Search the internet for expert advice on personal branding, marketing, and job searching, and you'll find hundreds of articles on why you need a professional headshot. So some of you might find yourself wondering if your current headshot is professional "enough." Here are 7 reasons your headshot looks unprofessional.
If the lighting in your headshots is poorly done, your headshot will look unprofessional, plain and simple. Overexposure (the headshot is too bright), underexposure, (the headshot is too dark), flat lighting (where the lighting is diffuse without highlights and shadows), on-camera lighting (making you look like a deer in the headlights), lack of separation between you and the background, and raccoon eyes (where your eyes are too dark, often because the light source is too high) are all examples of poor lighting.
In contrast, good lighting shapes your face and provides depth and dimension, making your headshot look three-dimensional, so that you stand out from the background.
In addition, improper lighting for your facial features and body type can make you look “plumper” than you are, whereas lighting that is well done is slimming. Light can also either emphasize or hide double chins!
Outdoor, natural light is not necessarily better than indoor or studio light. They each have their place, and the decision to go for outdoor headshots versus indoor or studio headshots is a matter of taste and the look you’re going for. Regardless of setting, you need a professional headshot photographer who is an expert at sculpting light and who knows how to avoid the lighting pitfalls mentioned above.
In general, you should look natural, comfortable, relaxed, and confident in your professional headshot. (Unless you’re a killer attorney, you probably should also look friendly and approachable.) If your pose looks unnatural, you’ll also give the impression of being stiff, nervous, and lacking confidence, a definite no-no for professional headshots. In addition, a good pose for you is dependent on your body type and facial features. Even though it’s a head shot, your upper body position will still show, and your lower body position and arms will impact the look of your upper body.
For example, if you stand with your body and shoulders both directly facing the camera (so both shoulders are the same distance from the camera), your headshot will show your full weight. If you’d like to look slimmer, then you should turn your body away from the camera, lean forward, and pop your hip away from the camera. Likewise, turning your head partly to the side, in combination with light coming from the correct side angle, will make your face look slimmer in your headshots.
Unless you’re a professional model, it’s hard for most people to pose themselves without a mirror for guidance. Let your professional headshot photographer be your mirror! Search for a professional photographer who will notice little details and provide you with the posing guidance you need.
Many of us have oily skin that reflects light, resulting in unattractive shiny spots that most commonly show up on foreheads, cheeks, noses, and chins. A professional makeup artist can help, and you can also use blotting papers. Despite our best efforts, though, shine may be a part of your headshots. Never fear, though; shine is something that your professional headshot photographer should be able to remove or tone down through retouching.
A rookie mistake is to take a photo in which your head is positioned smack in the middle of the photo. Don’t do it! That will result in too much space between the top of your head and the top of the image. That space isn’t important. Fill it with what is important… which is you!
Your eyes should be vertically positioned around 1/3 of the way down the image, and in the middle of the image horizontally. It’s ok to have a little more space on the side of the image that you’re facing, such that you look into the image instead of out of it. (So if your head is turned to the right, then your eyes can either be in the horizontal middle or a little left of center.
You might also think that a headshot is… well… a head shot, and therefore you should zoom in and show mostly just your head. But consider where you’ll be displaying your headshot, such as on LinkedIn or as your Facebook profile photo, both of which force crop to square. Google Plus force crops to a circle. If your original headshot is too zoomed in, then cropping to a square or circle won’t look good. It’s often better to show more body in your image so that you can use your headshot in either a rectangular, square, or circular setting. (Did that never occur to you before? It’s for reasons like this that you’ll want to use a professional headshot photographer if you care about making a great first impression.)
Unless the image is very zoomed out, or unless there isn’t much distance between you and the background, then the background should be blurred to some extent, such that you – the subject of the headshot – stand out. In-studio, if the background isn’t sufficiently blurred, then you may see wrinkles in the backdrop. On-location, backgrounds can be busy and messy, and blurring the background eliminates the busy-ness while retaining interesting textures and colors. A surefire sign of a “professional” photographer who isn’t very professional is a portfolio full of images with sharp backgrounds.
Need I say it? If your skintones are too orange, red, green, or purple, then you need another headshot, as well as a different photographer. Orange skintones in particular are common in dark-skinned people, and your professional photographer should be able to color-correct to ensure that you look like you. If you’re naturally very pale or a little red, and you don’t like it, then your professional photographer should also be able to add some warmth to your skintones or reduce the redness in your headshot.
I took a scroll through LinkedIn. Maybe one of the following headshots was yours?
Was your headshot originally a picture of you with your friends, who you cropped out of the picture? Was your headshot taken on a playground or in a bar? Is your significant other, child, or pet in the photo with you? Are you doing yoga or weightlifting? Are you blurry? Do you look too sexy for your headshot to be a professional headshot? Are there reflections in your glasses? Are you wearing sunglasses in your headshots?
Notwithstanding any of the pitfalls I’ve already discussed in detail, if, for any other reason, your headshot still looks like you did it yourself, then it looks unprofessional.
Show prospective employers and clients that you care with high-quality, professional headshots.
Your headshots make your first impressions, and poorly done or unprofessional-looking headshots show prospective employers and clients that you don’t really care to gain their business.
So what's the verdict? Does your headshot look unprofessional?
Earlier this year, I decided to try to set aside a few days per month for experimentation. Allowing our minds to open and taking time to try new things has not only been a total blast, but has allowed us to incorporate newfound photography techniques perfected during days of experimentation into actual client photography work as well.
This time, we experimented with cutouts and crochet for unique lighting patterns in studio portraits.
We started by cutting hole-puncher sized holes into a small piece of black paper and placing the paper in front of a background light. Before photographing, I thought we would end up with a polka-dotted background, but was I wrong. Interestingly, because of spread, when the light passed through the holes in the paper, the light was actually traveling in different directions, instead of straight through the holes, so the resulting background pattern wasn't circular at all. In fact, if I hadn't just told you, I bet you never would have guessed that the resulting patterns came from a hole-y piece of paper. In addition, we learned that the distance between the light and the paper and the paper and the background also greatly affected the resulting pattern.
Next, we pulled down a grey seamless paper backdrop and switched out the black hole-y paper for a new piece of paper with a chevron pattern cut through it. The paper was small, which is why you can see a square edge in the background pattern in the resulting portraits. The last image in the set of portraits below is a pullback shot of the lighting setup we ended with.
For the final set of creative portraits below, I grabbed different tops from my closet with holes in them... lace, crochet, etc, and experimented with holding them over the camera lens. I found that if the pattern of holes in the fabric was too fine, I couldn't see a difference between with vs. without. My favorite fabric was a crocheted sweater that had more space between the yarn and that I could stretch and move to position it just right so that I could see Idrissa's face through a hole in the fabric. The top left portrait below is without the sweater; the other two portraits are with the sweater.
The ending lighting setup was as follows:
And as I write this blog post on creative portraits, I have a new idea. What if I were to hang that crocheted sweater in front of the background light? 'Tis a project for another day.
Searching for a creative photographer?
Seeking to become a better photographer?
There are a million different reasons for you to need a professional headshot. Well, maybe not a million. But definitely a LOT. Here are just a few:
9 in 10 human resources professionals check job candidates' social media profiles before deciding to interview them.
If you're a business owner, adding an image to every page of your website could increase visitors' time on site by as much as 250%.
If you feel that you're unphotogenic, all you really need is an expert business headshot photographer who can make you feel comfortable and relaxed and can identify the most flattering posing, angles, and lighting for your face and body type.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to the public relations, branding, and business experts instead.
Is Your Headshot Killing Job Opportunities? (by Martin Yate, author of "Knock 'em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World")
Become More Clickable on LinkedIn (by Jean Filipiak, Recruiting Coach and writer for Career Reform)
6 Reasons Why You Need a Professional Headshot (by Nancy Marshall, the PR Maven)
That second link above includes a compilation of feedback from hiring managers about headshots they see (or don't). My favorite quote:
"There’s something powerful about 'putting a face to the name' that humanizes your professional identity... When a person excludes a headshot, it comes across as laziness, plain and simple."
And therefore, to help you strengthen your professional image, we're doing something we've never done before.
On August 27, 2017, we have just 10 openings available for professional headshot photography mini-sessions at our Germantown-Clarksburg, Maryland photography studio:
Up to 15 minutes of photography time
Your choice of a grey or brown backdrop
Immediately view and select your headshot(s)
Same day delivery of selected headshot(s)
$150 for hi-res download of 1st selected headshot; $125 for each additional
$50 additional/headshot for retouching (blemish & shine removal, skin smoothening, stray hair removal, teeth whitening)
Choose our headshot mini-session instead of a full headshot session IF:
Your headshot needs are simple.
You don't want/need more than 1 or 2 headshots.
You don't need more than 15 minutes of photography time.
You want a "standard" headshot instead of a "unique" headshot.
A grey or brown backdrop meets your needs.
Let us make your first impression be a great one.
"My son had senior portraits done, but Emma's school didn't do any senior portraits. We have always wanted to get senior portraits done for her. Now, here we are three years later," said Emma's mom.
They mulled over the location ideas for Emma's belated senior portrait session that we discussed, which included the Washington DC university campus where Emma is currently in college studying theology and Chinese. In the end, though, the family decided on beautifully peaceful Glenview Mansion in Rockville, Maryland, one of my favorite locations for portrait photography in the Washington DC metro area.
At their "photo reveal" and ordering appointment, Emma & her mom & dad chose their favorite senior portraits for a custom-designed and classic, artful album. Check back here later for images of the printed photo album!
And so you see, just because you missed doing your child's senior portraits in senior year doesn't mean you have to give up on them entirely.
Life travels fast. Don't let another second pass you by. Do it now.
A phone call wouldn't hurt a fly.
Referred to us by another Maryland professional photographer, Maggie & Matthew's mom contacted us about event photography of her children's violin recital and reception at Stages Music Art Performance Theater in Cockeysville, Maryland.
"My 6 and 7 year old kids are having a particularly special concert/recital. They are also doing this in honor of a charity - Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Cancer Research. I looked at your photography portfolio, and I like the "calm and soft touch" of your website. I don't want big and flashy... as I navigated through your website, I felt a soft touch with poise, and that's exactly what I want. I want beauty and subtleties to speak out in the photography...
I've worked with professional photographers on many occasions and have learned that I don't want too much editing. Rather, I want to capture the atmosphere. I want to look back and be able to remember what the kids were feeling that day. Some professional photographers I've worked with embellished things so much that it felt fictional. For me, it's about capturing the moment, even if it's not perfect."
Maggie & Matthew performed together with their teacher, Byung-Kook Kwak on violin/viola, and his daughter, Christine, also on violin. Maggie & Matthew's mom is a pianist and graduate of the renowned Peabody Institute in Baltimore, MD, and she accompanied on piano at times. I myself grew up playing piano and clarinet and have been to many a student recital. But never have I seen two children of Maggie & Matthew's young and youthful ages perform at such a high level! They were absolutely amazing! Child prodigies! As I wandered and photographed the guests at the reception, I heard snippets of conversation... people speaking in wonder and awe about the children's skill and how much they had improved over the past year. Applause for Maggie & Matthew!
Are you planning an extra-special event of your own? Want to be able to look back and remember the smell of the flowers, the clink of the wine glasses, the laughter of friends and family?
The most special moments don't get do-overs. Make those moments last in your memories.