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You’d never go out dancing without washing your fancy duds or getting your hair did.
Why put any less care into your Facebook pic?
A gorgeous profile pic is the online equivalent of being the hottest dancer in the club — or the fastest crossword-puzzler in Mensa, if that’s your crowd.
You deserve a profile that’s as pretty as you — time to throw a Facebook Profile Photo Party (FPPP)!
FPPPs are parties with purpose: you supply lights and a camera; your guests bring their dazzling demeanors (and silliest props).
By the time the evening is over, everyone has a profile pic they’ll be proud to be tagged in — just the thing to catch the eye of the smoldering hotties in the “Betty White to Host SNL Please” group.
It’s up to you whether to keep it a simple and and easy affair, or an intricate production. You could take good-enough photos with a sheet and a desk lamp and very little effort; or you can take awesome photos with a rented backdrop and lights. You can even build an entire photo booth! It’s up to you; the important thing is that your guests are lit nicely and have a pretty background.
So! Let’s walk through the basics for any kind of setup.
What You’ll Need
- A backdrop
- Party guests galore
- Props and costumes
- Exotic animals (optional)
Feeling thrifty? No need to rent anything expensive; just look around your house! The 30-second solution is to tack a bedsheet to the wall; and if you want more texture, try tacking up a whole bunch of billowing sheets. You can even take some inspiration from the very fine Labor of Love Smilebooth and throw in some neckties or bath towels or other long patterned fabrics to mix things up.
And if you’re worried about the structural integrity of your wall, you can buy a cheapo curtain rod (the kind with springs inside) and mount it in a doorframe, with the sheet dangling below. Voila: instant background.
Now, obviously, your Pokemon sheets may not look as buttoned-down and professional as an expensive backdrop, but hey this ain’t a passport photo, it’s a party! The bedsheet approach has tons of character — not to mention being about a million times cheaper and easier to hang up. Remember: this is for a profile pic, an image that should say something smashing and surprising about who you are! The wackier and weirder your background, the likelier it is to catch the eye of someone browsing past your page.
The pros use things called “sweeps” or “seamlesses” to get that “floating in a sea of white” look. It’s a super-classy look, just the thing for creating profile pics that your guests can be proud of and show off to friends, family, and even colleagues for a long long time.
A seamless is actually pretty simple: just a super long roll of white paper, held way up at the top of the frame and unfurled down onto the floor. Because it has no seams or crinkles or folds, it just looks like an infinite expanse of empty.
Unless you own a papermill, you probably don’t have the resources to make your own seamless. Fortunately, you can get a roll and some stands for pretty cheap: just call around to local photo stores and ask if they have seamlesses, or know who does. As long as there are school photos taken within a 50 mile radius, you’re guaranteed to have backdrops nearby. Typically, seamlesses are purchased, since you get ‘em all scuffy; and stands are rented, since they’re pricey.
The price of a seamless varies, but to buy a 50-inch-wide basic white one that can fit a single person, you can expect to pay around $30. A two-person 100-inch white seamless will run you about $60. And don’t forget to rent stands — you’ll need to prop the roll up on something! Stands are generally in the ballpark of $15 per day.
Placing Your Lights
You can’t craft an amazing party memento if your guests don’t look their best! For a flattering portrait, your light should seem to come fairly evenly from all directions, so use lights that can be positioned at face-level and don’t cast harsh shadows. You can pick up super-bright construction worklights on heavy-duty stands at most hardware stores, starting at around $30 for basic models.
Start by positioning several light sources all around your subject, so they look evenly covered. This usually takes at least three lights — one on the left, one on the right, and one in back — positioned at face-level. Next, make sure your lights are “soft,” which is another way of saying that there are no hard-edged shadows. There are two ways to soften light:
- Bounce: Shine your light into something reflective, like a white wall or the windshield reflector from a car — the bouncing will scatter the rays of light, making shadows more feathery.
- Diffuse: Put a thin, porous material between your light and your subject, like a lampshade or paper towels. (Not too close! You don’t want it to catch on fire.)
And if you want to be really thorough, you can rent a light kit along with your seamless. A good rental kit will cost around $80 per day for a basic model, and comes with lots of options: adjustable stands, various gels and diffusers, and plenty of C47s. (That’s technical jargon for clothespins.)
Don’t give your guests an inhuman skin tone! (Except if they are not human. But what the heck kind of party are you throwing, anyway?) All lights have a bit of a color-cast; for example, old-fashioned incandescents are warm and yellow, while fluorescents tend towards green.
Use the built-in white-balance preset on your camera if you can: set it to match whatever type of light you’re shooting under. If you’re using a mix of different-colored lights — for example, cool blue daylight mixed with warm yellow incandescent — you’ll get better results if you use a camera that lets you customize your white-balance. To use a custom white-balance, photograph a sheet of white gray paper where your party guests will be standing, and then look for the “use as custom white balance” symbol a square in the middle of two triangles.
An even easier way to set a customized white-balance: use the white-balance lens cap! Just pop on your lens cap and fire off a shot; no need to futz around with neutral gray cards.
Once your backdrop and lights are in place, you’re good to go! Tell your guests to bring props and wear costumes; supply sufficient snacks and drinks for a delightful silly time; and get to work! Be prepared for the evening to fly by as you create digital keepsakes for all of your friends.
Keep the party flowing by ushering attendees into your well-lit Photography Sanctuary, alone or in pairs or as a throng. Then after the party, pick out the best, upload, and await that uniquely modern post-party phenomenon: the Festival of Face-Tagging. Your circle of friends will have never looked finer — and it’s all thanks to you.
Take it Further
- Photobooth: These folks built an entire booth for their portraits — kudos to you for your carpentry skills! Check out our roundup of tips for building one of your own.
- Instant Portraits: Forget uploading files — for immediate gratification, the Fuji Instax will spit out your portraits as fast as you can take them. That’s right, physical photos! Will wonders never cease.
- Face Inspiration: Researchers have found that there are exactly 30 Standard Facebook Profile Photo Styles. Need some inspiration for your own? Consider the “Where’s Waldo Shot,” the “I Love My Pet Photo,” or the “I’ve Got a Boyfriend/Girlfriend Photo.”