WHY: First and foremost, think about why you are getting a headshot. Most likely, to connect with people who don’t know you. Your profile portrait is a great opportunity to say a lot, without saying a word. People respond best to authenticity, so think about how you want to come across, and combine that with traits that are true to who you are.
WHO: Well, who are you? To define your goals clearly, my own creative approach is to ask you to come up with three keywords that describe you, and correspond to qualities you want to present to those looking at your photo. Often times we may only need one of those words, but having three gives us a solid starting point with enough variation to play with. Think words like friendly, creative, funny, silly, confident, extravagant, problem solver. Taking the time to come up with these words will give you an opportunity to distill for yourself what you have to offer that is unique to you, your brand, your essence. For example, do you put people at ease by using humour? Are you particularly creative when it comes to problem solving? Do you take pride in being super organized? The internet is full of help when it comes to finding the words, here is one example.
HOW: How to translate all this into a photo? This is where finding a great photographer makes a huge difference. They know all about choosing appropriate lighting styles, angles, framing, cropping, posing, and guiding you towards the winning facial expression. Personally, I believe in power in collaboration. Your photographer will have a brief creative discussion with you before the shoot so that you both know what you are after - share your thoughts and think of this as a collaboration. I am a fan of creative props, too, as they can put you at ease in the beginning of the shoot even if you don’t go with those photos in the end.
WHEN: Here I am talking about the dynamic times we are living in. The internet has changed everything. Gone are the times of colouring inside the lines. Staying inside the box. This is the hardest idea to take in! Do this exercise with me, just for fun. Think about what a LinkedIn profile photo looks like. Got it in your head? OK, now think about what a real estate agent’s photo looks like. You see where I’m going with this... If you were able to imagine either one of those, then really think about whether you want your photo to blend in with those. Wouldn’t you rather stand out? And hey, there is nothing wrong with asking your photographer to do both a traditional shot, and a more creative shot. My personal take is take risks wherever you can! Pick the shot where you are blinking and laughing!
WHERE: The photo is about your face. The background should not distract away from that. As you can see from my style of shooting, I like to keep a clean, simple, non-busy background. There are times when an environmental portrait is more of what you are looking for, as opposed to a headshot, in which case you can think about how a carefully chosen setting can enhance your message - be it urban, on-site in your workspace, or outside on the grass. Once again, your photographer will be able to help you determine the best option.
WEAR: Grooming and clothing. Discuss this with your photographer beforehand. Remember that a headshot is a photo of YOU, and we have to ensure your clothing complements and helps your face shine through, as opposed to distract away from it. Here are some brief tips to consider, but don’t limit yourself if you have a good reason to ‘break’ one of the rules, and do your best not to overthink this:
Shirt: avoid magenta, please! It casts a red hue onto your skin, impossible to fix in post processing. OK, personal pet peeve out of the way! Any wording or signage on your shirt will demand the viewer’s attention, so avoid it unless it fits with what you are trying to communicate. Neutral tones are best - white, gray, brown, black. If you are a bright, bubbly personality - feel free to also bring a loud shirt if it makes sense for you. Just have a backup white. Could think about dress jacket if that’s your style. If fashion and style are part of who you are, then you already know what to wear without me telling you. Please do your best to remove wrinkles (even on T-shirts) and lint (especially on black fabric).
Pants: same as above. Jeans photograph awesome.
Shoes: a typical headshot is pretty close up, so you may think shoes don’t matter. Sometimes it may make sense to do a shot with you sitting cross legged on the floor, if you're a super chill and approachable person, for example. Clean white socks and clean sensible shoes are a good idea. Barefoot is always an option, too!
Accessories: Can add some visual interest and separation in photos. If you use them, you know what you’re doing and don’t need my advice; this is not my strong suit!
Grooming: Pluck your eyebrows if you normally do, bring a comb or hair brush just in case, go easy on the make up. Mascara is awesome in photos. Remember that your photographer is also a pro at post processing, and can help minimize little imperfections - you can chat with them if you have questions on that topic. Feel free to specifically tell them what you want them to remove, or not remove!
Props: Discuss these with your photographer in advance, they should have some ideas. Less is more.
BE COMFORTABLE! Above all, make sure you are comfortable. It’s OK to dress it up a bit, but it is not necessary, and should not be anything totally out of your comfort zone. That compromises authenticity, and being physically uncomfortable will show in your facial expression.
Final words - your headshot is a powerful opportunity to enhance your personal brand, so it’s worth your time to make it count. A successful portrait is more than a good camera and lens, so do your research to find the right photographer for YOU. Look at two things first - their style, and the consistency and quality of their work. Do you like their style? If not, then move on. If yes, then take a closer look at the faces in their portfolio. Do they each portray a unique personality? Do the people look interesting? Finally, reach out and ask them about their creative process. You are not just hiring someone to click a button on a fancy camera - you are hiring an artist, and as such, there should be a certain amount of creative input included in the service. Oh, yeah, and remember to have fun with it! Your photographer will help make you feel comfortable and at ease, so get your silly on in front of the camera to return the favour!
Thank you for reading, and once again, these are my own personal thoughts. Other opinions, notes, tips, and questions are always welcome! Share away!