May 30, 2014

I recently decided it was time to update my social media profile photos. Last summer was the last time I had changed them all and I like to freshen them up at least once a year. There are, of course, a million things to consider when changing your professional images. There’s the cost, the place, what to wear, what “look” you want, when to do it, and a bunch of other factors.

A good profile photo is so important to your brand and your business. This is how people will begin to associate with you so it needs to be a good image! Don’t make the mistakes I’ve written about before and use a bad profile image.

But how to go about updating your profile photos?

Now, we all know how much this girl loves Instagram. I’ve written before about how you can use Instagram to update your profile photos. And, I’ll be honest, I was just not down with paying someone hundreds of dollars to take my photos.

So I did a photo shoot of my own, using only my smartphone to create a new variety of images for my business! Here’s what I learned and what you can do to create your own high quality profile photos without the cost of a high paid photographer.

If you don’t believe this is possible, keep reading. And at the end I have samples of my photos to prove the quality you can produce on a smartphone.

(I’ll make a side note right here that a smartphone and Instagram, as awesome as it is, cannot replace a high quality, talented photographer. These people are true artists and talented professionals. If you can afford to have your photos done professionally, go for it! I’m sure it’ll be worth it. But, if you’re not in that position… keep reading!)

Know What You Want

Since you don’t likely have a professional photographer at your personal shoot if you’re following my advice, you don’t have someone’s professional eye to tell you where to stand or what works well.

I highly recommend you find some examples of profile photos that you really like – look at the background, the way they’re standing, the colors, and other details. Then, once you have some ideas of what you want, you can plan out your photo shoot accordingly.

Practice before you go out. Stand in front of the mirror and try out poses. Does tilting your head one way make you look better? Does dipping your chin too low give you and extra neck wrinkle? Does standing a certain way make you look more confident? Get comfortable with these poses so you’re not over-thinking it when you shoot.

Pick the Location(s)

Nothing is worse than not knowing where to take your photos. You walk around aimlessly “trying” things out. Instead, plan ahead and pick your locations.

If you’re going to use an outdoor setting, consider the lighting. If it’s a bright sunny day, the light may be too harsh and leave dark shadows on your face. Try facing the sunlight when possible – but keep your background in mind in this position. It might be better to go out on a cloudy day when lighting is more diffused and softer on your skin.

If you’re using an indoor setting, try to find one with lots of ambient light from outside. If you have to rely on artificial lighting, your images may come out tinted yellow/orange or blue.

You also want a place that is in line with your theme based on what you want your image to represent. Do you want a picture of you in a busy crowd in a bustling city? Or do you want an image of you in an office setting? You need to consider these factors in choosing your location – and even the time of day that you choose to take your photos.

Come Prepared

Inevitably, something will go wrong. For me, when we moved outside, it was way windier than I thought. Long, fine hair and wind do NOT get along!

Bring what you need to keep yourself camera ready. This includes touch up makeup (yes, you will get sweaty taking photos and your lip balm will come off) and a hair brush or other necessities.

If you plan to change outfits, bring those additional items and accessories (and plan on a comfortable place to change!). Bring multiple pairs of shoes no matter what you do. No one wants to walk through grass or construction or dirt or whatever else is out there in their good shoes!

Have a Patient, Understanding Photographer

I was super grateful to have my husband take my photos. Bless his sweet heart, he was sitting on the floor, kneeling or squatting, and standing at odd angles to get the shots I wanted.

Make sure you let your photographer (friend, spouse, family member…) know what you plan to do. Show them what you have in mind for the photos or explain clearly what your idea is. Understand that they’re not a professional photographer and you both need to patient with each other.

Take a S#!t Load of Photos

In just over an hour, we took well over 200 photos when we did our shoot.

Yes, take a LOT of photos!

If you’re using your smartphone, chances are some will be blurry. These are automatic trash images. But don’t worry about this during the shoot. Just keep moving forward and delete when you’re done.

If you’ve ever watched a model do a photo shoot, you’ll see they take numerous photos of the same pose. You don’t want half closed eyes, blurry images, or odd discrepancies. So do the same thing. Take multiple shots of the same pose.

Then shift slightly. Cross your legs. Stand at a different angle. Move your arms to a different position. Turn around. Flip your hair. Shake it out.

All of these things will change your position and allow you to take another series of images. You never know which one will be the “money” shot!

Review and Quick Dump

When you’re all done, go through all the images you took and quickly delete any obviously bad images. Delete anything that is blurry, out of focus, making a funny face, or that you immediately don’t like. If you don’t like it at first glance, you’ll never love it.

Get Picky

Now you can go through and get picky about the images. You probably still have 5 or 10 photos of a bunch of poses. Go through and choose your favorite couple for each pose and delete the rest.

Photo Editing

Once you have your favorites, you can play with editing. You can edit on your smartphone or on your computer.

Consider your exposure and contrast. Especially if you were outside, tweaking the exposure can reduce harsh shadows. Play with color levels as well to balance blue hues or warm up images.

At this point, chances are your images are now ready to go. But if you want to go one step further, you can use Instagram to further enhance your images and work out those remaining issues you have.

I love the Valencia filter on Instagram because I swear it takes away all wrinkles and skin damage to leave a silky smooth face  Yes, I use this regularly!

My whole process from start to finish, including the hour of shooting images and the post-edits, probably took me almost 3 hours. Yes, this is a lot of time. And you might work faster or slower. But even if you work with a professional photographer, you can assume you’ll spend at least an hour of prep and an hour of shooting.

That extra time was still a lot cheaper than paying a professional photographer! And I honestly believe that many of my images came out great and will work well for me going forward.

To prove to you that, yes, you can use a smartphone (and Instagram if you like) to take your photos, here are some of the images from my shoot.

My new profile photo on all my social media accounts (this was edited in Instagram directly from my phone):

An outdoor image using the “Beauty” option on my camera and an edit for contrast (no other edits):

An outdoor image edited (on my computer) for contrast and exposure to reduce shadows:

A black and white edit of a head shot (edited in Instagram):

I also took some images of my computer for blog post images, etc. This was only edited (on my computer) for contrast:

I think you’ll agree that, not only are these images good enough for marketing, but they’re really good for having come from a smartphone and not a professional camera.

So, yes you can take quality profile photos without spending a ton of money on professional photographers. It will take some time and effort on your behalf. But you can easily do it. And if this isn’t for you, then ask around for a good photographer referral!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Thanks for the great photo suggestions Jen (and I think the ones you shared turned out wonderfully!). I will have to give this a try as I have used the same ones for awhile. I am partial to my pic with the Einstein statue, but maybe I can reshoot that! haha

    1. I’m glad you found this useful, Kim. It’s always nice to freshen up the profile photos (even if they’re in the same place). Have fun if you do go out and take more photos. I look forward to seeing what you get 🙂

  2. WOW that’s really a helpful post. The tips you share are rocking and so informative yes why pay costly photoshot when you can do all that stuff via phone and apps. Love your new profile account picture you have edited it so well.

    Thanks for sharing your tips. ((Hugs))

  3. Hi. While these are lovely selfie type photos, many would not consider them worthy of a pro head shot. Filters on Instagram do not replace professional lighting, posing and editing. People who need a good headshot for LinkedIn, company websites or print marketing materials need a well edited professional photo. A good headshot is a worthy investment. Filters are trendy and people being able to tell you edited your headshot with your iphone and Instagram does not show professionalism is shows quick and cheap, not qualities many companies look for in candidates. If you are on a tight budget talk about swapping services with a local photographer to get a decent headshot.

    1. Hi Courtney and thank you for your comments. As I mentioned in the blog post, NOTHING replaces the talent and skill of a professional photographer. I completely appreciate with the points you make.
      However, not everyone wants or needs a professional photo on LinkedIn – they just need a good one. Personally, if any job I was to apply for denied me because of my LinkedIn profile photo, I wouldn’t want to work for them anyways.
      Headshots are definitely an investment and when warranted should be utilized properly. There are certain applications in business where, yes, you absolutely need a professional image. But a social media profile photo isn’t necessarily that place.
      You do bring up an interesting option to offer a service swap to reduce the cost of professional photos.

  4. I saw last week you had updated your photo; I’ve been meaning to tell you it looks great! Thanks for the lesson too. Although I started using my IPhone more and more, I’m not completely in love with the photos I’ve taken; and so I’m using my DSLR more and more.
    It’s great to know that with a little practice (and an extra set of hands), I might be able to get some great pics.

    1. Thanks Ann 🙂 I’m glad you like the new photo.
      I have to admit it took some getting used to changing over from a “real” camera to my phone. Personally, I find that the Samsung Android phones have more phone/camera functions which make the transition easier. I don’t really like the iPhone camera functions. But, yes, with practice, and learning where the different tools and settings are in the iPhone, you should be able to transition.
      Of course, there are times where nothing beats a good DSLR and the quality of images they create. But let’s be real, those things aren’t pocket sized 😉

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