good picture that looks really, really good in black and white. I think black and white makes you seem less accessible. Don’t get me wrong; black and white photos can be gorgeous and a great addition to a portfolio or a portrait gallery, but when it comes to profile photos meant to let people get to know you a bit, I’m an advocate for colour every time.”


Make sure there is some space around your face to avoid this harsh look.

When it comes to setting up the camera Lix suggests using “landscape mode (I know, sounds counter productive, but it doesn’t throw up the flash!) or aperture priority. If the lighting isn’t very good, increase the ISO. Profile pics are fairly small so no one’s going to mind that they’re a bit grainy, and the camera will take quicker shots that will also be nicely lit.”

Choosing a professional photographer

If you would prefer to have a professional photo taken, how do you choose a photographer?

Sue said: “If you choose to use a professional photographer ask them for their social media headshot prices, on disc would be fine. Use a natural light photographer and one who photographs outside rather than a studio which is more formal”

Lix said: “When picking a professional photographer, look at their portfolio – make sure you like their work and won’t be asking for something completely opposite to what they usually do. If they have a social media presence, I recommend poking around a bit to gauge how you’ll get along with them. It doesn’t have to be an impersonal studio experience. Speaking of which: know if you want studio portraiture or natural lighting portraiture! Some people do both, but many don’t. Trust your photographer’s sense of aesthetics and remember that even if you don’t feel like you look gorgeous on the day of the shoot, you most likely do. It’s always when we’re going to be in the spotlight that we’re hardest on ourselves. The camera won’t be as hard on you as your own eyes.”