As a creative talent, you may not think your headshot matters — especially if you don’t spend a lot of time in front of the camera like a performance artist does. Regardless of your profession, a headshot is a critical element to building your personal brand and comes with numerous payoffs. LinkedIn, for example, has reported that profiles with a headshot received 14 times as many visits and were 36 times more likely to receive a message.
Think about all the exposure you could be missing out on!
In this article
- Why Do Headshots Matter?
- How to Take a Professional Headshot
- 1. Use Proper Equipment When Taking Your Own Headshot
- Renting Gear
- 2. Keep Outfits and Backgrounds Simple
- 3. Find the Right Expression and Posture
- 4. Think About Where You’ll be Using Your Headshot and What Professionalism Means to You
- How Often Do I Update My Headshot Photo?
- Start Building Your Profile
Why Do Headshots Matter?
Simply put, your headshot is the point of first impression for clients seeking out professional creatives like yourself. Most importantly, you want people to know more about you based on your profile picture. Having a headshot will show that you are who you say you are, thus generating a greater level of trust and interest in your online profiles. And it enables you to create a consistent image across all of your digital platforms.
Still not sold on the importance of headshots? We cover the ‘why’ more extensively in this piece on Why Voice Actors Need Headshots in Today’s Marketplace. While it speaks to the needs of a voice actor, it incorporates insights from a style coach who works with creatives in many professions! It’s worth the read!
Let’s move on to how to capture that headshot.
How to Take a Professional Headshot
How you go about capturing your headshot depends on your resources and budget. Rest assured, though, the end result can be top notch regardless of the means thanks to imaging advancements made to the common cell phone.
1. Use Proper Equipment When Taking Your Own Headshot
Whether you’re using a DSLR camera or a newer smartphone, the tools you’ll need are the same. Generally, self-portrait photography requires:
- a tripod
- a remote
- reflectors or catchlights
Tripods help ensure steady images and make it easier to shoot at eye-level. They also give you a stable way to prop up your camera for remote or self-timed images.
Remotes — which can be used for both smartphones and cameras — help eliminate the need for timers. This is a plus if you don’t want to feel rushed to get into position after hitting the shutter button.
Reflectors and catchlights help redirect additional lighting to your face without expensive studio lights and bring a youthful sparkle to your eyes without heavy post-production editing. When using natural light, ask someone to hold the reflector at the right angle to help eliminate shadows or underexposure.
Additionally, if you’re using a DSLR camera, you’ll want to have spare batteries and memory cards on hand. This ensures uninterrupted use of your camera by preventing it from dying or running out of storage mid-session.
Coming into all of this gear may sound daunting, especially if you’re just starting out in your creative freelancing career. Good news – tripods, reports, and lighting accessories are all commonly rented items! A quick Google search will help you locate a store in your area who can rent these items to you.
2. Keep Outfits and Backgrounds Simple
While you look great in any professional outfit, not all of them are best suited for being photographed in. You’ll want to steer clear of bright or neon colors, “busy” or “loud” patterns, and the color white.
Your outfit is meant to draw attention to you, not away from you. Sometimes, bold patterns can do just that. Consider smaller, intricate patterns as they may appear as textures. Additionally, white shirts can blend into white backgrounds and throw off the exposure of the photos, not to mention can be difficult to keep clean!
For hair, makeup, and jewelry, subtlety is key. Focus on bringing out your natural features without exaggerating them. Powder will do wonders for keeping the ‘shine’ away, so consider using it frequently throughout the shoot to get that perfect headshot!
Do your best to limit your jewelry and accessories to simple accent pieces. You don’t want to constantly be rearranging jewelry that’s not cooperating. Also, many accessories, or chunky statement pieces can become distracting in headshots (even though they’re usually such great conversation pieces!)
Remember that while glasses are necessary for many, using them as an accessory in your headshots can create tricky glares and reflections. If you wear your glasses all the time, they’re a part of your appearance and therefore should be kept in the photos. Just be mindful of any light or windows that could obstruct the view of your eyes.
If you can do without your glasses, consider wearing contact lenses that don’t change your eye color. Pro tip: Remember to let the red marks from your glasses disappear from your nose before you begin shooting.
Just like your outfit, your background should be minimally distracting. You can achieve a solid background by posing against a wall or colored sheet. Patterns and outdoor backgrounds are also safe, but using a lower aperture mode or lens will help blur out any “busyness” going on behind you.
3. Find the Right Expression and Posture
Remember that headshots should focus on you. As such, your face and upper body should occupy about 60% of the photo.
Moreover, the angle at which you take your headshots matters. Taking them from above might make you look smaller and inferior. But taking them from below might make you look powerful and “larger-than-life” — not to mention unflattering.
Instead of using bird’s eye or worm’s eye view, eye-level is best for your profile picture.
When it comes to your facial expression, try to relax the muscles in your face. If you’re looking for a friendlier, smiling headshot, ask the person behind the camera to make you laugh. If not, try to make yourself look happier without smiling.
Supermodel Tyra Banks is credited with inventing the “smize,” or smiling with only your eyes. To practice, relax your shoulders and pick a focal point with your eyes. For professional headshots, your focal point will usually be directed at the camera.
Laugh a little to loosen the muscles in your face, and then practice squinting your eyes without moving your mouth. You might even raise your eyebrows a tad to create an inquisitive look.
For your posture, start by standing sideways to the camera — without holding onto your arm, as this might make you appear wider. Gently turn your face to the camera so it’s in full view. You want to avoid “side eyes” and glaring in your headshots. If you’re not sure what to do with your arms, hold them by your side or rest your hands on your hips to elongate them.
Don’t be afraid to face the camera head-on, either. Just be sure you know what lens you’re using for this approach, as some might distort your features by making them appear narrower or wider.
4. Think About Where You’ll be Using Your Headshot and What Professionalism Means to You
Keep your networking profiles in mind when taking professional headshots. A profile pic that doesn’t align with the information on your profile could lead to confusion and inconsistency.
Think of yourself as a business, because technically you are one! And what does every successful business marketing strategy have in common? A logo! Your headshot is equivalent to your logo. Think of companies like Apple, Amazon, and Uber. When you visit their websites and social media, isn’t their logo consistent across all platforms? The same should go for your headshot. Any account that you use for professional networking should include the same headshot. These might include:
- Email accounts and signatures
But remember that your headshot has no value if the rest of your profile is incomplete. Depending on the platform, this might include your location, languages, biography, experience, interest areas, strengths, and testimonials.
While you can use your smartphone to take your headshots, remember not to take selfies. Selfies are often perceived as less professional, and people can tell immediately when they see your arms and shoulders extended toward the camera.
On the topic of smartphones and selfies, remember not to use filters. The trick is to make the colors and details in your headshots look natural, not exaggerated.
Similarly, don’t crop a group photo to use as a headshot. Cropping a photo too small could lower the image resolution and result in awkward sizing. The standard dimensions for headshots are 8″x10″. Shoot both horizontally and vertically for a good variety.
Lastly, remember that headshots are meant for professional use, not personal use. While you might think your hobbies and interests add a unique visual element to your photos, it’s best to leave them out.
How Often Do I Update My Headshot Photo?
It’s generally advised to update your headshot at least every two years.
Remember this is because they’re meant to showcase what you currently look like. How many times have you found yourself looking back on old photos and wondering, “Wow, when did I change so much?”
Additionally, you might decide to update your headshot early if you’ve changed styles or careers. Maybe you decided that all-black-everything is just a little too stiff, or maybe you’re transitioning from a businesslike profession to a more creative one.
In short, a good rule of thumb is to update your headshot every two years or whenever it no longer looks like you — whichever comes first.
Start Building Your Profile
As you can see, headshots are essential, no matter what kind of work you do. And with the right approach, taking them doesn’t have to be expensive or even time-consuming.Once you’ve nailed your headshot, it’s time to build your profile so it’s easier for clients to find you!
Sign up for free today to start finding jobs within your creative specialities.