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Corporate headshots – gathering, governing and garnering

The corporate profile photo for employees has become a common business asset today as staff find it so useful to be able to see who it is they are collaborating with. This trend is due, in part, to the extensive use of profile pictures in social media outside of work and of course the many useful places they can potentially feature within the digital workplace.

Corporate headshots – gathering, governing and garnering

The corporate profile photo for employees has become a common business asset today as staff find it so useful to be able to see who it is they are collaborating with. This trend is due, in part, to the extensive use of profile pictures in social media outside of work and of course the many useful places they can potentially feature within the digital workplace such as:

  • Headshots for profiles within intranet solutions
  • Headshots associated with the sender and recipients in email
  • Headshots for attendees in a meeting invite within Outlook
  • Headshots in corporate directories
  • Presence indicators associated with the profile photo in Lync or other messaging tools

There is really no question about the importance of the profile photo as a visual stimulus in content and messaging at work. This is something that we come across in many of our intranet projects, where clients identify the profile picture's capability to help connect employees. However while their importance is undeniable in bringing operating units and various staff together, the implementation of them can be more challenging and the following questions often arise.

  • How do I approach gathering photos for corporate headshots?
  • How do I define specifications and guidelines around photos?
  • How do I use this asset as effectively as possible across our various business tools?

Gathering Photos

This is often cited as a challenge for clients; although in many cases clients have the resources on hand to make this "data gathering" happen easily. A few easy approaches could be:

  • Hold a profile shoot at your offices with a photo booth to get people excited
  • Encourage colleagues to re-purpose the photo for a corporate profile
  • The Photo field on your SharePoint or Office 365 intranet profile can be made editable for people to upload their headshot and sync to Active Directory to leverage that headshot in Lync, Outlook and other tools

Standards and Guidelines

The stringency around guidelines for profile photos will really be determined by corporate culture. If tighter control over employees' ability to upload or edit their own photo is needed, PowerShell commands can be used to control access (listed below).


In general photos need to be .JPG, .GIF or .PNG formats.


In older versions of SharePoint, user profile photo size had to be 100x100, with a file size of around 10KB. In SharePoint 2010 the profile re-sizes uploaded profile photos and allows for varied sizes depending on use. In Lync 2013 and Exchange 2013, larger photos can be uploaded and will be re-sized according to use.

In SharePoint 2010 when a User uploads a profile photo themselves, the photo is re-sized maintaining its original aspect ratio, so the largest size matches the target thumbnail ratio and one of three "thumbnail" photos displays depending on context.

Out of the box, SharePoint 2010 uses the large (144x144 px) thumbnail on the profile page contact card, the medium (96x96 px) thumbnail on the people search results page and the small (32x32 px) thumbnail on various webparts and controls displaying people data like the Newsfeed, Colleagues, In Common With You, Note Board and many others. You can find out more about profile photo management in SharePoint 2010 via the blog here.


Every client addresses the need for standards around acceptable style and content for the profile photo in a manner suitable to their corporate culture. You can suggest or dictate style and content in the profile photo guidelines as needed by requesting the photo conform to a specific size, background, look and feel. Although employees may choose not to follow guidelines.

Ultimate control over photos is achieved by adding them through Active Directory (perhaps through an IT service request) or adding them in Exchange through PowerShell and turning off edit ability on Skype or Exchange. This approach, while resulting in a more standardized image, may be a bottleneck to gathering photos in a larger organization. It is also the larger corporation that tends to want greater control over the photo.

A second approach we see is to allow employees to upload and edit their employee photo by opening that field in the SharePoint profile. Standard requirements around the photo can be provided (size, pixel, background, no-no's like including a pet or inappropriate content).

A common approach to handling new hires and profile photos is to include the request for a photo in new hire paperwork. We have seen clients request photos even prior to start-date to establish a recognizable headshot, chosen by the employee, for their enterprise profile established before they walk in the company-doors and by syncing that photo across sources before day one of employment.

Photo Synchronization Across Various Tools

Profile photos have become critical in Exchange (Outlook), Lync, Social (Communities) and SharePoint more than ever before. All of these frequently used tools in the Microsoft toolset can and do leverage a headshot with a "Presence" bar. There are many scenarios for syncing photos while the capabilities of the toolset, and the use of photos in varying sizes has evolved.

Historically, the Photo thumbnail field from Active Directory (thumbnailPhoto) could be mapped to the photo field in the profile of SharePoint (up to an including 2010, and 2013 though less needful). This was limiting in that the thumbnailPhoto attribute field can only hold a picture with a max size of 48x48 pixels.

The general steps to sync photos from Active Directory to SharePoint are:

  1. Upload photos into AD (PowerShell can also be used to do this)
  2. Map the AD photo field to SharePoint photo field
  3. Select Import direction (AD to SharePoint)

The User Profile Service Application can be used in Central Admin to manage User Properties. In this application you can modify should the user edit the photo themselves. You determine the direction of photo (import/export) and you can also map the AD thumbnailPhoto field to the SharePoint photo field on the Profile. Assumptions made here are that you have a functional User Profile Service Application and your MySites are configured.

In Lync 2013, photos can be stored in Exchange 2013. Pictures can be up to 648x648 pixels and photos can be stored and automatically re-sized for use in other tools. This results in 3 different photos (size and res):

  1. 48 x 48 pixels in AD thumbnailPhoto attribute field (If you upload a photo to Exchange 2013, Exchange will automatically create a 48 pixel by 48 pixel version of that photo and update the user's thumbnailPhoto attribute. Note, however, that the reverse is not true: if you manually update the thumbnailPhoto attribute in Active Directory the photo in the user's Exchange 2013 mailbox will not automatically be updated).
  2. 96 x 96 pixels for use in Microsoft Outlook 2013 Web App, Microsoft Outlook 2013, Microsoft Lync Web App, and Lync 2013.
  3. 648 x 648 pixels for use in Lync 2013 and Microsoft Lync Web App.

There are great uses of PowerShell in these scenarios including but not limited to applying PowerShell commands to:

  • upload photos into AD
  • upload photos into Exchange online
  • prevent users from editing photos in Exchange online (this capability became available in Outlook Web App 2013)
  • synchronize photos
  • upload photos into the SharePoint Profile

Profile photos can be used really effectively in the enterprise to connect your workforce and make people aware of who it is they are working with at any given time. The benefits of a connected workforce are great and visually stimulating your staff will certainly help maintain strong collaboration and team work. We hope this blog has provided some good guidance on getting the most out of profile pictures in the Microsoft Enterprise technology stack, and if you want to know more about connecting and engaging your staff why not check it out our free Enterprise Social whitepaper.

Glen Chambers Vice President of Sales

A big picture strategist who can still see the details, Glen is a hands-on, style leader who enjoys guiding his team through the fast paced world of technology consulting.

Glen plays a pivotal role in steering the North American division of BrightStarr. He combines extensive management experience with broad technical and business consulting skills. This unique mix of talents gives him a deep understanding of client needs and the means to communicate with the development team.

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