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15 Tips for a Better Headshot

While contemplating what to write about this week, continuing my desire to help and educate, a question came from a friend who was about to schedule a headshot session. She was asking me for advice on what to wear as she was struggling to choose the right shirt. When I was presented with her choices I realized she had unknowingly picked very loud patterns that would be the sole focal point of her images. Advising her to stick to solid colors, jewel tones being my personal favorite, she was very grateful for the tip and told me I should share it with others.

So here I am, with this tip and a few others, to help you make sure your headshot session is exactly what you want it to be. After all, when we only have a tenth of a millisecond to make an impression on a prospective client or someone you want to impress, a good headshot speaks volumes before you ever have a chance to.

  1. Dress to Impress

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    Simple, some might even say cliche, but this tip is one most overlooked when clients come to get their headshot taken. Think about your brand. Who is your ideal client? What is important to your ideal client and how can you communicate that with what you are wearing?

    My biggest tip is to avoid wearing loud, distracting patterns and prints – no polka dots, stripes or plad. Choose solid colors and classic styles and cuts that will not go out of style in a year or two.

  2. Pay Attention to Color

    Color has been psychologically proved to influence perception and mood. Are you using it to your advantage? Check out the color diagram below and study it for a few seconds. What are you brand colors? Do they communicate what you are trying to? Which quality do you want to represent in your headshot? Do you want to appear trustworthy and dependable? Choose blue. Want to portray boldness and confidence? Red is your go-to. Consider how the color will affect the viewer of your image and pick accordingly.

  3. Consider Your Background

    While gray, black and white are the typical choices for a headshot photo, you might want to try using a bright color as the background of headshot.

    Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and social media mastermind, once found that using orange in the background of his Twitter profile photo helped him gain more followers.

    In another series of tests (using the images here), he discovered that red was his ticket to increasing Google+ traffic by 35%.

  4. Avoid Stiff Posing & Fake Smiles

    Seattle Glamour Mother Daughter Photoshoot-1
    Did you know that studies have shown that 60 to 93% of our communication is non-verbal? It takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face. We as humans are innately attuned to recognize facial expressions and emotions instantaneously, meaning your fake smile will be noticed by the viewer. If you are not a smiler, keep a neutral expression in your headshot.

    Finding it hard to relax enough in front of the camera to smile genuinely? Try thinking of a loved one with your eyes closed for a few seconds and tell the photographer to be ready to snap a shot as soon as you open your eyes. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much your expression will differ after a loved one has been on your mind, even if just for a few brief moments.

  5. Don’t Forget Make-Up & Grooming

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    For ladies it is advised to emphasize the eyes and avoid glittery and shimmery eyeshadows that tend to catch the light and distract from the face. Typically I suggest either a nude or a bold lip, depending on your personality as much as your brand.

    For gentlemen – make sure to groom your eyebrows, use chapstick and comb and style your hair.

  6. Avoid Any Drastic Appearance Changes

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    Have you always wanted purple hair or a pixie hair cut? Wait to make any appearance changes just for the headshot. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get that new look – if you are not happy with it your headshot will only make it worse and you won’t be using it as much as you would want to.

  7. Focus On the Face

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    It is called a headshot for a reason – it needs to focus on your face. Avoid full body shots that obscure your facial details and make it harder for people to recognize you and relate to you. Mid-chest or shoulders and up for gentlemen, waist up for ladies is ideal. It’s also a good idea to not have more than a fifth of the top of your head cropped off.

  8. Make Sure to Look at the Camera

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    This one may come as a surprise to some. But the truth is that there is a multitude of headshots out there with the subjects not looking at the camera at all. Personally I advice against using such a shot as your main headshot. Candids of you in your workspace work well for blog posts, campaigns and some forms of marketing. As human it takes us milliseconds to scan an image searching for a face, as this is how we connect to the person in the photo. Give the eye something to connect to and make sure to look at the camera.

  9. Show Your Personality

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    Avoid cookie cutter looks that are frequent in your industry, e.g. a real estate agent next to an image of a house with the “Sold” sign in view. These images are ubiquitous and as a result most people tend to tune them out. Make your headshot stand out from the crowd by showing off your personality, whether it is through your choice of wardrobe or a smile that is typical to your character.

  10. Find a Professional Photographer

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    You knew this one was coming. I of course advise to hire a professional to take your image – the quality will be unmatched to anything you’re able to capture with your phone. Find someone you are comfortable with. Ask friends and family for referrals. Search online and see who you connect with and schedule a session.

  11. Pay Attention to Retouching/Photoshop Work

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    When searching for a photographer, pay close attention to their post processing, i.e. Photoshopping. Make sure your photographer doesn’t overdo it – look for overblurred and smoothed out skin, very bright whites of the eye and the generally resemblance to the 80s glamour portrait retouching. You want to appear professional and friendly in your headshot and a poorly retouched image will fail to communicate what you seek distracting by its retouching instead.

  12. High Resolution Only

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    Upon booking your headshot session, ensure your photographer will be providing you with a high resolution file, i.e. one that contains a higher number of pixels in the image that retain key information. The fewer pixels, the more blurry the image.

    Tip: ask your photographer to size your image properly for social media sharing to avoid compression common to these platforms.

  13. Get Feedback

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    How we see ourselves and how the world sees us is different, so asking people you trust for their opinion on your headshot will help ensure the two version better align. Plus your friends have a tendency to be more kind and loving to you than you are to yourself and they make help you look differently at a certain image that you would have not given much thought.

  14. Don’t Use a Selfie

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    While you may be tempted to pick up your phone and take an image of yourself and call it a day, selfies and pro shots are easily distinguishable. It is so much easier to let someone else find the best angle for your face and tell you precisely when to tilt your chin the right way instead of taking hundreds of outtakes at home and ending up frustrated with the result.

  15. Update Your Headshot Regularly

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    Years go by and our appearances change: we cut or color our hair, we wear different clothing, we carry ourselves in an alternate way. Don’t let your headshot age and update it regularly to reflect who you are at the time. Every year or two is a good time frame to reconsider your headshot and look at it objectively – is it achieving what you want it to? Does it accurately represent you? If the answer to these questions is no – reach out to your favorite photographer and get a headshot session on the books.

Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have one you’d like me to add? Don’t hesitate to comment below or to reach out to me directly.

As always, I would love to be your photographer of choice for your headshot – send me a note to schedule a quick phone call to see how we can craft your image together to make it just so. 

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