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How to choose your Profile Photo Picture that is right for Social Media (hint: Sunny Leone is NOT good choice)

Updated on September 24, 2012


Social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and such is becoming more and more of normal Internet, and by extension, business, it is more important than ever to pick the right profile photo to represent yourself and/or your business. As the old adage say, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.".

Furthermore, social media makes information travels much faster, both good and bad, and Internet is fickle. One customer with bad experience used to tell maybe 5-10 friends. With the Internet, they can now tell hundreds, or thousands, and if their friend also tells more friends.

What's more, your profile pic will end up on various pundit blogs and how-not-to articles... such as this one.

Here is a list of what you should NEVER DO, and what you SHOULD DO, when choosing a photo for your social media profile.

What NOT to Choose as your Profile Picture: 7 deadly sins

When you are choosing pictures for your profile, there are 7 deadly sins you should NEVER commit.

OnFireTwoRetire is not a criminal, but his profile pix is of a criminal, Marcus Schrenker!
OnFireTwoRetire is not a criminal, but his profile pix is of a criminal, Marcus Schrenker! | Source
Here's news of Marcus Schrenker's arrest, and the picture of him and wife during happier days
Here's news of Marcus Schrenker's arrest, and the picture of him and wife during happier days | Source

NEVER pick the picture of a known criminal as your profile picture

WHY NOT: Do I really have to say it? It makes you look guilty and stupid!

You should NEVER use picture of a known criminal as your profile pix. Unless, of course, you are that criminal, but that's rather besides the point.

While some photos are rather generic, such as the picture of the man and woman standing in front of beautiful car and plane, in that Twitter profile pix to the right. You think they would be a great illustration of what you would aspire to be, right?


That picture is actually picture of Marcus Schrenker and his now ex-Wife Michelle. If you never heard of Mr. Schrenker, you may remember a plane crash in 2009 somewhere in Florida, USA, where there were no bodies. Authorities caught the pilot a few days later in a campground nearby. He had apparently jumped via parachute prior to crash in attempt to fake his own death, after swindling millions from his family and investors.

And the Twitter account is pushing some sort of a "make money fast" scheme.

Rather unfortunately, isn't it? No matter how legitimate or illegitimate this scheme is, by using the picture of a criminal, this guy has basically ruined his campaign's credibility.

Learn more about Marcus Schrenker and why you should NEVER use his photo to promote any sort of "business opportunity".

Picture of a known porn actress. Guess who?
Picture of a known porn actress. Guess who? | Source
There's your answer: Sunny Leone! (picture is censored)
There's your answer: Sunny Leone! (picture is censored) | Source

Never pick the picture of a PORN actress as your profile photo

WHY NOT: It makes you look sleazy, unless that is indeed your intent!

You should NEVER pick the picture of a porn actress as your profile photo, unless of course, you are indeed that porn actress! You can crop and trim and process that photo all you want, but somebody will recognize it! If not a person, then a search website like TinEye!

In the right, a very fake profile claimed to be in UK posted a trimmed picture of American adult actress with stage name of Sunny Leone as her (?) profile pix in LinkedIn, obviously hoping nobody would recognize the picture, but merely regard it as a pretty face that may be worthy of a "join network" request. But as you can see, there is no mistake: that picture is from a porn actress.

UPDATE: The picture had been removed from the profile.

Learn a little more about the real Sunny Leone (stagename) at a perfectly safe for work entry via Wikipedia, and why it's obvious you should never use her picture as your profile pix (no matter how you clip it!)

Another fake profile... Who is this "Kelly Smith"?
Another fake profile... Who is this "Kelly Smith"? | Source
Turns out, this is Kelly Chen, actress out of Hong Kong!
Turns out, this is Kelly Chen, actress out of Hong Kong!

Never Pick Photo of a Celebrity as your Profile Picture

WHY NOT: Impersonating celebrity? Come on! You don't come close to look that good.

it doesn't matter where the celebrity is famous in, if it is on the Internet, it will be found.

Some morons pick obviously American stars, while others stick to Asia stars, and yet others tries to go obscure by picking Pakistani, Turkish, or Eastern European TV stars. However, it doesn't matter where you pick the photos from... SOMEBODY will recognize the celebrity, and then you'll get your profile flagged and ridiculed.

In this LinkedIn profile to the right, this "Kelly Smith" is pushing something called "Jobs Corner". But the picture is of Kelly Chen, actress.

At least the faker didn't mess with the name too much, but that's pretty darn obvious, isn't it?

What's even more interesting is there are a series of these "Jobs Corner" entries on LinkedIn, all of them use obviously "fake photo" as profile pix. There's a Miss Rozita (using picture of Reese Witherspoon), another "Cherry Cole" (who will be highlighted below), and Sonia Mehta (some Indian girl with a very good... assets).

Check out the REAL Kelly Chen's website

Another "Cherry Cole" out of UK... another fake photo
Another "Cherry Cole" out of UK... another fake photo | Source
Real photo is that of "Nina" by a German photographer Frank Altmann, as shown on Germany photography forum
Real photo is that of "Nina" by a German photographer Frank Altmann, as shown on Germany photography forum

Never Pick an Obviously Professional Photo Shoot picture

WHY NOT: It looks out of place.

Every linked in photo is supposed to be real portrait of the person. So why do some people insist on posting pictures that are way too professional to be true? People don't look like celebrities, and people don't usually have portraits taken by professionals on a model shoo either.

Oh, great, it's Jobs Corner AGAIN. This time, it's ANOTHER Cherry Cole! What's so good about this name "Cherry Cole" any way? Last time it's a porn actress. Who will we find this time?

The photo looks VERY professional and posed. This is not something you do with a point-and-shoot or even a camera phone.

Turns out, the picture source is a German photography forum, by Frank Altmann. The picture is simply named "Nina".

So the profile is clearly a fake, using someone else's PROFESSIONAL photo shoot as one's profile pix.

NOTE: If you have the luck of knowing some real pro photographers and have the pleasure of having a pro portrait taken by a pro, (or paid for the services of one), then by all means, put one up. However, please make sure it fits the INTENDED PURPOSE of your profile. A portrait similar to the example to the right is striking, but not exactly professional or casual.

Deidre Bot is really a bot!
Deidre Bot is really a bot! | Source
Proof that the pix is stock photo!
Proof that the pix is stock photo! | Source

Never Pick Stock Photo as your Profile Pix

WHY NOT: Clearly, you are not generic. So why should your profile pix be?

Stock photos are almost as easy to spot as professionally shot photos. They look very posed as well.

Furthermore, stock photos are easily indexed on the web, and thus VERY easy to find, and thus, very easily revealed.

Take a look at the profile to the right. Who in the world would have a last name "Bot", unless she actually is generated by a bot?

And CEO at "Botly Inc."? Guess the fake profile writer ran out of ideas, and decided to be blatantly obvious.

What's even funnier, she supposedly worked at "Long Term Capital", except there is no such generic name company. There is Long Term Capital Management, but LTCM is the hedge fund that lost 4.6 BILLION (yes, that's BILLION with a "B") in just a few months and has been closed since 2000.

And the photo? Straight out of Getty Images.

Molly Major, former military experience? Really?
Molly Major, former military experience? Really? | Source
Nope, borrowed from Flickr, as listed on this "most beautiful 30 women on flickr"
Nope, borrowed from Flickr, as listed on this "most beautiful 30 women on flickr" | Source

Never Pick some other people's Photo Album Pix as your Profile Pix

Why not: Someone will find out!

People have been stealing pictures from Flickr, PhotoDump, PhotoBucket, and Facebook for years. But setting them as one's profile pix? That takes some guts.

Take a look at the profile to the right of "Molly Major". Gee, this name even alliterates. Is that like "Jessica Jones"?

And then the experience makes no sense. Military Personnel Management? That's just HR, isn't it?

However, the base that she described does not exist, according to Arizona Air National Guard's website.

And the picture is not professional at all. It seems to be a casual portrait.

Then you realize this was ripped from Flickr, and has appeared in this article dated 2007 about best portraits found on Flickr of beautiful women. And indeed, she is beautiful. Not like stunningly beautiful, but beautiful nonetheless.

Can't find the original pix linked on Flickr, but there really is no doubt that the profile is fake.

Anita Martin... Why does your picture on LinkedIn, a PROFESSIONAL networking site, look like you're at a party and is about to be attacked by a strangler?
Anita Martin... Why does your picture on LinkedIn, a PROFESSIONAL networking site, look like you're at a party and is about to be attacked by a strangler? | Source

Never Pick an UNprofessional blooper pix as Your Profile Pix

The best way to illustrate this is via a visual example. Look at the picture to the right. Tell me, what's wrong with it?

  • It is not professional, yet it appeared on LinkedIn. It clearly belongs to some sort of party
  • The subject looks bored, apparently texting in the middle of a party
  • Why is there someone behind her who looks like he's about to strangle her? Look at those hands!

Clearly, this is not a suitable picture, even if this is really Anita's picture (and because it's about Job's Korner AGAIN, it probably is NOT her picture.)

What You Should Do When Choosing Profile Pix

Six out of seven sins above came from choosing pictures that are not you!

You can avoid six out of seven sins by simply choosing a real picture that actually have you as the primary subject!

Note I did not say just have you in it. For all I know, you could be somewhere in the background. I believe that's one of the gags in a Steve Martin comedy, about this girl he was dating turned out to be complete opposite of what he thought... Because she said she's in the picture, but she's in the background.

So... to restate the law... "Thou Shalt not Steal Pictures for Your Profile!"

Think about what image you want to project in the profile

In a LinkedIn profile, you are building your professional network, so you need to use a professional picture, preferably when you are dressed for an interview and similar situations. A Facebook profile, on the other hand, can go a bit more casual in looks, but you should never post anything that would embarrass yourself... Like doing a sexy pose (unless you're specifically trying to do that... sell the sexy image).

Shoot the picture intentionally instead of trying to recycle an old picture

Very often, the pictures available online are repurposed or cut from an existing picture. How often have we seen pictures that are obviously cut from a group shot? When you want a profile picture, TAKE a profile picture! Get help if you need to.

Use a proper background that does not distract from you and your face

There is a reason why portrait photographers use white as a background: it contrasts with just about everything. When the background is too 'busy', it distracts from the subject of the picture, namely, you!

Don't face the camera directly

Turn slightly to the side. Not only you would look a little thinner, you would look less confrontational.

In fact, you may not want to put the camera at eye level. Try above, or below, or other perspectives.

Smile into the Camera!

Even professionals smile into the camera. So should you. It doesn't have to be be a full-scale laugh, or even even teeth-barring smile, just an upturn in the corners of your mouth will do. It also make you more attractive overall. However, you need to think of some happy thoughts first. If you don't, only your mouth smiles, but not your eyes, and you look like a serial killer with an evil grin.

Trim the Photo carefully

Most profile pix are small, sometimes smaller than 100x100. Thus, any sort of words would be invisible. Thus, the profile pix should ideally just be face, and not much else. After all, the idea is to see YOU, not your clothes and your company (or whatever). If you leave too much, your face won't be visible much. If you trim too much, your face looks too big!

There are some profiles out there that only show the torso and legs, but no face. Now isn't THAT embarrassing?

Here are some good tips on how to take a great portrait photo.


I hope you didn't commit any of these "deadly sins" in your social networking profile pix. If you do, please correct them, so they don't end up being profiled here!


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