Take Your Best Shot: 10 Dos & Don’ts for Taking a Professional Headshot

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“Dress for the job you want.” We have all heard the saying and probably taken the advice on more than one occasion. When you have a job interview or an important client meeting, do you just roll out of bed, pull on a comfy pair of yoga pants, and head out the door? No. You put on your most professional outfit, fix your hair, and slip on a great pair of shoes. Why do you do this? Because you want to make the right first impression.

In today’s digital world, first impressions often don’t happen face-to-face. They happen online through websites or social media channels. What is your profile picture right now on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter? What kind of first impression is it making on potential clients and business partners?

A professional headshot is essential to the brand of your company and to you as a business person. It can be the difference between landing and losing out on that make-or-break contract. Yet many of us think that just because we have a camera or a smartphone, we are perfectly capable of taking a great headshot and we can save a few dollars in the meantime. A business headshot should really be left to the professionals. Follow these dos and don’ts and you are sure to see the value of investing in making the right first impression.

  1. Don’t use a cropped group shot.
    No matter how skilled you are at cropping pictures, the telltale signs of a group photo are always left behind. Whether it is an extra arm, a few darker strands of hair behind your ear that clearly belong to someone else, or simply the awkward way you are leaning in to the photo, the evidence of a repurposed group shot remains. What do your clients interpret about you from this cropped group shot?—You are unwilling to invest your time or money in a quality product, so why should they trust you with their business?
  2. Don’t use an outdated picture.
    We all have a photo in which we feel we look our best: why mess with perfection? It doesn’t matter how great you look in your favourite photo if it doesn’t reflect who you are or what you look like now. Your business headshot should be a preview of the person your clients and business partners will be meeting and doing business with in the future.
  3. Don’t use a selfie.
    There is a time and a place for a selfie and your business headshot is not it. Like a cropped group shot, it will portray you as unprofessional. Your raised shoulders, the angle of the photo, and, in some cases, your outstretched arm all indicate a selfie. Many business professionals like the fact that a selfie exposes their fun and spontaneous side. These qualities may play into a client’s decision to work with you, but only once the customer decides you are responsible and capable. A professional photographer can help you convey all these qualities in your headshot.
  4. Don’t over-Photoshop.
    We would all love to have a perfect complexion, free of wrinkles and blemishes. However, even though Photoshop can allow you to remove your unwanted imperfections, it can also be used to remove your dimples, laugh lines, and other marks that make you look human. Overusing Photoshop can make you look artificial. In addition, once a client or industry contact meets you in person, they will quickly see that your headshot does not truly reflect your appearance.
  5. Don’t use distracting backgrounds.
    The purpose of a headshot is to showcase you: not the scenery and not your office space. White, grey, and black are the most common backdrops for headshots, largely because the solid contrast enhances the subject rather than distracting from it. If you do choose something other than a solid backdrop, be sure that it is blurred so as to not take focus away from you, and does not consist of more than one or two colours, so as to not distract the eye.
  6. Do smile.
    The days of arm-crossed stern corporate images are gone. People who view your business headshot should be interested in working with you, and people are more likely to work with someone they like rather than someone who intimidates them. A friendly smile is inviting and appeals to everyone—when posing for your headshot, take a breath, relax, and smile!
  7. Do look like yourself.
    Your headshot should be a true representation of you . . . a polished version of you. Your work style and appearance should be mirrored in your headshot. If you usually wear glasses when meeting with clients, then wear glasses in your headshot. If you wear your hair naturally curly, then don’t straighten it for your photo. If you wear minimal make-up on a daily basis, then only wear enough makeup in your photos to counteract harsh lighting and emphasize your natural features. Similarly, do not attempt to look younger or older than you are: own your age and wear it with confidence.
  8. Do dress appropriately.
    Many people consider that best practice for headshots is to dress as you would for a job interview or first-time client meeting. This is a good rule, but before choosing your outfit you must also consider what will and will not be seen. A headshot is most often taken from the shoulders up. Shirts that cut lower at the chest, such as v-necks or scoop necks, should be avoided: they can make it look as if you are wearing nothing under your blazer, or even nothing it at all! Accessories such as a necklace or earrings can be a nice touch, but don’t go overboard and let your accessories overpower you.
  9. Do use a professional photographer.
    When you invest in professional headshots, you are paying for knowledge, skill, and resources. Most professional photographers, especially those that specialize in corporate headshots, will already be aware of the dos and don’ts in this article and will be able to advise you on how to prepare for the photo shoot. A skilled photographer will also be able to direct you during the photo session and determine the right angle at which to take the photo to show you in the best possible light. And speaking of lighting, a professional photographer will have the necessary equipment, such as lighting and backdrops, to give your photo that professional and polished look. Most professional photographers will also include Photoshop services with the photo shoot, and an experienced photographer will erase those blemishes and stray hairs without taking away what is the essence of you.
  10. Do update your headshot regularly.
    It’s important that your headshot be up to date and reflect your current age and style. Be sure to update it every two to three years. You should also take a new photo whenever you make significant changes to your appearance, such as a drastic haircut or colour change, or trading in your glasses for laser eye surgery.

Many business owners feel that investing in professional headshots is self-indulgent; they would rather put their money and time elsewhere in the business. However, like it or not, you are the face of your business, and if you want your business to be taken seriously then you need to put your best face forward. So take your best shot!

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