I am creating a social media profile and want to include a headshot/portrait... well, I don't really want to because I don't like posting photos online due to personal reasons. But in this day and age, it is quickly becoming necessary, even for employment. So my question is: I want to post a photo which makes me a "real person" and conveys my likeness, but would not make me easily recognizable outside of this photo. I am looking to obscure some or most of my major features. Some things I have considered:

  1. Shadows
  2. Digital filters: softening, blurring, black-and-white, (what ypes are best?)
  3. Abstract cutup
  4. Profile / sideshot
  5. Headwear / sunglasses / scarf

As mentioned above, this may be used professionally, so one of the most important aspects of a suitable answer is that the photo not be perceived as strange, weird, odd, crazy, unprofessional, etc.

Now, to add the bit of paranoia that's lying beneath the surface of this question. Because of the field I work in I know it will not be long before, if not already, these photos are cataloged by machines, so ideally the suggested portrait techniques would foil facial recognition software, in case you are familiar with any techniques they use. The premise is that anything posted on the internet lives forever. What other ideas would help me accomplish this goal?

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    Potentially interesting question... but wierd :o)
    – Rafael
    Oct 31 '16 at 4:46
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    Even if you add such a profile image to an online website, there might be other images associated with the account that identify you. Even if there are no other images, this will be a warning sign for employers: you have something to hide. Either do it properly if it's work related (and possibly add it to your CV, which is actually common in some places) or don't do it at all. An anonymous social media portrait is not going to do much in terms of career I guess. Still, interesting question, +1
    – null
    Oct 31 '16 at 10:07
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    Yes, you are paranoid. And no, there's no need to post a photo of yourself on any site. If you really think there arent' already a ton of photos with you in them on the web, you're sadly mistaken. Oct 31 '16 at 11:21
  • @null I completely disagree. IMHO, when I come across an online profile there is a day and night difference in how I feel about an online entity, especially when networking for projects or opportunities that will hopefully materialize into the real world. It doesn't necessarily matter what they look like, but that I get a sense of someone, anyone. It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it helps assuage overly (or not) prudent people. Please let me keep your +1 :)
    – user58446
    Oct 31 '16 at 20:47
  • @CarlWitthoft I cannot verify your claim of existing photos of me online linked directly to my name and such. I would need to upload a photo of myself to query on, which I probably won't be doing... at least not without an eye-patch. In response to this and other pending statements of paranoia: I may be paranoid today, but a gd genius tomorrow (or in a decade). Look at the trends.
    – user58446
    Oct 31 '16 at 20:53

Post an artist rendering. This can be a pencil drawing or water colors etc. Many photo editing programs have the capacity to simulate an artist rendering of a conventional photograph. Perhaps you should pay a visit to a local artist. The image you post can even be a caricature.

  • The original question said: 'As mentioned above, this may be used professionally, so one of the most important aspects of a suitable answer is that the photo not be perceived as strange, weird, odd, crazy, unprofessional, etc.' Although your answer came to a similar conclusion I had I don't think it answers the question.
    – Crazy Dino
    Oct 31 '16 at 15:46
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    Given that this is a photography Q&A - this answer is borderline off-topic, and doesn't really address the original question. Oct 31 '16 at 16:09
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    Pushing 80 with more than 55 years in the business, I declare this is a legitimate photographic question. Oct 31 '16 at 22:21
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    @AlanMarcus no one said the question wasn't about photography, it was the answers relevance I was referring to. 55 years experience with taking headshots for social media?! Or just trying to feel superior by quoting numbers? Oct 31 '16 at 22:35
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    @user58446 I agree, it's a sensible idea, but it doesn't answer the question as you posed it, IMO a comment would have been a better choice. Oct 31 '16 at 23:02

Grow a beard (or wear a fake one) The thing that fools most people when it comes to recognising others is facial hair (and even hair styles). When dealing with unfamiliar faces, the amount, type and style of hair provides most of the distinguishing features (facial shape and features are generally used more once you know a person better).

Hats Hats obscure your hair style, which helps make it harder for people to recognise you, and particularly if they cast a shadow over your face.

Eye Patch For facial recognition software one of the most important features is the position of the eyes relative to one-another, so if you can obscure 1 eye, or half of your face, then it makes it much harder to even detect a face.

In summary - dress like a pirate

  • 3
    Yeah, like we'd take advice from a stainless steel rat :-) Oct 31 '16 at 11:22
  • You can wear sunglasses too.
    – Crowley
    Oct 31 '16 at 14:04
  • Honestly, an eye patch is going to stand out... :D And I personally wouldn't wear a fake beard, although that might be an option. But if you wear a hat, and either use a side sot or sunglasses. You could add some examples to your post I think
    – Cullub
    Oct 31 '16 at 16:30
  • Unfortunately, sometimes I (or others needing solutions) may actually have facial hair. You lost me with the eyepatch. I also don't necessarily want it to look like this was taken on Halloween (pure coincidence of date) or that a bank is about to be stuck up.
    – user58446
    Oct 31 '16 at 20:26
  • @user58446 the eye patch itself was for comedic value, but then general point stands - if you want to screw up face detection, obscuring an eye is a good way to go. Regarding facial hair, just because you already have some, doesn't mean you can use a different style for a photo. Oct 31 '16 at 22:31

You don't say what kind of camera you have. If you own a large-ish camera (DSLR or large mirrorless) then you could take a selfie in a mirror or reflected in a body of water. It's a relatively common genre of shot, and the camera can obscure a lot of biometric markers – at least one eye and the nose.

If you don't own a large enough camera you could rent one, but it's going to be harder to respond to questions about the photo.

  • Good suggestion. I may actually have this professionally done. I'm asking here to bring more ideas to the table in addition to the pro's I contract.
    – user58446
    Oct 31 '16 at 20:35
  • You could do this with a compact easily enough
    – Chris H
    Nov 1 '16 at 9:11

No obscured image is going to meet the expectations of a professional context with a high probability. In part because an aversion to having one's image online does not meet typical expectations in a professional context where a headshot is expected. For example, a company may normally post pictures of staff online and have a standard process for creating those pictures in-house.

That said, an alternative to the various options described in the question and answers is to post a photo of someone else, ideally perhaps with a passing resemblance to minimize the odds of being caught out in the deception.

  • I like your idea in the second paragraph, although it may be difficult to procure and I would have virtually no control over pose, style, etc. Ironically, an AI based image search may make this task much easier by submitting a photo of myself in the desired frame and querying for similar images.
    – user58446
    Oct 31 '16 at 20:18

You could use a photograph that concentrates on what you're doing, rather than your face. This should be relevant to some feature of what the profile is for. Assuming it's a professional profile here are some ideas for a wide range of jobs:

  • A mechanic: legs sticking out from under a car
  • A climbing instructor: halfway up a cliff
  • A scientist: looking down a microscope, aligning a laser with laser goggles on, or whatever it is you do in the lab
  • Something more vague and cerebral: The sort of standing on a mountain looking at the sunset shot you'd get on a motivational poster.

Some of these of course work better if you're vaguely recognisable from behind (distinctive hairstyle, beard...). This isn't your CV as such, at least not accoridng to the question, so you don't need a headshot, you need a statement. In most fields, treationg it like a caption competition would be going too far. Unlike instagramming it to death, if this doesn't work out, you don't look like you've got something to hide, just like you've taken an odd approach.

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