7 Tips for Getting the Best Headshots

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By The Light Committee

There are a lot of tips – 7 in this post – that can be offered for getting good headshots. There are also so many proven reasons why everyone in business – whether corporate business or show business – should have a professional headshot. So, what can you do to be sure to get the best headshots? Let’s get into the first tip.

Here is a 5-minute video you can watch instead of reading this or read on.

A commercial actor headshot of a bearded man in a tie in a studio near Burbank with a blue background

#1 Make Sure It’s a Great Camera – Headshot Tip:

The first and probably most important tip should go without saying. Any professional-grade headshot must be done with a commercial-grade DSLR or mirrorless camera, not with a smartphone. Not ever with a smartphone. Before you even start to wonder – no, the so-called “portrait-mode” some smartphone vendors are trying to pass off as studio quality is not good enough. Not even close. Don’t buy into the fancy ads trying to lay claim to this. Even smartphone makers will not use their own camera when it comes to promoting themselves. So, if they won’t do it, why would you?

Look, smartphones are awesome devices. They have a ton of apps. They’re gaming platforms. You can make calls with them or send texts. You can do video calls or record video. And you can take photos with them. They are good general-purpose devices which makes them very poor at doing any one thing great. With so much at stake in a headshot – it literally could be your career or a job opportunity – it’s just not a smart choice. Simply put, do not use any type of point-and-shoot camera.

If the photographer you hire is going to use a point-and-shoot, find another photographer. Don’t be afraid to ask the photographer what camera and lens they will use. While you might not know how good that camera is, a simple online search will at least help you verify it’s not a point-and-shoot camera.

#2 Make Sure It’s With a Professional Photographer – Headshot Tip:

Tip number two is closely related to point number one. Make sure you use a headshot photographer. They’ll have a commercial-grade DSLR or mirrorless camera, appropriate quality lenses, and know how to use them. They should also have professional studio lighting and know how to use it too. In Los Angeles, there are many to choose from too.

Speaking of lighting, a related tip is whether to use studio-quality lighting or natural light? Some argue natural light should be used while others argue for studio-lighting. For actors, almost all movie scenes have some artificial lighting in it.

Thus, at least for your first round of headshots, it’s a good idea to mimic being lit in your headshots. Specifically, you might have the photographer light you for a dramatic or theatrical look – more on this later. With studio lighting, there is more control by the photographer to make this happen.

As for business, most professional headshots are also done with studio lighting. Overall, studio lighting is capable of providing a more flattering look, which is often preferred, whether for acting headshots, executive headshots and for models. As mentioned, studio lighting offers your photographer more control, which is a good thing to be able to more easily create different looks. As an actor, you’ll likely need theatrical dramatic looks alongside clean commercial looks. Corporate headshots usually are best with more even lighting and minimal shadows.

A good photographer can also use natural light to create different themes. But since you can’t move the sun where you want, limitations will exist. Still, natural light can also be a very nice look to have. For example, in a natural light setting, you’re probably going to be on-location somewhere, which might provide for an advantageous background.

So, if you’re a commercial real estate agent, a lifestyle headshot in an office or with a building in the background can make for good marketing material. Or for a model, perhaps mimicking a lifestyle ad is a good shot to have in your portfolio.

A professional headshot of a woman entertainment executive in a suit in studio near Los Angeles
Creating Contrast with What You Wear and the Background Can Be Helpful to the Image

#3 Consider Lifestyle Headshots – Headshot Tip:

So, in closing out tip number two, we also covered tip number three. And that is, consider if you can benefit from having lifestyle headshots in your marketing arsenal in addition to traditional headshots. If you can swing a budget for it, you’re likely to find a good use for both.

Lifestyle headshots help potential clients, agents or other hiring personnel more easily visualize you in a certain role that you’d like them to visualize about you. For example, if you’re a real estate agent trying to position yourself as selling mansions, well, a lifestyle shot at a mansion will make for good marketing.

If you’re a model trying to break into modeling fitness gear, some lifestyle shots of you using bands, weights, or other gear will help set you apart – it’s like having a casting person preview the ad they want to create with you in the photo. You can imagine how this might set you apart from submissions of just a headshot.

#4 Make Sure It Represents You – Headshot Tip:

Remember your headshot is being used to sell you. So, be sure it represents you. That doesn’t mean you should or should not use makeup or style your hair. It means to do what you would normally do for your job or the job requirement.

Let’s say you’re an actor going to a casting call that your headshot helped you get. You probably want to show up similarly to the headshot that got their interest, whether you used makeup then or not, whether your hair was long, short, etc. If you’re an accountant with a headshot on your website, you probably want to take that headshot looking the same way you will when you visit with clients.

This way, there’s no surprise changes to a casting director or customer when they meet you. So, as your look changes, you will need new headshots. Also, to stand out from the competition, extra shots can be helpful, especially to capture who you are inside.

So, if you’re an actor that is a fun and light-hearted person, that’s likely where you’ll have the most success for roles and some headshots should attempt to capture this. Because you’re not trying to be something you’re not. Same thing if you’re an edgy person – you’re probably going to have your most success for edgy roles.

On the corporate side, a business executive with a traditional headshot that also uses photos of themselves in their work environment might help them stand apart to would-be customers. It can imply that you’re a hard worker.

So, in summary, a good headshot of how you would normally present yourself face-to-face with someone that might hire you is critical. And, additional headshots to capture your personality or business traits can brand you to further to stand apart from the competition.

As for touch-ups to headshots. They are totally okay so long as you don’t go overboard and misrepresent how you look. In fact, you should use touched-up photos to help you stand apart, particularly for actors and models that are likely to have make-up put on them anyway for commercial work.

salesman headshot in a studio with a blue background near Pasadena, CA

#5 Look Into the Camera – Headshot Tip:

Be sure to look at the camera. Your eyes – and eye contact – are an important gauge for anyone looking at a photo of you. Your gaze can literally convince them to do business with you. It can be the relaxing smile of a doctor. Or, it can be the conviction behind an actor’s glare for a drama series.

Not that you can’t look away from the camera. Some model headshots are ideal when not looking into the camera, particularly if they are lifestyle headshots. But, for your core headshots, you should look into the camera.

Be sure to have a variety too – have some with a small smile and some with a big smile and some with no smile. One day you may like one versus another. You can also see if one is more successful than another. For actors and models, this might be as simple as one gets you more castings. For business executives, you can do A-B testing.

#6 Know the Composition to Use – Headshot Tip:

Now, a bit about the composition. Stick with the tried and true. Use 8×10, in portrait mode, almost always. There are some scenarios, such as medical school applications and more, where other crop factors might be needed. A website redesign sometimes uses circular or square crop factors.

Be sure to provide your photographer with specifications whenever possible. While we live in a digital world, be sure your photographer also provides you with print-quality digital files as there are still scenarios where businesses ask for prints.

Don’t cut off your head or neck by getting too close to the camera. What your hair and neck look like are important features, whether for actors or executives. Also, you don’t want to come across as hiding something.

Talk to your photographer about which angles to take headshots from. Depending on your goals, this may have an impact on headshots results. Your chosen photographer should be able to provide suggestions.

#7 What Should You Wear – Headshot Tip:

And last, but not least, what to wear. Avoid plaids, strong colors, and generally busy clothing. Simple, natural and solid colors are best. Remember, the goal is to keep the focus on you, not what you’re wearing. If you’re only getting headshots from the chest up, then your top and hairstyle will be the most important things to consider. If you’re getting lifestyle headshots, then obviously your full outfit will matter.

Be careful not to also wear too much jewelry. But, again, also wear what is you. Wear things that help establish how you want to be perceived. For corporate headshots, another popular thought about what to wear is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

A woman getting professional headshots for work in Los Angeles outdoors.
A Good Headshot Can Help Show Self-Confidence, A Highly Desirable Trait in Business

Additional Important Thoughts

So, we’ve covered what you can do to get great headshots. But, why does it even matter? Well, it matters a lot.

It Shows Self-Confidence

Having a headshot taken of yourself may seem necessary for the specific job you do. For example, almost every real estate agent uses a headshot to promote their services. However you use it, a good professional headshot demonstrates self-confidence in yourself. And, self-confidence is top-five trait employers look for in a candidate.

The opposite, of course, is low self-worth or self-esteem. Studies show most people, unfortunately, fall into this boat. So, a good headshot is one way you can demonstrate you stand apart from this trait that employers don’t want.

If you have an online profile for yourself without a good headshot, it can send off so many bad signals: what are they hiding, why don’t they want me to see how they look, this low quality reflects on your quality of work, and so on.

Demonstrate self-confidence with a great headshot.

Because Others Settle for Less

A professional headshot will help you stand apart. Nowadays, it’s easy for people to take a selfie and call it good. It just isn’t. Or, they opt for no headshot at all. There are two big problems with this.

First, to not have a headshot simply puts you at a disadvantage over those that do. There are surveys finding that as high as 75% of us are visual learners. It’s estimated people will remember six times more about your profile if there is a picture to go with it. So, without a great headshot, LinkedIn and other online profiles without a picture aren’t drawing the attention they could be.

But, what about using a selfie? I’ve received calls for headshots for LinkedIn and the reason they wanted headshots was because someone told them their LinkedIn picture was not professional.

When I would view the pictures, they were always smartphone selfies. So, how many times has someone thought poorly of your selfie headshot too and didn’t tell you? It’s said it’s possible that each time you hear about it, there are at least 26 other times people felt the same but didn’t tell you. Also, it takes just a tenth of a second for someone to form an impression about you from your headshot.

In closing, here’s a list of many more reasons you should get your headshots professionally done.

  • It helps build trust before they meet you
  • It’s inviting to the viewer – it says you’re approachable
  • It’s a current depiction of you
  • You’ll feel better about yourself (there’s that self-confidence thing again)
  • Headshots can be more affordable than you think
  • You’ll likely find other uses for it
  • Because how many times have you stared at a headshot and judged
  • Because a bad headshot can turn people off (from employers to dating)
  • You just might get asked for a current headshot and not have one ready
  • It will make you look your best
  • You’ll put the focus on you
  • It demonstrates you have high standards
  • Because you get what you pay for – and free is usually garbage

So, get out there and get your headshots professionally done. Your business success can only be improved by it.