AD Photo Synchronization with Windows

AD Photo synchronisation with windows
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By default, the Windows 10 (1607 in the example images below) user profile picture shows a blank person picture. This can be changed by having a group policy pull down a picture from Active Directory and set it for the user for each workstation they log into. There are two major steps that this involves:

  1. Import user photos into Active Directory
  2. Deploy PowerShell script using Group Policy Logoff Script

Importing photos into Active Directory

There is a simple Set-ADUser cmdlet that can be used to import user photos to Active Directory. It saves an image file in the thumbnailPhoto Active Directory attribute. An example of the command that needs to be run in PowerShell looks as follows:

$ADphoto = [byte[]](Get-Content <path to file> -Encoding byte)
Set-ADUser <username> -Replace @{thumbnailPhoto=$ADphoto}

Just remember to provide an exact path to the image file and the user’s name (learn about other ways of identifying your Active Directory users in this Microsoft article), for example:

$ADphoto = [byte[]](Get-Content C:\AD_Photos\ad-brian-johnson -Encoding byte)
Set-ADUser BrianJ -Replace @{thumbnailPhoto=$ADphoto}

Of course, this is a no-go when you want to import photos for a lot of users. A similar command can be used to import multiple pictures into Active Directory. But first, you need to prepare a CSV file with the list of users and their respective photos. Here’s an example content of such a file:

AD_user, path_to_file
AlexD , C:\AD_Photos\ad-alex-darrow.jpg
AnneW, C:\ AD_Photos\ad-anne-wallace.jpg
BrianJ, C:\ AD_Photos\ad-brian-johnson.png

Once the file is ready, use the following command:

Import-Csv C:\AD_Photos\photos.csv |%{Set-ADUser -Identity $_.AD_user -Replace @{thumbnailPhoto=([byte[]](Get-Content $_.path_to_file -Encoding byte))}}

Creating such a file can also be quite time-consuming. This is where CodeTwo Active Directory Photos comes into play. The program not only allows you to quickly connect to Active Directory and import (single or multiple) files, but it comes with the ability to match photos automatically with respective Active Directory users. Plus, you can do all that from an intuitive and user-friendly interface.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Matching photos in CodeTwo Active Directory Photos

There is also one important aspect that hasn’t been mentioned yet – the photo stored in the thumbnailPhoto attribute cannot be bigger than 100 kB, and the recommended size is 96 x 96 pixels. Here you can also make use of CodeTwo Active Directory Photos, as it lets you adjust both the size of the file as well as its dimensions.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Editing photos in CodeTwo Active Directory Photos

With this program, you will also instantly know which users don’t have their photos added to Active Directory by merely looking at the user’s list.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Viewing users in CodeTwo Active Directory Photos

Otherwise, you can, for example, open the Active Directory Users and Computers tool and check if the thumbnailPhoto attribute shows any value. If you see <not set>, it means there is no photo there.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Checking thumbnailPhoto attribute in Active Directory Users and Computers

If you can’t find the Attribute Editor tab in the Properties window, make sure the Advanced Features options on the View menu is checked.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Enabling Advanced Features in Active Directory Users and Computers

Creating a new GPO for your domain

Now, to propagate these Active Directory photos as Windows 10 account pictures, you can make use of Group Policy objects. Or more specifically – a Group Policy logoff scripts. They are used to perform automated tasks on each machine in a specified domain when a user logs off in Windows. That way, changes are introduced without any conflicts and even without any interaction on users’ part.

The script that we’re going to use was found on this site. You can adjust this code to your needs, or just copy it as it is and paste it into an empty text document. Save the file and change its extension from .txt to .ps1. Next, copy the file to a network location, e.g. %logonserver%\netlogon.

function Test-Null($InputObject) { return !([bool]$InputObject) }
Function ResizeImage() {
param([String]$ImagePath, [Int]$Quality = 90, [Int]$targetSize, [String]$OutputLocation)
Add-Type -AssemblyName "System.Drawing"
$img = [System.Drawing.Image]::FromFile($ImagePath)
$CanvasWidth = $targetSize
$CanvasHeight = $targetSize
#Encoder parameter for image quality
$ImageEncoder = [System.Drawing.Imaging.Encoder]::Quality
$encoderParams = New-Object System.Drawing.Imaging.EncoderParameters(1)
$encoderParams.Param[0] = New-Object System.Drawing.Imaging.EncoderParameter($ImageEncoder, $Quality)
# get codec
$Codec = [System.Drawing.Imaging.ImageCodecInfo]::GetImageEncoders() | Where {$_.MimeType -eq 'image/jpeg'}
#compute the final ratio to use
$ratioX = $CanvasWidth / $img.Width;
$ratioY = $CanvasHeight / $img.Height;
$ratio = $ratioY
if ($ratioX -le $ratioY) {
$ratio = $ratioX
$newWidth = [int] ($img.Width * $ratio)
$newHeight = [int] ($img.Height * $ratio)
$bmpResized = New-Object System.Drawing.Bitmap($newWidth, $newHeight)
$graph = [System.Drawing.Graphics]::FromImage($bmpResized)
$graph.InterpolationMode = [System.Drawing.Drawing2D.InterpolationMode]::HighQualityBicubic
$graph.DrawImage($img, 0, 0, $newWidth, $newHeight)
#save to file
$bmpResized.Save($OutputLocation, $Codec, $($encoderParams))
#get sid and photo for current user
$user = ([ADSISearcher]"(&(objectCategory=User)(SAMAccountName=$env:username))").FindOne().Properties
$user_photo = $user.thumbnailphoto
$user_sid = [System.Security.Principal.WindowsIdentity]::GetCurrent().User.Value
Write-Verbose "Updating account picture for $($user.displayname)..."
#continue if an image was returned
If ((Test-Null $user_photo) -eq $false)
Write-Verbose "Success. Photo exists in Active Directory."
#set up image sizes and base path
$image_sizes = @(32, 40, 48, 96, 192, 200, 240, 448)
$image_mask = "Image{0}.jpg"
$image_base = "C:\ProgramData\AccountPictures"
#set up registry
$reg_base = "HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\AccountPicture\Users\{0}"
$reg_key = [string]::format($reg_base, $user_sid)
$reg_value_mask = "Image{0}"
If ((Test-Path -Path $reg_key) -eq $false) { New-Item -Path $reg_key }
#save images, set reg keys
ForEach ($size in $image_sizes)
#create hidden directory, if it doesn't exist
$dir = $image_base + "\" + $user_sid
If ((Test-Path -Path $dir) -eq $false) { $(mkdir $dir).Attributes = "Hidden" }
#save photo to disk, overwrite existing files
$file_name = ([string]::format($image_mask, $size))
$pathtmp = $dir + "\_" + $file_name
$path = $dir + "\" + $file_name
Write-Verbose " saving: $file_name"
$user_photo | Set-Content -Path $pathtmp -Encoding Byte -Force
ResizeImage $pathtmp $size $size $path
Remove-Item $pathtmp
#save the path in registry, overwrite existing entries
$name = [string]::format($reg_value_mask, $size)
$value = New-ItemProperty -Path $reg_key -Name $name -Value $path -Force
Write-Verbose "Done."
} else { Write-Error "No photo found in Active Directory for $env:username" }

What does this script do? Generally, it exports the photo stored in the thumbnailPhoto attribute and saves it on your machine, in a specified folder (in this case: C:\ProgramData\AccountPictures\{User SID}). You will notice that there will be eight JPG files stored in this folder, each of different size (from 32×32 px to 448×448 px), and name, specifying photo’s size (Image32.jpg, Image96.jpg, etc.). Additionally, new registry keys will be created under MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\AccountPicture\Users\{User SID} in the Windows registry, with paths to these photos.

To create a new GPO, open Group Policy Management console (if you can’t find it, follow these steps to install it), find your domain in the console tree, right-click it and select Create a GPO in this domain, and Link it here.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Creating a new GPO

Provide any name you want and click OK. A new GPO will appear under Group Policy Objects.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Newly created Group Policy Object

Adding a logoff script to GPO

Right-click this GPO and choose Edit. The Group Policy Management Editor window will open. Navigate to User Configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Scripts (Logon/Logoff), and then double-click Logoff in the right pane.

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How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Adding a new Logoff script

In the Logoff Properties window, go to the PowerShell Scripts tab. Click Add > Browse and point to the PS1 script file in the %logonserver%\netlogon path. Leave the Script Parameters field empty.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Custom Windows 10 account picture - Selecting the script file

When done, just click OK two times.

And this should do the trick. The next time a user logs off from any machine in this domain and logs in again, the account picture should update automatically. However, this will only work if users in your domain have local administrative privileges assigned. If not, there is one more thing you need to do. And it also involves GPO.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Custom Windows 10 account picture

Adding registry key permissions in GPO

Remember the registry key mentioned before? The key MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\AccountPicture\Users is where the information about the account picture is stored. Users cannot change their account pictures unless they are granted Full Control permission to that key. This can also be done via GPO. You can even use the same one you’ve created to run the logoff script.

Back in the Group Policy Management Editor, go to Computer Configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Security Settings, right-click the Registry node and select Add Key.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Configure a registry key using GPO

Navigate to MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\AccountPicture\Users (or just copy this key and paste it under the Selected key field) and click OK.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Selecting specific registry key

Select Users under Group or user names and tick the Allow checkbox next to Full Control.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Granting Full Control permissions to a registry key

Once you click OK, another window will open. Select the Replace existing permissions on all subkeys with inheritable permissions option and click OK.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Configuring additional permission options

Now, it may take some time for the GPO to make the change in the Registry Editor – it is usually also required to restart the client machine. But once a non-admin user has full access to the registry key in question, and once they sign out and in again, their profile picture should be updated.

But there is one more thing CodeTwo Active Directory Photos can do for you. Once you have deployed the logoff script, it will be executed every time a user logs off (until you delete this GPO). Thanks to that, you can use this free tool to quickly change user photos in the Active Directory, and the account pictures will also change automatically.

How to use Active Directory user photos in Windows 10 - Changing user photos in CodeTwo Active Directory Photos

You can use this feature to, for example, change user photos for the upcoming holiday season or any important events affecting your company.


If you take a look at the registry key, MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\AccountPicture\Users, for a workstation that doesn’t have the above GPO applied, “Users” won’t have Full Control of the Key and sub keys.


Once the GPO is applied, “Full Control” will be given to the “Users” group for each workstation that the GPO applies to.


The “Users” key and the sub keys below are what is given permission for each non local admin user in order to run the PowerShell logoff script successfully under the user’s permissions.


To sum up, using Active Directory user photos to personalize profile pictures in Windows 10 is quite an easy task that won’t take long to complete.

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