Artistic Cropping for Headshots


Remember when we transitioned from a 4:3 aspect ratio to widescreen television. You either accepted a scrunched image or accepted the black bars on the top and bottom of your screen—known as letterboxing. Widescreen video might have started as a trend, but it is now the standard.

We are experiencing the same shift in portraiture. Gone are the days where the majority of portraits were printed on a sheet of 8×10 paper. Digital portraits are square—square on LinkedIn, square on Facebook, and even Instagram defaults to square. What does this mean for your digital portrait?

There are some things that will never change. Two of them are fundamental principles of art that date back to the 1700s:

  • The Rule of Thirds first introduced by John Thomas Smith in 1797 in a composition entitled Remarks on Rural Scenery.
  • The Golden Ratio—a fundamental design principle found in nature that creates pleasing, natural looking compositions. It is also known as the Golden Mean, The Golden Section, or the Greek letter Phi and is based on the Fibonacci Sequence, describing the relationship between two proportions.

    KeliComm Golden Mean
    The Golden Ratio

In simple terms, this means placing the most important element of an image in a specific place on the viewing surface, such as the square piece of real estate for displaying your LinkedIn profile picture.

What’s the most important element of your portrait? Your eyes! So we want your eyes at the Golden Mean and the image to follow the Rule of thirds—see below.



Mitch’s right eye is in the Golden Mean and if you draw a line across his face, his eyes dissect the image one-third from the top of the frame.

Another new challenge in digital media is that we have to work within a very small fixed amount of square-shaped real estate. LinkedIn limits you to no more than 500×500 pixels for the most important part of your digital profile—your portrait. So you want to make the most of it; you want to maximize every element of that footprint; you want your eyes as large as they can be while still showing some shoulders so that we get a sense of your posture. After your face, your posture sends the strongest message about your persona. So how do we maximize that space? We sacrifice a little hair.


KeliComm Headshots golden meanYou probably didn’t notice in Mitch’s image above that we clipped a little hair to accomplish three important goals:

  1. Put Mitch’s eyes in the Golden Mean.
  2. Compose Mitch’s face following the rule of thirds.
  3. Show enough of Mitch’s shoulders to get a sense of his physical persona.

Now, you might ask, why not zoom out and still use the golden rules of composition, or bring back his hair and crop more of his shirt. Here’s why…

  1.  First, if we zoom out, we would be wasting valuable real estate on content that says nothing about you.
  2.  Second, if we shift the image down, it starts to look like you’ve been cut off at the neck.
  3.  And lastly, no one truly notices or cares about that little bit of hair on the top of your head except you. Everyone else’s brain mentally fills it in. And like the days of shifting from 4:3 television to widescreen, this is the new standard in digital portraiture.
  4. The slideshow below shows several different crops to illustrate the idea.

But what about print and marketing materials. That can present different challenges. When creating images for marketing and print, there are often valid reasons to crop an image differently than described above. The marketing professional and artistic director will know how the image needs to be cropped for their purposes. The above guidelines make sense for online social media. For marketing and print, work with your marketing professional to get the best layout for the appropriate piece being created.

There is an art to cropping. Done incorrectly it can result in some pretty horrific portraits. But if you are hiring a professional photographer who is on top of the industry and schooled in artistic aesthetics, they will know how to properly crop your portrait following the golden principles of artist composition that go back hundreds of years and have now been adapted to our new digital world.

We give every client an uncropped image that you can use in any venue or turn over to a marketing professional for their artistic treatment. And we give every client an image properly formatted for digital social media.

Related Posts


Excellent overview. Thanks!

Thank you, Art! And thank you for visiting ?

Howdy, I do think your blog may be having internet browser compatibility issues.

When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues.
I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up!
Aside from that, fantastic website!

Thanks so much for calling this to our attention. I’ll pass it on to our web developer! And thank you for visiting.

Leave a reply