3 Distinctive Ways a Professional Headshot Can Send the Right Message

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By The Light Committee

“It’s just a headshot.” “I was told I had to get a headshot done.” Many people take such a passive approach to getting a headshot created. But a headshot can have significant impact, whether intended or not. They should be taken a bit more seriously than they usually are because a lot more is riding on them than some people think.

A corporate headshot of a woman in a suit in studio near LA
A Classic Headshot Look Such as This Can Send Positive Subconscious Messages to the Viewer

There are many places to get a professional headshot made in Los Angeles. So, choice is not a problem. But how you select a photographer to work with can impact end results. Choose wisely by looking at reviews, consider travelling a bit farther to have more choices – which might also save you a lot of money, check out example photos they have on their website, and usually make sure they have a commercial studio.

Having a commercial studio is not a requirement but if they don’t have a studio at all and only do sessions in natural light, this is very limiting. Having a converted garage for a studio is also very limiting. Again, these are not 100 percent deal breakers if they can still pull off the looks you need. But know about their physical studio option because the looks you end up with in your headshots will have an impact on how you can use them and how they are perceived. Here are three ways a headshot can send a distinct message.

Use Headshot Looks to Help Tell Specific Stories

You can use many looks from a headshot session to help tell a story. But be careful not to overdo it. For example, let’s say you’re a real estate agent and you want to tell the story about how you can help a family sell their home, find a new home, and then buy that new home, you might have dedicated web pages for each of these processes.

For the page about helping a family sell, you might have a headshot of yourself with a home in the background, perhaps showing the windows of the front side. For the page about helping them find a new home, you might have a headshot of yourself in a business setting or this might be your classic studio headshot showing professionalism. For the web page about helping them buy the new home, this headshot might be by the front door of a home, implying you are about to hand them the keys.

A picture is still worth a thousand words. Having these images complement the content for such web pages makes it easier for potential clients to absorb the message. More than that, they can start to see you, literally, as the person to help them with it. For a viewer, images can subconsciously and powerfully deliver a positive message that can propel them to take action toward working with you. But only if the images are done correctly in that it is obvious they were professionally created.

Using stock images of other people instead of yourself is not going to send the message that you are the one that can do it for them.

A theatrical actor headshot of a man in leather in a studio near Burbank with a red background
An Actor Headshot is Usually About Telling a Story That Helps a Casting Director See the Actor Playing the Role They’re Casting For

Headshots Subconsciously Send Good Vibes, But Also Bad Ones

There is established psychological research behind how powerful a simple headshot can be in terms of what a viewer is perceiving. The subtleties of your smile or lack thereof, your lean forward or backward and the amount of lean, how open your eyes are, are you showing teeth – these little cues and many others form an opinion about you in that moment. Working with a photographer to guide you with posing is helpful.

If even just for this reason, this is enough proof that you should never use an AI headshot. They artificially create a smile for you, a lean, your outfit, the lighting, the colors, everything is unplanned and mashed up. So, it sends an unauthentic message about you. Getting a headshot created is a collaborative process between you and the photographer, not to be left up to some automated gimmickry.

Do not leave what opinions people are forming about you to an artificial image that you had no say in how it was created. Faster than you can say “fast” people form an opinion about your headshot and it is often a stunningly accurate one. Moreover, if it is an opinion you did not want formed, research also shows it can be difficult to later change it. This opinion is what forms their first impression. It can mean they never contact you for business or they have false a formed opinion about you when you first meet that is difficult to change.

Even the most subtle things you do in a photo of yourself that you use for a headshot or profile picture can have profound impact in how the viewer sees you as a person. So, it’s important to plan your headshot. Work with a photographer that can help get your message across as best as possible.

black woman outdoor headshot Los Angeles
Your body language can be a big difference in portraying confidence or lack of it in a headshot

Where You Use a Headshot Can Lift You Over the Top

If you consider the above impact a photo of your face can have on its viewer, then where you use them can be impactful too. Used strategically, they can help you win business. For example, If you add headshots in an RFQ response of the actual team members that will be doing the work, this can have a positive impact. The viewer literally gets to put a face to the people that will actually do the work.

You might also do this ahead of an RFQ. Instead of just posting headshots of your most senior leadership, more and more companies are also posting headshots on dedicated web pages for the people that do the day-to-day work of their clients – mid-level management, for example. It comes across as more transparent and supportive of all your employees.

A professional headshot of a woman entertainment executive in a suit in studio near Los Angeles
Increasingly, businesses are strategically using headshots in responses to RFQs as a way to more intimately introduce key team members to potential clients

Getting Over Expensive Headshot Photography by Finding True Value

As touched upon earlier, you have to spend some time to find a photographer that can be helpful with this. Often, if you do a quick web search – at least in Los Angeles – most of your options will be costly. Some people literally spend only a few seconds searching for a photographer when such a choice has a lot riding on it. You can find true value with a little more effort.

Don’t settle in reaching out to just the first 3-4 you find listed. Grab a laptop or a tablet and head over to your favorite café for a morning coffee or tea. Spend 30 minutes going through instead of just the first 3-4 listed, going through the first 3-4 pages on search results and also the first 3-4 pages you find via Google Maps. In the end, you’ll probably find you don’t even need a whole 30 minutes.

You have to start somewhere and ratings on maps is one fast way to start to reduce your list. In Los Angeles, you can start by making a list of only photographers with at least 100 ratings. Be sure you use the word “headshot Los Angeles” in your search so you’re not wasting time with wedding, newborn or other photographers that are not suited for what you are after in this moment. Then prioritize the list by who has the most positive reviews. Remember to go through at least 3-4 pages on Maps as Google typically only lists 20 at a time and, according to Expertise.com, there are more than 1,200 portrait photographers in LA.

Also, the easier the photographer makes it for you to see their prices, the fewer surprises you will have to experience. So, keep them on your list based on this too. Take a sip of your drink, shorten your list, and reach out to the photographers to see if a conversation with them makes you feel better about them.