Can Headshots Be Selfies – The Long and Short of It

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By The Light Committee

Okay, right to the point, and the short of it is… Never ever if you are serious about your career. There is no such thing as a professional selfie. But there is such thing as a professional headshot. But why is getting a headshot professionally made important? Now, the long of it.

A comparison of the size difference between a smartphone camera sensor and full frame sensor
An Approximation of the Size Difference Between a Full Frame Camera Sensor and Smartphone Camera Sensor

First, remember that the point of a headshot is to use it for direct or indirect monetary gain. There are many careers where literally your headshot is arguably a deciding factor to do business with you or not. For example, some careers where your headshot might have a direct impact include acting, attorney, doctor, modeling, real estate, and other similar jobs.

Yes, some people decide upon their doctor or attorney on how they look because characteristics such as confidence, professionalism, and approachability come out in a headshot. There are studies that show we judge people by their photos first. So, this is not too surprising.

Then there are times where a headshot is indirectly influencing a decision to do business with you or not. On occasion, businesses are asked to submit team headshots as part of an RFQ. The headshot you use on your company website is also being looked at and being used to determine if the viewer likes you enough to do business with you. And studies also show your profile on LinkedIn is heavily dependent on the profile photo you use.

So, the main reason a headshot should not be a selfie – or a photo taken on your phone – is because a headshot is created by a professional. There is much more to one than just a push of a virtual button. But what are the technical reasons to steer clear of the tempting ease of just using your iPhone or Android phone?

It Is Not Even a Fair Fight

One might argue that there is no benchmark for what a professional headshot should look like, in terms of quality. But you can look at a headshot from a professional photographer and you can tell there is a difference. Not just the difference of a shot with a phone but increasingly of a file made by AI – or artificial intelligence. Neither are up to the task compared with a real camera.

So, when you put your selfie out there to be compared with truly professional headshots, you have failed to meet an important benchmark of making a good first impression. You have opened yourself up to be judged by it. Remember, many studies show people use online photos of you to form lasting opinions of you.

A smartphone camera is simply not up to the task of producing professional-quality photos or video. This is because, for professional careers, full frame DSLR and mirrorless cameras have been defined as the benchmark of quality for headshots. There are cameras capable of even higher performance than full-frame – medium format – but they are overkill and cost-prohibitive in most commercial headshot situations.

However, no smartphone camera comes close to meeting the quality of a full-frame camera. While smartphone vendors heavily throw advertising dollars to attempt to convince you otherwise, it is not even a fair fight when you investigate the details.

A LinkedIn headshot of a woman in a suit in studio in Los Angeles
As simple as this headshot might appear, it is not possible to duplicate the quality with a smartphone

Mobile vs Desktop Argument

One important factor to consider as to why there is this argument that a camera phone is good enough is because of a misperception about how we consume media. In the U.S., and in many other countries, most of us are tethered to our phones. You cannot go from point A to point B in most cities without seeing someone else walking down the street with their face buried in their phone or driving – annoyingly – while doing the same.

So, the belief is that pretty much all media is consumed on a phone – that it is clearly the dominant way. This is simply not accurate and will not be for the foreseeable future. Data shows that in the U.S. people that get online using a smartphone versus their desktop is often neck and neck, 49 to 46 percent. And, as of the time of this writing, desktop use is currently up 49 to 46 percent.

Two other important factors to consider include the quality of the screen being used and the time difference. When people are on desktops, most people use large high-definition quality monitors. Furthermore, when online on a desktop people spend a lot more time on web pages compared to when on a smartphone.

So, while mobile devices continue to be pervasive, they are not dominant and sometimes not even the first choice. And when people are serious about getting online, they seemingly turn to desktops to spend more time doing so. And, they are using high quality screens to do so. This data counts everyone getting online, for whatever reasons. So, you might conclude if you were going to count just people seeking to do business, the use of desktops and high-quality screens is significantly more profound. So, the quality of an image, or lack of quality, is even more pronounced during desktop use.

Why Camera Phones Are Hugely Inferior

To start, the sensor size of a smartphone, such as the latest iPhone, is significantly smaller than a full frame sensor. This is by design. A smartphone is designed to be small enough to fit in a pocket. It is a multi-purpose device too. The camera is just one thing of many that it is used for – apps, calls, music playback, and so on.

A full-frame camera is designed for photography and video capture. Technically one can argue these are the same functions but that is another post. The point is a full-frame camera by design is supposed to capture very high-quality images and that is it. Thus, it is a far larger device than a smartphone. A full-frame camera sensor is vastly larger than a smartphone sensor.

A comparison of the size difference between a smartphone camera sensor and full frame sensor
An Image Sensor Can Be Likened to a Sandbox Layered With Light-Absorbing Sponges – Rather Than Water – Where the Size of the Sponge and Sandbox Matter

But there is much more to it than just the size difference. Let us imagine the illustration above is your view of a sandbox from above. There is the larger one that is the full frame and the smaller one that is the smartphone. If you build this sandbox, you can probably have side walls of around one inch in height for the full frame sensor. With the smaller sandbox, you would have to settle for far smaller sidewalls, probably of a millimeter or two.

So, you have built these two so-called sandboxes and are tasked with layering the inside of them with small square sponges. But these sponges are to absorb as much light as possible instead of water. Let us say you are tasked with filling each sandbox with 24 sponges. You can imagine just how tiny you are going to have to make the sponges for the small sensor, or sandbox, compared with the larger one. They are not just significantly smaller in width but also in height or depth.

These sponges in sensors are better known as pixels and they absorb light. The more you have of them and the larger they are, the more light they can absorb. The more light a sensor can absorb, the better the quality of an image it can capture.

Smartphone camera sensors are not just at a disadvantage in the size of the sensor, they are also at huge disadvantage as to the size of the pixels. So, we can see a pixel – or sponge – is not just a pixel. There is a distinct difference in quality of pixels stemming from the size of a sensor. Furthermore, smartphones are limited in how small they can make their pixels and how many they can pack in because the sensor is already tiny to begin with.

Lacking Quality

Thus, there is a big difference between a full frame camera compared with the latest iPhone. It is why a comparison only barely exists when viewing on a smartphone. And, we have seen half of the time people are consuming media on very large high-definition desktop monitors where image quality is more easily determined.

A DSLR or mirrorless camera accommodate more pixels and better pixels. Their manufacturers can make each one of those pixels vastly superior. Smartphone manufacturers can keep cramming more pixels into a camera phone by making them smaller. But the smaller they are the more inferior they are, and they are already limited by design.

90s glamour actress headshot in Los Angeles with Asia Holiday
For actor headshots, quality is of the utmost paramount as being considered by agents or casting directors relies partly on your headshot

The Selfie Self-Destruct Scenario

Still, many people are tempted by the relative ease with which you can snap your own selfie. On top of that, it is free and free is always good, right? This is the Selfie Self-Destruct Scenario: “I’ll just take a selfie – and wonder why I’m not getting messages from my profile.” The quickest way to put your resume, application, etc. at the bottom of the list is to have a selfie to go with it, regardless of the profession.

This is also true with your LinkedIn profile, where a professional photographer is recommended. As noted, many professions are not immune: accountant, actor, doctor, lawyer, model, real estate agent, and so on. How likely are you to hire one of these after landing on their website and seeing a selfie as their headshot? While you might tell yourself using that selfie of you is not that bad, research proves otherwise.

More Reasons to Not Do Selfies

Here are some other quick reasons to avoid selfies and to use a pro instead… Approximately 88 percent of hiring managers said that they felt a selfie on an online CV was unprofessional. And, from the same survey, 58 percent also said they would not hire someone who had specifically used a selfie on LinkedIn.

Getting a professional headshot done demonstrates self-confidence, a desirable trait employers seek. Also, you only get one chance at a first impression and it can do damage if it’s not good – your headshot is often the first impression for an online profile. Other reasons can be listed but, the point is clear. Be sure to avoid the Selfie Self-Destruct Scenario.

Finding a Professional Headshot Photographer

So, perhaps you have decided to avoid the Selfie Self-Destruct Scenario. You will then need to find a professional headshot photographer. This can be difficult, particularly if its headshots in Los Angeles  other large metro areas. You’ll want to make a short list, and this will likely begin by checking out reviews online and photographer portfolios on their websites.

When viewing their portfolio, be sure to do so on a desktop monitor or very high-resolution laptop. The reasons you do not want to do this on a smartphone have been stated. You will also want to have a call with them, so you can evaluate their professionalism.

Getting on the phone with them is also an opportunity to evaluate how much they know. Even if you do not know yourself, ask them about their equipment and why they use it. Do they do retouching and what they do it on and why. Again, even if you do not know about the topic, knowledgeable people generally sound knowledgeable. It is an opportunity for you to see if they stumble.

Besides, if you have reached this point in the article, you at least have an understanding that full frame cameras matter. Lighting is the next critical component, and it needs its own article. But a professional photographer will be able to use studio lighting with a full frame camera to make headshots even higher quality.