How to Get the Most Out of Your Professional Headshots
You’ve likely heard the expression that a picture is worth 1,000 words. But if the quality of a picture is poor or a photo doesn’t show you in your best light (literally or figuratively!), those words might not be positive ones. That just goes to show the power of a good headshot. If you’ve got one, you’ll be that much closer to landing the job of your dreams. And if you don’t, you’ll be facing an uphill battle that you might not be able to win.
A personal headshot can be used to make social or romantic connections. While it’s important to look attractive and show off your best qualities, these images may not come with high stakes. But your professional headshot should tell employers, clients, and collaborators exactly who you are in a matter of seconds. In order to look good on paper, you can’t focus on only your résumé. You need to showcase your personality, your expertise, and your integrity all in a single image. That’s no easy task, but it’s an essential one.
So how can you accomplish that? Working with an experienced photographer is a must, of course. However, you can’t always rely on others to get the results you’re after. In order to nail a great shot that will help launch your professional career, you’ll need to be familiar with some photography best practices. The following tips can help you get started before you ever get to the studio.
Go After the Goal
Choosing a killer outfit and practicing your poses might be on your mind, but it’s important to first take stock of what the actual goal of your headshots will be. Yes, you want these photographs to help you get the new job, the coveted promotion, or the big account. But to do that, your headshot needs to be one thing: authentic.
If you want someone to hire you, they need to be able to trust you. You need to put forth an image that’s attractive and that looks professional — and that’s all part of the trustworthy package. The most basic part of it, however, is that your headshot should accurately show who you are at your most honest. That’s what’s going to draw people in and get them to take notice. Showing what makes you unique and trustworthy can go a long way in helping you stand out from the crowd.
Understanding the need for authenticity and professionalism will typically allow you to appeal to your target audience. You should keep potential employers and clients (as well as the qualities they might look for in a new hire or collaborator) in mind during your session to an extent. But the bottom line here is to present the best version of yourself. Your headshot should look and feel like you, above all else.
Consider the Color Scheme
Whether you’re cognizant of it or not, you’re constantly affected by the psychology of color. At its most basic level, color can instantly communicate whether something is dangerous or safe. We see this all the time in nature; poisonous plants and animals that dispense toxins tend to be brightly colored as a warning. But in developed society, color psychology tends to be a bit more nuanced and complicated.
For example, the color red can evoke feelings of excitement and passion. It’s an appropriate hue for industries that are related to food, sports, and entertainment. But it’s not an ideal shade for those in the medical field because it can also make people feel anxious. Greens and blues — which can be used to make people feel calm and safe — are typically a better choice for professionals in those industries.
Many business professionals will opt for more neutral tones like gray, black, navy blue, and brown. Those colors are applicable for nearly every industry and can give off a sense of power, authority, stability, or loyalty. They’re a safe bet, but they may actually be too safe in some instances. It’s best to combine these neutrals with a pop of color somewhere (either in the backdrop or in the outfit itself) that will complement your own features and will gently guide the viewer to feel a desired emotion when they look at your headshot.
Dress to Impress
We’ve talked about some of the best practices for color — but what should you actually wear in your professional headshots? It depends quite a bit on your industry’s norms and your own style, but there are some general rules to keep in mind.
What to Wear for Men
Men should typically wear some version of a button down shirt and suit jacket. You should steer away from busy patterns and clashing colors, though a subtle printed shirt or tie can be effective. If you plan on wearing a three-piece suit, make sure it’s tailored impeccably. Since professionals are dressing more casually these days, it’s not out of the ordinary to see headshots that feature a button-down with no tie or even a nice t-shirt underneath a blazer. No matter how dressed up or down you decide to go, you should make certain that every garment is free of wrinkles, fits you well, and is in excellent condition.
What to Wear for Women
Women tend to have a bit more wiggle room in terms of the ensembles they can wear. A dress or beautiful sweater in a saturated jewel tone or neutral blouse paired with a smart blazer can all work well. Busy patterns (like oversized florals, houndstooth, or large polka dots) should be avoided, however.
Whether you opt for a jacket with a feminine cut or a fitted dress, the neckline should be rather simple and conservative. Scoop, square, and sweetheart necklines don’t tend to come off well in headshots, while crewnecks, v-necks, and collared shirts usually look great.
Is the Outfit a Strong Contender?
When deciding what to wear, ask yourself: does this outfit feel like the true me? Does it help me to look and feel my very best? And does it look polished, appealing, and professional? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, the outfit is probably a good contender. Your photographer can be a great resource when trying to decide between specific pieces or if you have a question about how a pattern or color will translate to an image.
Ultimately, a good headshot should capture your best qualities and provide your target audience with an authentic glimpse of who you are and what they can expect from you. If you keep these tips in mind when preparing for your professional headshot session, you’ll be in good shape when it comes time to interview for a new position or pitch a new project to a client.