Most of my clients come in for their business headshot with little or no preparation. Usually it works fine.
But if you realize the importance of the shot to your company and personal branding and want to achieve the best results, take a little time and prepare for it.
Any of the suggestions offered below will help. Doing all or most of them will make a big difference in results. But they are just guidelines, not rules. It’s not possible to give precise rules that work in all cases.
If you just ask the questions that these guidelines suggest, you’ll be on the right track. It’s an unthinking approach that gets us into trouble.
For men and women, the main thing is that it look neat, well-groomed, and appropriate for your for your industry and position. What works for a young, indie film maker might not work so well for a senior tax accountant. Many women get their hair styled before the shoot. It’s important to minimize stray hairs on the face and wardrobe.
Facial hair is in right now. And it looks cool on some people –sometimes. But other times it just looks slovenly. Make sure it looks intentional and not just the result of being too busy to shave. Ear and nose hair and neck hair can be well groomed even if you’re sporting a full mustache and beard.
If you’re in a conservative field or will be looking for a new position, you might consider shaving for your shoot and then re-growing your beard the next day. You wouldn’t want negative feelings about facial hair that some might have to hold you back.
A clean, understated look works best. Light foundation, some mascara, a light dusting with translucent powder. Go very easy on eyeliner, eyeshadow, and blush. They are usually out of place in a work environment. Check the shape of the eyebrows and the lip lines. Avoid unusual lipstick colors that are better left for after 5. If you look made-up, you’re probably wearing too much.
Wardrobe is critically important. Whether the look is casual or formal, it should look upscale. Many shots on the internet look like the subject decided to do his shot and then went with whatever he happened to be wearing and walked to the J.C.Penney family portrait studio and then did his professional headshot. What does such a look do for his personal branding or the company’s branding?
Ill-fitting garments are a common problem with men. Usually a person gains weight and the jacket no longer closes properly. Another common problem is that a man’s dress shirt doesn’t fit well at the neck.
Ties should be tied properly and reach the top of the shirt rather than hanging down a half inch or more. Contrasting colors and dignified patterns are a good idea. Most execs also do some shots without their ties.
In American culture, suit jackets look best when they’re somewhat darker, especially in more formal shots. A classic look that always looks upscale is a dark blue suit, white or pale blue shirt, and a wine-colored tie. On the other hand, if you’re trying to soften your image, suits of a lighter color can be effective.
Both men and women should be careful about being too “fashion-y”. When there’s too much style, some people perceive you as a dandy lacking gravitas. Usually this is nonsense, but their prejudices are out there and can hurt your professional image. How far to deviate from the norm depends on your field and your position in a field. For example, I would expect an architect or a film director to dress more fashionably than a lawyer.
Women have a lot more freedom. The only guideline I would offer is to look like you’re going to the office to work in your position, which may be supervisory or even in top management rather than going out for a casual day of shopping.
Consider the Types of Shots You Need
Business headshots have different purposes and so should be created in different ways. Here’s an experiment that shows how headshots work or don’t work. Go to a company website and look at some headshots. You can usually find them on an “Our Team” page under the “About Us” section.
Now choose at random one of the shots to look at. Examine how you feel about that person as revealed in the shot. Would you like to work for that person? Would you like that person to work for you? Would you loan him money? Would you trust him to do an important assignment for you? Perform surgery on you? Represent you in court? Etc.
Of course it’s stupid to judge a person about the way she looks in a picture which was taken in one moment on one day. But isn’t that what people do all the time? Before they even read the bio or meet you in person, impressions are formed. I think it’s important to do what you can to manage those impressions.
LinkedIn Profile Shots
Even a LinkedIn profile shot has different purposes for different people. Looking for a new position, a promotion, attracting new clients, etc. Which look will best help you achieve that goal? Once you answer that question, you’ll be in a better position to plan how to do your shot. You’ll have a well-defined target to aim at.
Shots for a Company Website
You’ll want your look to fit in with the look of the other shots on the site, but you’ll still want your shot to represent you in a favorable way. If everyone is wearing a tie, you don’t want to not wear one, and vice versa. Look like you’re part of the team.
When I do such shots, I always try to match poses, cropping, lighting, background, and expression.
Shots for Public Relations
Suppose your law firm has hired a PR firm. They might want shots such as working portraits, consulting with clients or associates, action shots, etc. in addition to formal posed portraits.
You Might Want to Consider Multiple Shots
I don’t charge my clients to do extra looks, so some of my clients do different looks for various purposes. Try to get as much from each headshot session as possible.
Practicing for Your Business Headshots
This is something few headshot photographers talk about, but practicing can really help. I began my photographic career as a fashion and beauty photographer and also shooting actor headshots. Actors and models do practice for their shots, especially early in their careers. This is where I got the idea.
This practicing can be as easy as making faces in the mirror and trying different poses and expressions. Manipulate your facial expression and body language and see how it affects your look. Better yet, get a friend with a smart phone to take a bunch of pictures and then look at them together to see which looks work and which ones do not.
I coach my clients as I’m shooting and provide feedback by showing them some of the images as we create them together. Many people have told me that the coaching helps them achieve better results, but practicing before the shoot can provide a baseline to build on.
And best of all the practice session, provided you don’t get too critical, will help you feel more relaxed when you get in front of the camera.
This is your career. The impressions you create count. You can work to manage them or just hope for the best. Every year the impressions created by your business or professional headshot play a bigger role in your career.