Oxford Dictionaries may have named “selfie” the word of the year, marking its place as a recognized constituent of the English language, but the photos you snap of yourself don’t get the same respect.
To the buttoned-up professional world, selfies can exist only with jeering and condescension — as if there’s something inherently embarrassing about taking a photo of yourself.
As you may be sensing, I’d like challenge this notion.
After all, online networks are for business as much as for socializing, and an up-to-date profile photo is a basic necessity. Any recruiter would be happy to point you to the plenty of bad self-portraits on LinkedIn that have come across their desks. But aren’t these only a subset of all the bad photos out there?
Smartphone selfies are not awful in and of themselves; most people just don’t know how to take them correctly.
With the following tips, you’ll find you can easily transform your selfie into a sensible photo suitable for all your professional profiles. Which means you’ll not only save time and money; you can also change your online image as often as you like.
Taking your selfie
1. Dress appropriately
Before you fire up your phone’s camera, ask yourself if you’d wear the same outfit, hairstyle and makeup to a job interview or first day of work.
Profile photos leave a first impression just as powerful as one made in person, so remember to present yourself accordingly. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
2. Select a safe background
While a professional photographer can get creative with where and how they place their subjects for photos, assume you lack the judgment needed to veer outside the safety zone.
Your most foolproof option is to stand in front of a solid background. A plain, clutter-free background mimics the look of a studio and ensures no objects (like a couch or bathroom mirror) alter the mood of your photo.
If a plain wall painfully cramps your style, capture yourself in a work environment like your home office. If done right, this setting can lend character and credibility. Just be mindful that the more “stuff” in the background, the more likely any given object can dial down the professionalism of the shot and work against you.
3. Go au naturel with lighting
Shoot in the daytime with a window open. A professional photographer once told me that natural light is an amateur’s best friend. It will keep harsh shadows away from your face or neck. Everyone looks awesome in natural light.
4. Pay attention to arm positioning
Keep your arm away from your body to give your photos maximum usable space, which will require less cropping later.
5. Don’t get too intellectual
Facial expression is another area that’s unfortunately not open for experimentation. As much as you might like to dabble in the intellectual side-gaze, it’s just not worth the risk.
Non-smiling faces can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. You might just end up looking bored or even angry. But a smile with solid eye contact is about as universal and friendly as you can get.
Editing Your Selfie
Once you finally have a few shots that look promising, the next step is a little editing.
No advanced or expensive software is needed here. A free online tool like PicMonkey will do. You don’t even need to create an account to use its basic features.
Here are three simple tasks to add quick, precision polish:
Even if you kept your camera-holding arm out of the shot, there’s still a chance your shoulder looks funny. No big deal; just crop out most of that area.
Crop your photos to a perfect square, as this is the standard for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. A square photo will also translate well to Google+ and Instagram, which use circular profile photos.
2. Add contrast
Another super-quick edit is to adjust contrast. Bumping up contrast makes the photo look crisper and draws out your facial features. Just try not to go overboard, because too much contrast will look artificial.
3. Adjust color or choose a filter
Finally, consider the color quality of your photo. Is it tinted a little blue or red? Use color balance settings to even out colors.
Alternatively, if you find your photo underwhelming, you can always throw a cool filter on it. (PicMonkey has a variety of hip flavors to choose from.)
Selfies ready for business:
Not bad, right?
The next time you need new career-oriented photos, I hope you’ll remember a well-done selfie can more than earn its keep — not just in your dictionary, but on your LinkedIn profile as well.
Stephanie Peterson is co-founder of PhotoFeeler.com, a free profile photo testing tool. In addition to helping professionals choose their best photos to use online, PhotoFeeler is quickly becoming a leader in scientific research around professional image. For more easy photo tips backed by real user data, check out their blog.