Graham Plaster

culture + diplomacy + ethics + smart power + technology + humanities + entrepreneurship + philosophy

The Top 10 LinkedIn Profile Photos

LinkedIn recently embarked on a roadshow to offer free professional photo shoots for those wanting a perfect LinkedIn profile pic.  If you were lucky enough to get to one of the photo shoots (they were only in DC for 1 day), I am guessing that it may have felt a little bit like class pictures for Kindergarten.  The roadshow reinforced a few important themes we have seen and will continue to see across social media:

  1. while image isn’t everything, it certainly can mean a lot, so if a picture says 1000 words, make every word of the 1000 count
  2. social platforms which were previously text dominant are looking for ways to introduce higher quality images and content into the platform – early adopters are image conscious while maintaining authenticity
  3. there are a million ways to get image wrong and perhaps half a million ways to get it right, so rules can always be broken if broken smartly

 Since I have personally reviewed somewhere in the ballpark of 40,000 LinkedIn profiles, I wanted to do some show and tell on 10 excellent profile photos.  I am only including people I am connected to, so this isn’t actually an exhaustive search of the entire LinkedIn database (sorry to disappoint).

Before I list the 10, I want to hit a few key pointers I like to see in a good profile pic:

  • #1 rule is go with your gut – a picture should create a positive emotional response.  Despite anything else I write, this is the most important rule and should trump anything else
  • Cropping – the pic needs to be properly cropped (there is plenty of room for interpretation here) which essentially means that the excess is trimmed so that the eye is drawn to the appropriate focal point in the pic.  This can be hard to pull off when you are cropping a group photo.  Use of negative or white space is always important in design, and very difficult to use well in a small pic, but still possible.
  • Color – black and white is very classy, but runs the risk of poor contrast.  If you go with a B&W pic, make sure you have high res and good contrast.  Otherwise, a color pic is generally better for social.
  • Place – learn from political campaign photos: a picture that gives you an authentic sense of “place” and tells a story wins over one which looks like it was shot in a studio or staged.  This isn’t to say that a staged photo can’t look authentic or even be authentic – we live in a world where the two worlds are blended – but “authenticity”  “place”  and “telling a story” are all important aspects of your pic.  Using group photos, pictures with VIPs or pictures of media exposure can help build your brand, but often these pictures are not the best shots of you, so you need to be picky.  Also, the profile pic is about you, not the people around you, so be sure to make yourself the clear focal point if there are any other faces in the pic.
  • Clarity – blurry images are no good.  Use a low F-stop (shallow depth of field) for a clear face shot and the out of focus background can make it look terrific
  • Attitude – depends on your line of work, but the simplest guide is to look both kind and competent.
  • Dress – also depends on your line of work, but business casual tends to work well for close cropping because it frames the face.  If you wear a t-shirt or something low cut, you may end up leaving too much to the imagination in a tightly cropped photo.
  • Squinching – this is a word that some portrait photographers use to describe when you are just slightly tensing your eyes.  Google it and try it in a selfie. See if it works for you, but don’t let it turn you into Zoolander.
  • Eye contact – generally, looking into the camera lens when the picture is taken creates a very engaging photo, especially if you can master a natural smile. There are a number of conditions where not making eye contact with the camera can work, and this is something you have to follow your gut on.  The bottom line is, eye contact is more personal and works well if you are presenting yourself as a people person.
  • Action – too many profile pics end up presenting a static version of you.  A great pic not only has context and place, but also has some sort of action.  Action tells a story.  This can be accomplished by introducing an active hand gesture into a speaking engagement pic, or it could be a few things in the background that indicate you are located in an active environment.

OK, here are my top 10.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

David Bray – great eye contact with the camera for a personal connection, great context to tell a story about his experience, great cropping to balance both

Brandon Friedman – well done B&W with texture, contrast and place.  Great eye contact with camera.

Lewis Shephard – great action shot with gravitas and sense of context. Excellent cropping

Cole Stryker – nice use of shallow depth of field, eye contact…Only a guy named Cole Stryker could pull off this severe stare, but it definitely works for who he is

Elizabeth (Kreft) Brienza – with a jet in the background, you know the context, but the cropping is great and she connects with the camera

Jennifer Walsh – excellent use of shallow depth of field, eye contact and color

April Lenhard – terrific action and context pic. Really communicates the kind and competent message.

Anne Gibbon – not only does the context tell a story, but her face communicates that she is telling a story.  Without making eye contact with the camera, this one still feels very connected and authentic

Suzanne (Bottorff) Wrasse – probably a professional shot, but unique in the intensity of eye contact with the camera.  Cropping is excellent as well and color really pops.

LTG Mike Flynn – tells a story and minimizes emphasis on the face, which is an interesting rule breaker.  However, for someone who has already achieved public prominence, there is less of a need to reinforce the personal brand, so less emphasis on the close cropped photo.

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