How To Take A Professional Headshot

By Mark Brinker 
Updated: January 25, 2022

By Mark Brinker  /  Updated: January 25, 2022

How To Take A Professional Headshot

Every business professional needs a good headshot.

Today I’ll show you how to take a good headshot — even if you know nothing about photography and even if you don’t think you’re photogenic.

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page …

What Is A Headshot … Exactly?

Your headshot is the official image for your personal brand. Headshots are sometimes used purely for identification purposes. Other times they’re used to sculpt your public persona and influence how you’re perceived.

For years, headshots were mostly used by artists, musicians and celebrities for marketing and promotional purposes.

But in today’s digital society, business people (not just entertainers) need a good headshot for things like:

  • Their website (About page, author bio, sales pages, etc).
  • Their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profile pictures.
  • Their Gravatar image for blog comments and online communities.
  • Media inquires and promotions by podcasters, bloggers and YouTube presenters.

The terms headshot and business portrait are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually a little different.

  • Headshots focus on just the head and shoulders usually with a simple, plain background.
  • Portraits are often a full body shot with a decorative scene or background. A head-to-toe picture of a bride in her wedding dress on the steps of a church would be considered a portrait rather than a headshot.

For discussion purposes today, we’re only talking about headshots, not portraits.

So what should a good headshot look like? Well, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

  • To see some good headshot examples of women click here. For good headshot examples of men click here.
  • To see some bad headshot examples, click here.

Professional Headshot Tips

Whether you’re hiring a professional photographer or taking the DIY (do it yourself) approach, here are 6 tips for taking a good headshot:

  • What to wear for a professional headshot. The most important thing is to decide on the image you want to project and look the part. Think of your clothing as a costume or uniform that helps you create your desired persona. If you’re an accountant or attorney where it’s important to convey trust, wear a nice-fitting navy blue or black blazer or sport coat. But if you’re a personal trainer, go ahead and break out the latest Nike warm up jacket.
  • Best colors to wear for a professional headshot. Just like with your choice of clothing, it largely depends on the image and feeling you want to project. If you’re a doctor, people are expecting to see you in a white lab coat and not looking like Harry and Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber. On the other hand, if you’re an event planner and you want to convey that you bring energy and excitement, then consider a louder color like orange or turquoise. If you’re getting your headshot done at a photographer’s studio, take 2-3 outfits to account for different backgrounds they might use.
  • Best headshot poses. The biggest thing when posing for a headshot is to try and look as natural as possible, not staged or forced. Two of the most common tips from professional photographers are (a) Watch your posture — keep your shoulders back and your chest out, and (b) Watch your chin — nobody wants to look like they have a double chin, especially when you really don’t have one. The trick is lowering your chin slightly and moving your face forward like you’re a turtle coming out of your shell. For a deeper dive into headshot poses, check out these great tips from lifestyle photographer, Natalia Robert.
  • Should you smile in a headshot? Yes! Some schools of thought advise being “serious” in a corporate or business headshot. Screw that — smile! Way more people respond positively to a happy headshot than a blank stare. One of the best tips for manufacturing a great smile for photos is from Julie Andrews when she was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show. Instead of saying “cheese” she recommends saying “money!” I’ve used her tip ever since and it totally works.
  • Should you wear makeup for your headshot? I’m the last person you want to ask about makeup. However, while doing research for this post I discovered that makeup properly applied can increase the glam factor — if that’s the look you want. For more info, check out these great makeup tips (with before and after pics) from award-winning photographer, Megan DePiero.
  • Professional headshot background. It’s usually best to go with a simple, homogeneous background so the attention stays on your head and shoulders. Experiment with light backgrounds and dark backgrounds to see what looks best with your hair and skin color, as well as your wardrobe. You can also try a background outdoors (i.e. trees, mountains, buildings, etc) as long as the background doesn’t distract from your face. Here are some good examples of headshots using outdoor backgrounds. If want the blurred background effect, you’ll need to use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera and experiment with different aperture and lens focal lengths. If you have an new-ish iPhone, portrait mode in the camera app allows you to create blurred backgrounds. (If you don’t have the latest iPhone, no worries. Your existing smartphone is perfectly fine! Portrait mode is a fun feature, but definitely not required to take a good headshot.)

How To Take A Good Headshot With Your Phone

The cameras on modern smartphones are crazy good. With a little planning and practice you can take a very good headshot with your phone. Here’s the checklist …

  • Clean your lens. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the difference. A microfiber cloth is preferred, but any soft cloth will do.
  • Activate HDR mode on your camera app. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Don’t worry about what it does or how it works. Just know it’ll result in better pictures.
  • Recruit a friend. Yes, you can attempt a selfie, but it’s better to have a trusted friend take your headshot because (1) You won’t have to mess around with the countdown timer, (2) Your friend can spot things like your hair sticking up or something weird in the background, and (3) Your friend can make you laugh and coach you through different poses you might not consider on your own.
  • Use a tripod. Whether you’re attempting a selfie headshot or having a friend take your picture, a tripod is always recommended. Even the steadiest hand can move a little, making the image blurry and ruin an otherwise good photo. You can get a good tripod like this on Amazon for about $25.
  • Get the lighting right. Lighting is probably the biggest factor in getting a good headshot. When possible, natural sunlight is best (and it’s free). Cloudy days have plenty of light and can sometimes produce great headshots because the light’s a bit softer than full sun. If indoors, try and get near a window (aka indirect sunlight). Just make sure the sunlit window is *behind* the photographer. If the sunlight from the window is too bright, try semi-transparent curtains to soften the light. The main goal with lighting is avoiding shadows. If you want some affordable artificial lighting for an indoor headshot here’s a good choice.
  • Take LOTS of pictures. Some might be blurry. Some you’ll have your eyes closed or a goofy look on your face. There’s no film or development costs, so snap away. Experiment with indoor headshots vs. outdoor headshots. Smiling with teeth vs. smiling with no teeth. (PRO TIP: According to most professional photographers, showing your teeth when you smile usually produces a better headshot.) For me, I usually have to take about 10 pictures to get 1 really good one. If you have to take 100 pictures to get 1 good one, do it. One good headshot can last you for years.
  • Use an angle. A simple technique to jazz up your headshot is to shoot at an angle. Rather than your head and shoulders facing straight at the camera like a mug shot, rotate your torso slightly away from the camera (say, 10-30 degrees), then turn your head back to make eye contact with the camera. It’s a subtle thing but it gives your headshot a professional feel.
  • Go from good to great with an image editor. Most of the heavy lifting will be done with just the camera app on your phone. But chances are you’ll need to do a little touch up work to get your headshot just right. At the very least, you’ll probably need to crop your headshot to get your head centered and remove any excess background. You might also want to adjust things like color and contrast. Start with the photo editing app on your phone because that might do the trick and you’re done. If you prefer to edit your photos on your computer there’s ol’ faithful, Adobe Photoshop. An alternative to Photoshop we’ve been using at my office for a few years is Canva. If you’re not a techie and don’t have the time or desire to learn image editing software, you can hire someone on Fiverr very inexpensively.

Do you need to download a special app to your phone to help you take a good headshot? No. The camera on your phone and a little basic image editing are all you need. Don’t overcomplicate this or get distracted.

Also, be ready for the “accidental headshot”. Sometimes the best headshot happens when you least expect it. The headshot on my About page was taken by my mother on her patio in Florida with just her iPhone.

Where To Get Professional Headshots

If you’d prefer to work with a professional photographer with all the fancy equipment, just go to Google and search for “best headshot photographer” or “headshot photographer near me” and see what turns up. Don’t forget about LinkedIn. Recently I found a great headshot photographer here in the Detroit area on LinkedIn for one of my web design clients.

Some headshot photographers are mobile and will come to you. Others have a fixed studio and you go to them.

Regarding pricing, it varies a lot depending on what you want done. But somewhere in the range of $200-500 is pretty common.

Conclusion

Fair or not, appearance matters and people do judge a book by it’s cover. It’s just how we’re hard-wired.

So create a good first impression with a nice looking headshot.

People are curious and they want to see what you look like.

Don’t worry about trying to look like a movie star. Just be genuine and authentic.

Just be yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Amazing tips. I am a new photographer. I learned many things from your post. Hopefully, In the future, your tips help a lot in capturing professional photos. Thanks, mark for sharing with us.

  2. Awesome post! This is a good reminder to myself that I need to avoid mixing up “headshot” vs “portrait”. I sometimes use them interchangeably with my clients (oops). The lighting part is always tricky, natural lighting has so many variables! I’ve found sometimes a hybrid of natural and studio lighting works well. Thanks for the content.

  3. I agree with the idea of smiling in a professional headshot rather than looking serious. Even in a professional environment, most people would still like to work with others who are laid back and positive. I didn’t know whether or not to smile when I took my first headshots, and they ended up making me look awkward and forced. I now prefer to smile for a more comfortable looking photo.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}