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How to Take Impactful Professional Headshots

By Nicole Krempasky on November 29, 2022

Woman in front of white background holding a camera to her face.

More and more people are turning to the pros to make sure they get the most out of their professional headshots and networking sites. Check out these tips on how to help your photography clients get headshots they love.

If you’re an aspiring professional photographer, it’s important to be well-rounded in various types of photography. While we often associate professionals with photoshoots like weddings, newborn sessions, and graduation portraits, more and more people are turning to the pros for professional headshots. If you want to help someone land their dream job by helping them get stand-out headshots, check out these tips.

What is a professional headshot?

With more people looking online for work in places like LinkedIn and Indeed, a headshot is a great way to show professionalism and catch attention. A clear, professional-style photo is what often makes the first impression between a potential candidate and a hiring manager; sort of like an introduction. It puts a face to a name and resume, providing a human connection to a profile rather than just a list of accomplishments and job details. Recruiters are more likely to be drawn into a profile that has a face; in fact, studies have shown that a LinkedIn profile with a photo is 14 times more likely to be viewed.

Who needs a professional headshot?

In the past, headshots were mainly used by performing artists such as actors. However, with social media and online job recruiting, professionals from all industries have turned to headshots to put a face to a name. While it isn’t completely necessary for all jobs, they can be extremely useful for many roles. In addition to helping your application or profile stand out, they can communicate a level of professionalism and trust, and they can encourage confidence. Their use goes beyond that of just looking for a job. They’re a useful tool when networking as well. If you’ve met a professional and have their business card but can’t quite remember their details, finding them via social media becomes a lot easier, especially if multiple people with the same name appear in search results.

How to take an impactful professional headshot

Many people have not had a headshot taken before, so they’ll rely on you as their photographer for guidance. There are a couple of key details that offer the basis for any good professional headshot, including:

  • What to wear. If your client specializes in business, you’ll want to recommend they wear dark, solid colors. If they’re in a more creative field, brighter color may be used but it’s still best to avoid patterns. Turtlenecks are also to be avoided, as they can make you look like a floating head! The best rule to follow is suggesting your subject wear something similar to what they would wear to work or when meeting a client.
  • Where to take the shot. Similar to clothing options, background can make a big difference. Again, someone working in a stricter, office-type job would best benefit from a solid neutral backdrop. Those who focus more on creativity could benefit from a more relaxed background, such as something outdoors. It’s still important, though, to consider color. Avoid anything that will make the subject look washed out or where they’ll blend in and look lost.
  • Be yourself. While some clients want to buy a new outfit and some get their makeup professionally done, remind them to stay on-brand; that is, don’t stray too far from their normal dress and makeup style. While everyone wants to look their best, they shouldn’t look drastically different from what they would on a normal day at work. For the same reasons, they should stick to more classic styling and avoid trends.
  • Don’t lose them in the background. It's easy for someone to feel more comfortable leaning into a wall or against something, but this is also a good way to lose the subject in the photo. Have the person stand away from the background or backdrop. This will help blur the background just a bit, making the subject look sharper.
  • Avoid shadows Whether you’re using natural or studio light, be mindful of making sure light is even on the person.
  • Be encouraging. Getting your picture taken, especially for professional reasons, can be a little intimidating. Offer encouragement to your client, especially when the poses look good, to help them feel more relaxed. This will help them take even better pictures.
  • Focus on the face. On sites like LinkedIn, the profile images are small. Taking most of the shots with a face-focus gives your clients usable material. Of course, taking a few full-body shots are nice to have as well for websites.

Because all of this is new for some people, and you want to make your subject comfortable, it is a good idea to schedule a pre-shoot consultation or at least discuss all of the above over the phone or via email. This is the best way to avoid problems the day of the shoot. You’ll have a better idea of what your client is like and what they’re looking for, as well ensuring they come prepared.

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