Do you want to look professional on the profile page of your university website, research page, or LinkedIn page? Then you definitely need to have a good profile picture. Whether you have access to a photographer or not, here are some tips to create great profile pictures (even with your mobile phone).

Avoid holiday pictures

We don’t know what it is with researchers and profile pictures that were taken on holiday, but this is never a good idea. Since we create a lot of team pages for research consortia, we’ve seen it all. Dark snapshots from over 10 years ago, a setting sun and even sunglasses. Even if it highlights your fun and adventurous personality, it will not look very professional. And you will definitely stand out on a team page if your colleagues do have great pictures (as you can read in our blog on how to create good team pages). So ditch the holiday pics and use the following tips to create a stellar profile pic.

Hire a photographer, if possible

If you have access to a photographer from your university or organization, then take this amazing opportunity. They will know about good lighting, angles and proportions. Do you want to use your profile pictures on other websites as well? Then consider the dimensions of these photos, and instruct the photographer to keep enough room around you to crop your headshot in different ways afterwards.

How to take profile pictures with your phone

If you do not have the opportunity to hire a photographer, but you also don’t want to work with the random snapshots from vacations and LinkedIn, you can work with selfies taken with your phone or a good digital camera. These can definitely be a good alternative if you take on these tips to take better pictures with your phone:

  • Ask someone to take the picture for you, this is easier than taking a selfie.
  • Take your picture with plenty of daylight, but avoiding the middle of the day when the sun is casting vertical shadows. Late in the afternoon is usually perfect.
  • Make sure the light comes from directly in front of you, or so that it doesn’t cause stark shadows on your face or create overly bright white spots (overexposure).
  • If you have some bright lamps or spotlights, place them on either side of you to make sure your face is well-lit.
  • Stand in front of a white or plain wall, but not so close that you can see your shadow on the wall.
  • Take pictures with a LOT of white space around your head. Because if anything is cropped out of the picture, you can never add it back (although we have Photoshopped dozens of shoulders back into pictures when it was needed…). So make sure your entire head and shoulders down to your chest are in the pictures. You don’t always know in advance whether you will use a cut-out picture, a square picture, or a horizontally placed picture, so this helps you be flexible.
  • Turn on the gridlines on your phone to take a centered picture.
  • Take them in the highest resolution possible and do not zoom in (check your phone settings).
  • Don’t add any filters (if needed, you can change the lighting afterwards). You do not want to become known as the Sepia Scientist ;)

See the image below for examples on how to (not) take a profile picture:

  1. an image with a low resolution,
  2. a photo that’s cropped in a small rectangle (unsuitable for a square profile picture),
  3. a headshot where the shoulders are cropped out (don’t do this, it takes your web designer a lot of time to make this right),
  4. and a good image with plenty of space around the person (me!).
1) low quality, 2) cut out in a weird small rectangle, 3) the shoulder is cut off, 4) a perfect picture with plenty of space

Choose the highest resolution possible

You can definitely create great profile pictures from selfies, but you can never create something good from a low-resolution picture. When you send over pictures to your web designer, make sure they have a high resolution and a large enough size. Size (in pixels or PX) and resolution (in dots per inch or DPI) are not interchangeable. For size; use pictures that are at least 300px wide. There are not a lot of profile pictures that need to be larger than this.

The resolution is also important, but the web is actually a relatively low resolution (compared to print). Everything higher than 72 dpi is usually fine (any modern smartphone will most likely shoot higher resolution than that). Do you want to check the size of your image? That’s easy. If you have an image in Windows Explorer, just hover over the image to see the dimensions, or right-click the image and go to properties.

For reference these are some typical screen sizes in pixels:

  • Laptop screen size: 1920 x 1280.
  • A website is often 1200px wide.
  • So if you want 3 images next to each other, you should aim for 3 pictures of 400px wide each.
Check the size of your images under Properties

Tools to edit your images

If you need to create different types of profile pictures, you probably need to crop the image. My favorite free online tool for this is imageresizer.com. You can first crop the image, and then resize it to the dimensions you need. Perfect!

Resize the picture to the perfect dimensions easily

A warning about uploading very high resolution images to your website: images that are 4000px wide make your website load very slowly. So make sure to upload the image in the same size you want to display it (e.g. 250x250px) and compress the image before uploading. My favorite tool to compress images for the web is the imagecompressor.com.

Stand out with a colorful background

You can also play around with your picture and add a colorful background. If you want to remove the background of your images and you don’t have Photoshop, you can use an online background removal tool. Remove.bg is my favorite.

Remove the background of a picture

Once you’ve removed the background of your photo you can add a colorful background. This makes your picture stand out and it can look great when you do this with your entire team, like they did here. Most of these pictures are taken with a mobile phone at home, can you tell?

A way to harmonize your profile pictures is to cut them out against a colorful background

Do you have an amazing profile picture? Great! But don’t forget to update it now and then. Otherwise people will not recognize you in the next (Zoom) meeting.

About the Author: Liesbeth Smit

Liesbeth combines her knowledge of science communication, technology and design to explain difficult topics to a wide audience. You can use her practical tips immediately in your (poster) presentations to create a bigger impact. She developed dozens of websites, infographics and animated videos, and regularly gives workshops about design at The Online Scientist.

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