How Do You Stand Out in Headshots?

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By The Light Committee

Your headshot is competing for attention more than you think. Actors know their headshot is one of many being considered by a casting director. A lawyer with a Google ad knows their headshot is one of many being looked at by potential clients. And if you are not aware, even on LinkedIn your lack of a professional headshot can negatively impact career opportunities that come your way. So, what are some ways you can stand out with your headshot?

corporate headshot of an Asian man in a suit and tie in Pasadena
A Professionally Made Headshot Demonstrates Quality Even if It’s the Simplest of Looks

Get a Professional Headshot

It should go without saying that one way to be sure you stand out with your headshot is to get professional headshots made. But according to a study by JDP, on LinkedIn only 43 percent of profiles have a professionally made headshot.

Thus, getting a professional headshot made to use for an online profile like LinkedIn is opportunity number one to stand out. A professional photographer that is capable – make sure you research their work – will be able to use high quality studio lighting, an ideal camera and lens, and retouching to make your photo easily pop compared to others.

A smartphone simply cannot stand up to the quality of a real studio headshot, no matter what photo editing app or AI you use. It’s as simple as garbage in, garbage out because you are essentially using a selfie, even if your friend takes the photo.

A corporate headshot of a finance executive woman in a suit in studio in Glendale
Adding a Splash of Color Can Help Make Your Headshot Pop, Whether With Your Clothes, the Background, or Both

Use a Splash of Color

Most professionals – lawyers, real estate agents, psychologists, etc. – get a headshot done in a black or blue business suit with a white shirt. There is nothing at all wrong with this but if you’re in a profession where your headshot needs to stand out, use some vivid color for a pop in the shot.

Men can use a colorful tie and women a colorful shirt, for example. If the color is not in your clothing, then consider adding it to the background. Often times, your headshot is first viewed as a thumbnail. So, any pop of color you can add to persuade the viewer to click through or view it longer is a good idea.

When you use a splash of color, avoid busy patterns that may come with it or colors that can make a political statement, unless of course you are a politician.

Consider the Background in a Headshot

You might use the background to add that pop of color you need but you will need to be considerate about the background for other reasons. The background you use needs to be a good balance between not being too busy and not being too simple. However, there are some cases where very simple is necessary.

You might want a simple background because it can make it easier for you to cut yourself away from the background and paste in a different background. This is often done for various marketing purposes. There can be other marketing reasons to keep a simple background. Often it can be to match the color of a page where team headshots are to be posted, for example.

Outside of this, try to use the background to enhance the profession you are in. For example, if you are a psychologist or therapist and need a headshot for your Psychology Today profile, you might consider warm and inviting colors. This could be greens and tans or outdoors in a park setting. But planting yourself in front of a bush with busy leaf patterns is not the answer either.

This brings up the thought process of whether you should get a headshot in-studio or outdoors. Again, much of this depends on your profession but also how you will use the headshot. In most cases, in an ideal world you might consider scheduling a session that allows for two looks. This way, you can consider having one done in a studio and one outside. Or you can make both inside or outside and make one shot more business-like and the other more business casual.

A real estate agent headshot of a woman in a suit in studio near Los Angeles
Try some posed headshots that incorporate your hands in the shot. It can inject a slight boost of confidence in your look

Go the Extra Mile with Posing

A lot of people are uncomfortable with posing in front of a camera. But it really matters, and you should prepare for this. A good photographer will be helpful here and you can ask them for candid feedback too. But before enlisting your photographer’s help, you can help yourself too.

Use a mirror to practice posing. An ideal mirror is a medicine cabinet because of its similar shape to a headshot crop. But any mirror in a brightly lit room will work. Now, practice your facial expressions. Learn and get the feeling for what is too much of a smile, too much of a head nod or tilt. Practice these and what it looks like if you are standing straight on to the camera and then slightly turned to each side.

If you want to go the extra mile, practice these poses in the outfits you plan to wear. Wearing the actual outfit can put you in the mood you will be in when you go to your headshot session.

Take a Survey of Your Headshot Options

In many cases, the photographer you work with will offer a certain number of headshots to be retouched. This means you will have to select the one or few that you want retouched and will be using on your profiles or website. Don’t be afraid to enlist help in figuring out which ones you like.

Consider creating a short list and then wait a day and come back to the list and check them out again. Often with a day passing you’ll be in a different mood which can change how you perceive the short list. Ask a friend, spouse, or relative for their opinion. Do most of them agree with your list? Why or why not do they agree? What does the chosen headshot reflect more – confidence, approachability, professionalism, something else. Does the message conveyed line up with what you wanted it to? If not, go back to the headshots and start over until you have that one or two that does.

If you’ve reached this far in reading, you might be thinking this is too much. It’s just a headshot and can’t be that serious. Well, think about this. What is the point of a headshot versus a portrait? Headshots are used commercially for business. It is looked at by the person viewing it to judge your business worthiness alongside your professional credentials. A potential customer, client, casting director, etc. often looks at your headshot and based on it alone, does not even continue to your credentials. Even the tiniest of differences in a pose can matter.

It’s that serious and you should take it seriously. But remember, the actual part of creating the headshot with your chosen photographer should be a fun and positive experience.