7 Things Science Says About the Best LinkedIn Photo


In the professional world, first impressions matter. That’s why LinkedIn profile photos are so important. Nowadays, those first impressions aren’t created during an interview or face-to-face meeting.

More often, first impressions are drawn from your LinkedIn profile photo.

In fact, according to a survey of recruiters on Jobvite, 41% of respondents said a LinkedIn profile picture influences their first impression of someone. Further, a great photo can help you get found. According to LinkedIn, pictures make your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed.

In short, if there’s one element on your profile that’s the most important, it’s your head shot. Viewers – whether recruiters or hiring managers – make judgements in fractions of a second. Your profile picture says a lot about who you are, your personality, and how driven you are.

What does your LinkedIn profile picture say about you?

According to the latest research, it says a lot. From suggesting competence, to how outgoing you are, a high-quality professional profile photo can create an instant impression.

Need some help choosing your LinkedIn profile picture? These are seven science-based tips for finding the best head shot.

Eye Contact Matters

In face-to-face communications, eye contact is one of the most important interpersonal cues. It signals your openness and attentiveness, and it’s a strong indicator of trustworthiness and confidence.

But eye contact isn’t just important during in-person meetings. It’s also important in your LinkedIn photo.

According to one study, people using a direct gaze in their profile pictures were rated more attractive by viewers. Why? Gazing at the camera helps draw viewers into your photo. And all of those great benefits of eye contact when you’re at the office translate to your photo, as well. A direct gaze helps you appear more confident, trustworthy and kind.

Wear a Smile

Should I smile or be serious? That’s a common question we hear from clients preparing for a head shot session. And in the majority of cases, we recommend a smile.

The research tends to agree that a smile is best. According to a Stanford study, your expression directly impacts a person’s perception of you.

A smile, for example, scored highest in the study for “affiliation,” a characteristic that’s associated with friendliness, creativity and extraversion. Smiling subjects also scored highly in areas of dominance, a trait associated with confidence.

Accentuate Your Eyes

Although eye contact is important, additional research has shown that the shape and appearance of the eye matters too. In particular, researchers have identified two areas to focus your attention:

  • Pupil Size. One study asked participants to look at photos and rate a person’s trustworthiness. In the study, when subjects had larger pupils, they were rated more trustworthy.

  • Limbal Ring. Another important area is the limbal ring, which is the darkened rim around the iris. When it’s more defined, it’s often associated with greater attractiveness and vitality.

A professional head shot photographer can help you achieve both of these looks. For pupils, the right lighting setup can help. Plus, both can also be enhanced during the retouching process.

Choose a Side (Preferably the Left)

Look at any quality head shot, and you’ll notice the subject almost always has one shoulder closer to the camera. This helps to accentuate one side of the face. But which side is best?

Overwhelmingly, the research says it’s the left side. One meta-analysis of several studies found that photos featuring the left side of a female’s face were rated higher 78% of the time. With males, left-side photos also earned a 56% bias.

Why do we consciously and subconsciously prefer the left side? Some researchers believe it’s due in part to the right brain, the part of the brain that controls the left side of the body. The right brain is responsible for processing emotion, and therefore, that might cause our left side to be more expressive.

Make It Bright

A bright, vibrant profile picture is often associated with more positive personality traits. According to one study, bright, contrasted profile pictures were rated with positive traits like conscientiousness, openness and extraversion.

One solution: Choose a bright white background. White backgrounds tend to brighten an image, as well as accentuate you. Not to mention, white backgrounds are versatile and are easier to use on websites and business cards.

Keep It Classy

You might be tempted to go for an edgy, on trend, or even sexy look. But on LinkedIn, conservative is better. Not only will a conservative profile photo age better (it won’t look out-of-date when a trend changes or your personal brand evolves), but according to one survey, it may also help you appear more extroverted, attractive and competent.

In the study, a group of 118 teenage girls were shown either a sexy picture or a conservative profile image. The result: The conservative image scored higher in all three categories: attractiveness, extroversion and competence.

Pose Your Best

PhotoFeeler is a website that allows users to upload their profile pictures and receive feedback from real people. And they’ve collected a lot of data on what works and what doesn’t in profile pictures. According to one analysis of more than 60,000 ratings, the site put together some suggestions for the perfect LinkedIn profile picture. Their tips include:

  • Accentuate the Jaw – Your pose will help define your jawline. Typically, leading with your forehead and slightly tucking your chin does the trick.

  • Dress to Impress – Conservative, bold-colored attire typically resulted in the highest scores of competence and influence in the survey.

  • Try a SquinchNashville Headshot Photographer Greg Thomason recommends a “squinch” – a slight squint – which can help you define the shape of the eye and make you look more relaxed and confident. In the survey, a squinch rated higher than most looks.

  • Frame It Properly – Close-ups, in which the face filled more than 60-70% of the frame, tended to rate lower than head-and-shoulders or head-to-waist photos.

Bottom Line: Work with a Professional for Best Results

As you can see, there’s a lot of subtle nuance to a great headshot. A few mistakes in posing, expression or lighting, and you risk creating the wrong first impression.

That’s why it’s so important to work with a professional photographer. Professional photography show that you are serious about your career, that you invest in yourself, and they can help you avoid all of these subtle mistakes.

Need a new LinkedIn profile photo? Our team of professionals can help you achieve amazing results. Call now for a quote or book a session online.