9 Tips for Better Business Headshots

Posted on: February 26, 2021

You probably have a sense that your business headshot is important. First impressions, right?

But what exactly is a good headshot photo?

When I first began as a headshot photographer I did my homework. I went SUPERNERD on headshots for the better part of my first year shooting them. I dug in to the research about the purpose of a professional headshot, how people actually respond to photos of faces, and what levers can be pulled to get favorable reactions.

Turns out a good professional headshot is more science than art, and most importantly, a great headshot photo is powerful business tool. I boiled my research down 9 straight-forward tips that can be used to help determine if your current headshot is cutting it, and (if it's not) as a guide for shooting or choosing a new headshot for yourself.

Here's the gist: a solid business headshot photo (one that doesn't just look nice but actually creates positive first impressions) works as a tool to help you accomplish 3 key business goals:

1. Get Recognized

2. Build Trust

3. Establish Competence

Not helpful yet but it's about to be! Let's break each goal down into 3 actionable steps....


GET RECOGNIZED

crowd of faces

In its simplest form your headshot is a tool to represent and identify you. Like a mug shot only minus the crime. For many of us there will be times in our career (often pivotal times) when our headshot appears as one of many competing for the same opportunities and eyeballs.

Facial recognition research and studies on how people process visual information give us 3 simple principals to make sure your headshot gets noticed when you need it the most.

1. SQUARE UP

Faces are easiest to recognize at-a-glance from *straight on*.

You know that artsy shot of you gazing off into the distance? It's epic. But your business headshot needs to be recognizable in an instant. Skip angled poses in your professional headshot so you don't get skipped by quickly-scanning eyes.

>>>Turn your face directly toward the camera for your business headshot.

Square up headshot photo

And make sure your eyes are showing! No sunglasses or squinting.

2. ZOOM IN

Your face is what matters in your professional headshot.

Headshots are often shown small so if you include your whole body in the frame your head may be the size of a lentil and nobody is running for their reading glasses just to see your face. The keyword in headshot is HEAD.

>>>Crop your headshot no lower than your sternum

zoom in Seattle headshot

3. STAND OUT

Humans are easily distracted. And the thing that distracts us the most? Other humans. “Is that my cousin Derek behind Sally in that pic…?”

We are also distracted by bright lights, colors, and general contrast.

>>>Make sure the only thing attention-grabbing in your business headshot photo is YOU.

Choose a background that is either a solid field of color or close to it. And make sure there is plenty of contrast between you and the background.


BUILD TRUST

Trust is an integral part of all business relationships and trust gets created by setting and meeting expectations. When you meet somebody in person after they’ve seen your headshot, the last thing you want is for them to feel surprised.

Begin laying a foundation of trust before you’ve even met someone by setting the right expectations with your business headshot photo.

4. STAY CURRENT

There may be many reasons to love your old headshot (like looking younger or thinner or having more hair).

But when you look noticeably different in person than you do in your business headshot it sends the message that you'er either out of touch with reality, you're not on top of things (you know you're due for a new headshot but haven't gotten around to it), and/or you're ok with misleading people. None of these messages are good.

>>>You headshot photo needs to look like you *as you currently look*

near professional headshot photo

It's time to update your headshot if:

  • you changed your hairstyle in very noticeable way
  • you grew or shaved your beard
  • 5 or more years have passed

5. DON'T MESS WITH THE PHOTO

It may seem innocuous but a headshot that has been altered can feel lazy at best and deceptive at worst.

Resist the temptation to repurpose a photo from another part of your life (no wedding photos please). And definitely don’t get fancy with
Photoshop. You want your headshot to feel *authentic*.

>>Shoot your business headshot photo as close to how it will appear in its final form as possible.

avoid cropping headshot photos

AVOID: cropping people out of group photos, heavy retouching, selective blurring or swapping out background.

6. SMILE (with your EYES)

A smile is a sign of friendliness across cultures.

>>>Invite people to meet/hire/work with you by rocking an *authentic* smile.

smile for your business headshot

The key to an authentic smile? It’s all about the EYES.

When we smile for real our eyes crinkle up a bit. In headshot photography it's called the "Squinch". If you want to dig in and learn how to Squinch from the OG squinch-master Peter Hurley, check out this YouTube video.


ESTABLISH COMPETENCE

The sad but true fact of all social media (everything from LinkedIn to Dating apps) is that people won’t even read your profile if they don’t make it past your profile photo.

For business, your headshot photo should show people what your resume and LinkedIn profiles tell them—that you’re qualified and capable.

7. DRESS THE PART

You may work from home in sweatpants 99% of the time and that’s ok. But looking disheveled or underdressed in your headshot suggests you are either unaware of what’s appropriate and/or unable or unwilling to put
in the work to pull yourself together.

>>>Dress for your business headshot photo as if you are interviewing for a dream job within your industry.

dress for company headshot photography

Just like at a nice restaurant or dinner party, it's always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed for your professional headshot photo.

8. DEMONSTRATE GOOD SELF CARE

Looking healthy and well-groomed speaks volumes about your ability to prioritize, starting with your own health and wellness.

Turns out three key facial indicators of health are an even skintone, bright, alert eyes, and white teeth. If you've got dark circles under your eyes or your teeth are a bit yellow, a good headshot photographer can always do some subtle photo retouching on your photo but your best bet is to take good care of yourself before your business headshot session (and also:
in general).

>>>Schedule your business headshot photo session for a time when you can be well rested and well groomed.

self care for company headshot

Crest white strips 3-5 times during the 1-2 weeks before a photography session go a LONG way.

9. STAND TALL

Humans naturally respond to an open, upright posture and a direct gaze as indicators of power, status, and effectiveness.

>>>Look like a boss in your business headshot by standing tall and confidently.

stand tall for corporate headshots

And that's a wrap!

A strong, effective business headshot isn't rocket science but it is important. Here's a little recap for you:

  1. Square up with the camera
  2. Zoom in on your face
  3. Stand out from the background
  4. Keep your headshot current
  5. Don't mess with the photo
  6. SMILE
  7. Dress the part
  8. Demonstrate good self care
  9. Stand tall

Oh yeah and it's best not to use a selfie as your professional headshot photo. Selfie + professional just don't mix.

You can see all of these principals in action in the Headshots Photo Gallery.

And if this all feels like something better left to a pro (so you can stay focused on what you're good at), reach out and book a professional headshot photo session!

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