Tips On How To Prepare, What To Wear, How To Pose & How To Look Good When Taking A Headshot + Examples

Headshots are more widely used than ever before. From Linkedin profiles, press releases, articles, websites, social media, avatars, business cards, sales collateral  to speaking engagements, headshots are something you should have handy and updated at all times. Often times requests for headshots by an employer, conference, newspaper, magazine etc. can have short turnaround times. Taking a headshot takes time to plan in terms of attire, location, looks, processing. If you don’t plan ahead, you can easily wind up with something rushed, unflattering, forced or inappropriate for the outlets the photo will be used. As a professional headshot photographer in San Francisco, I have worked with a variety of industries, companies and identities over the years. Here are some tips and general tutorial guide to prepare for and things to be aware about when booking a professional headshot or trying to take a headshot yourself.

Professional Headshot Examples: https://eddie-hernandez.com/professional-headshots/

How Often Should You Update Your Headshot

A headshot should be updated roughly every 3-5 years (give or take), sometimes more often than than if there is a significant change of appearance, change in job/industry or if you find a really good photographer who can capture exactly what you are looking for. Your headshot should reflect what you would like like if someone met you in person. It should also be something you are proud of and would use publicly if asked to provide for a speaking engagement, press release or other time sensitive purpose. It should also be used so people can more easily recognize you out and about which can be good for networking, sales, partnerships or more.

What Kind Of Headshot Do I Need

Quite often, I get requests from clients seeking a specific type of headshot they saw from a friend, from a colleague or from Pinterest. It’s great to have some inspiration for your headshot but it’s also important to make sure the headshot you seek is appropriate for your industry and profession. The blurring of social media profiles, dating profiles and professional profiles has led some folks to use photos interchangeably. Even in the context of professional headshots, knowing what is generally accepted for your industry is important to know. A headshot for a yoga instructor is different from a fashion stylist is different from an investment banker is different from a start-up founder is different from an interior designer.

Some photos rely on a close crop just below the shoulders and wide enough to fit the torso sans shoulders and arms. Other professions that entail a visit to an office or a outcome should possibly be more environmental in nature (fully body, half-body or traditional close-up) but with some detail of outcome of a design, place of business, feeling or sense of accomplishment.

A great photographer will be able to guide you around all the nuances of the various headshot types but when in doubt, research headshots from those in your industry who are accomplished for inspiration. A Google search can help out as well – attorney headshot, environmental office headshot, modeling half-body shot, clarinet headshot, blurred city background, San Francisco outdoor headshots, pixie haircut, female start-up headshot.

What Should I Wear In My Headshot

Wardrobe is key in a headshot even though most headshots only feature a sliver of the outfit, attire. The main thing to look out for is not to clash clothing colors with your skin tone nor background. Stay away from loud patterns. White shirts should be avoided unless couple with a tie or jacket, scarf or cardigan. Turtlenecks and shiny clothing is generally a no-no. When in doubt, send a snapshot of the outfits you are considering to your photographer if he/she offers specific recommendations. Most photographers do not consult on specifics of your wardrobe but if they do, take advantage of it. Some general inspiration can be found on these Pinterest boards for men and for women.

Clothing Style, Wardrobe, Accessories, Fit For Headshots

Make sure your wardrobe is fitted to your body-type and not too bulky nor too tight. Your clothing should be free of wrinkles and stains. For the most part, shoulders should be covered, low/plunging necklines avoided, bulky necklaces avoided, makeup should be kept at a minimum (what you would wear to the office, not what you would wear for a night out). Being professional is always key but you can add some flair and individuality with your haircut, necklace, eyeglasses, piercings (studs or small earrings are best), facial hair, background, color of clothing etc. Wardrobes should exemplify what you are trying to sell – creativity, professionalism, approachability, power or knowledge. 

WOMENRead this guide on what to wear for your headshot photos.

Headshot Photo Dimensions

Often times people take headshots that are formatted for one use i.e. portrait or square crop for LinkedIn. It’s hard to predict how you will need to use your photos for down the road or what kind or requirements are needed by others. Having options is key to avoid re-taking shots unnecessarily. I usually provide several options for clients but this is more the exception than the norm for most photographers. I personally like more landscape oriented photos for more creative types and the extra space on the sides is great for websites.

Headshot Cropping and Empty Space

When taking a headshot you and your photographer should keep in mind the cropping needed for the outlet or usage of photos. The amount of space a subject should take up in a traditional headshot should be around 60-70% of the frame with out 10-15% of the vertical space freed up above the head. The reason for this is so that when the photo is cropped for a profile on Linkedin the circular crop won’t be too close to the hair and top of your head. You might see some headshots cropped at the top of the head or some of the head cropped off slightly but these are generally reserved for modeling, acting or creative headshots – not for business, Linkedin purposes.

LinkedIn Headshot And Background / Cover Photos

A Linkedin headshot photo has a circular crop for photos and the minimum size is 400px by 400px. I usually recommend clients stay at or slightly above unless they want a giant blown up photo viewable by the public (600px by 600px is the max I recommend). More about LinkedIn photo sizes here in their help section. Because of this crop, not all photos can easily be formatted to fit a LinkedIn profile. Often times users have a portrait oriented headshot that is too narrow and is cropped on the left and right hand sides leaving users to either crop the photo closer than desired or add some white space to the sides. For this reason I always provide various crops for clients for versatility. If possible try to fill in the empty spaces with a photo editing tool (can easily be done for most neutral backgrounds).

As for LinkedIn cover photos (also known as background photos), logos, check out the LinkedIn guide for minimum and recommended sizes. I often recommend using a photo that is relevant to location (particularly for big cities) such as a city skyline or something related to your industry. I would recommend using a stock image site to get ideas as well as looking at other professionals in your field on Linkedin to see if something strikes your interest.

How To Pose For A Headshot

Most headshots should be taken at or slightly above eye level for close ups. They should not be taken at high angles nor take below the chin. Additionally subjects should be pulled into the frame by placing weight on the balls of their feet and not arching back as if trying to take a selfie. As for angles, you should not have to turn your torso and shoulders more than 15-25 degrees away from / toward the camera. Poses closer to a 90 degree turn away from the camera leading with the shoulder are more modeling-esque and rarely needed for most professional needs. 

Do:
-Get rest the night before
-Hydrate adequately 
-Put your weight at the balls of your feet to come into the frame, camera
-Practice rotating your torso and face 5-30 degrees away from the camera to add some dimension
-Lower your shoulders
-Practice lightly squeezing your eyes (don’t squint though)

Don’t
-Rotate your body too much and it looks too modeling-esque.
-Pose in any way that feels comfortable or unnatural – would you pose like that at a networking event, among teammates or someone you are interested in?
-Lean back too much or we can see underneath your chin and see some nose hairs
-Smile too hard or deep if you are concerned with wrinkles

I love asymmetrical looks (non-DMV, non-mugshot looks). Put a slight bend on one knee, shift your hops slightly to the opposite of the bend. 

Should You Smile In Your Headshot

The question of whether to smile always comes up and there are many different answers here but at the heart of it, it depends on what you want to convey. I lean towards confidence and approachability. Smiling too much may not work for your profession but it can for others. Similarly looking too professional and stern can appear unapproachable, self-absorbed or douchey. Don’t be douche. A small smirk, a light smile, a slight squint is all it takes to get a get shot. Having your eyes too wide open or too closed seems like you are too eager or too intense. Finding that sweet spot in the middle is recommended.

Studio vs. On Site vs. Outdoor Headshots

Most photographers shoot headshots indoors, in studios, against generic backdrops. This can be great for consistency for company branding but creativity and uniqueness is lost in the process (i can’t shake off the JCP – JCPenney portrait look from Step Brothers). A great photographer can improvise with surrounding and environments like wind, sun, crowds etc. whereas studio photographers prefer controlled, generic environments. If you want something generic or want to maintain consistency, studios might be your best bet. If you want individuality or want to have the environment as part of your branding, go with someone who shoots outdoors. Also consider an indoor environment such as an office, atrium, hotel lobby, that offers protection from the elements but without the stiffness from a stdio headshot.

Corporate Headshot Day

Many companies hire a professional photographer to come in and take headshots. Some employers choose their photographer based on location, pricing or backgrounds. These photos are usually rushed and seldom used outside of ID badges. Many employees I have talked to were rushed, did not have enough noticed, did not have options or were forced to pose a certain way to fit a step and repeat approach by the photographer.

Ideally the photos you take of employees should be good enough so that employees will use them on Linkedin, conferences ad more to help elevate your brand, showcase your employees and foster a sense of professionalism, pride and approachability.

Conclusion

There are many types of headshots out there. They are a factor of industry, outlet, and the individual subject (highlighting favorable angles and features). You should be happy with your headshots and should be proud to showcase them. You should also feel confident in your photo that you don’t need photoshopping to materially alter your photo beyond recognition.

If you need help figuring out what is best for you feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I specialize in helping folks taking headshots for the first time, updating their images for style and individuality and also those that are shy or think they are unphotogenic.  As a professional photographer here in San Francisco, I shoot outdoors, public spaces and client sites. When people want something creative, unique and customized for them, they come to me.