Why You Must Avoid Getting an AI Headshot

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By The Light Committee

The deals are everywhere and so is the publicity – the AI headshot has arrived. Now – supposedly – what many photographers used to charge hundreds of dollars for can be had virtually – literally – for dollars to less than $50. But is an AI headshot really good enough to replace a real photograph? No, and likely not ever. Why not? There are many reasons. Besides, as you’ll read about in a bit, the AI headshot is arguably nothing new. Also, not all great headshots cost several hundreds of dollars.

A client recently came into the studio and said she tried getting an AI headshot. She posted it and received negative feedback from many of her close friends and family. “It doesn’t look right,” they commented and eventually someone said, “is this an AI headshot?” She unposted them and came to see a real photographer at The Light Committee.

She commented to the photographer she didn’t even look at the AI ones herself. She was just being lazy about the whole process. But after her family and friends commented, she looked more closely and saw her teeth didn’t look anything like that, nor did her body. Her forehead was way larger and in some of the shots her face was narrower than usual. She said it was a waste of time and money, even for just $40. And she’s lucky. Many people might not have friends and family willing to give honest, candid feedback like that. You might be using an AI headshot that everyone looks at, knows it’s real bad, judging you on it, and not giving you feedback about it.

It’s a Misrepresentation of You

It doesn’t look like you. Artificial Intelligence is basically mashing up several shots of your face to create the headshots. But it is doing it poorly and in most cases the results do not look like you. Some people might argue that using makeup makes you not look like you too. Or that retouching done in a headshot also does not make you look like you. But makeup is worn all the time. Most photographers retouch things like a blemish or soften shadows or remove flyaway hairs – things that retain your likeness. What AI is doing is often unrecognizable.

AI Headshot bad results
One AI headshot provider claims to create a professional studio quality headshot, but her face is clearly disproportionate in many parts to the original, like the forehead. Source: tryitonai.com

People’s faces are warped to the point that the results fully misrepresent who you are. It is even being written about in mainstream media, that it is likely easy for someone to not recognize you from your AI headshot should they meet you in person. This is a business problem because the first impression you want to leave upon someone meeting you for business opportunities are positive vibes, not doubts that you are not the person they intended to meet. First impressions are everything.

studioshot bad results do not look like the actual person
You Be the Judge... In Another Example of an AI Headshot, Here We Can See Again the Finished Photo Looks Nothing Like the Submitted Photos. Source: Studioshot

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Let’s remember that these are based on selfie shots that come from an inferior camera and lens to begin with. It cannot be compared to the quality of modern mirrorless full frame sensor cameras and real camera lenses. Even with upscaling, it is always garbage in, garbage out.

Furthermore, AI supposedly gets better the more it learns. When it’s basing a mash of your face for headshots on a limited number of selfies, it doesn’t learn enough, which is why some vendors even have fine print that your face may not always look normal.

There will always be different levels of consumers. For example, there is the consumer that parks a half mile down the road from the store because it’s free. There is then the consumer that parks in the parking structure because at $5, it is relatively cheap and close to the store. Then there is the consumer that will park valet for $20 because they want the best service, regardless of price.

So, there will be a market for AI headshots, but should consumers settle for it just because it is $10, $20, $30? A headshot in most cases is not even an annual investment but so much is riding on it for a person – much more than people think. It is easy to reason “it’s just a headshot and not that important.” There are studies after studies about how lasting judgements are made about a person’s face in a photo, even that extend into physically meeting a person. A bad headshot can be the difference as to whether a person decides to reach out to you about work or not. It literally can stop them from looking further at your online profile, other studies have shown.

Since it is a long term investment, maybe your professional headshot is not where you try to save the most money. Besides, it is not like you have to spend hundreds of dollars for truly professional headshots with high quality. More on this in a bit.

To Be Frank, the AI Headshot is Really Nothing New

If you search for “virtual headshots” online you will come across a similar service, less the AI. These services have existed for 5-10 years where you snap some shots with your smartphone, send along your favorite few to the service provider, and they will retouch them and even swap out the backgrounds for you, and it’s all for very cheap.

Sound familiar? It should because it’s essentially what AI headshot services are doing. Except, it could be argued that the virtual headshots are better than the AI ones because AI ones swap bodies to ones that don’t appear likes yours. They warp faces even beyond what smartphones already do. They change outfits to things you don’t own or might never wear, and more.

Neither AI or virtual headshots can come anywhere close to matching the quality of what a good photographer can produce. It’s just there is a lot of publicity around AI that people fall for the gimmicky AI headshot service as the new fad to do.

headshotpro bad results no eye contact
In One More Example, This one from Headshotpro, the People Appear to Be Staring Off into the Abyss, Rather Than Making Eye Contact with the Viewer, Making Them Appear More Mannequin-Like than Human. That's One Problem While the Other is the Photos are "Soft" or Slightly Blurred, Probably on Purpose to Hide Imperfections.

The Photo Shoot Experience Matters

Part of the process of getting AI headshots has you snapping selfies of yourself and uploading them so they can process the images and come up with AI headshots. Boring. This matters because part of the contributing factor to creating truly stand-out headshots is the photo shoot experience.

The photo shoot is a fun and memorable experience that brings happiness. That happiness exudes in the photos and it shows in the results. The collaboration with a headshot photographer is also instrumental. Most of them have done thousands of sessions and have developed extensive knowledge on things like posing tips, what to wear, facial expressions, background options, and more.

But there is much more in a photo shoot experience that comes across, particularly with being able to customize. A photographer can literally make the background fifty shades of gray until it is perfect against your face, hair, and outfit. Or they can make it fifty shades of blue, green, yellow, red – whatever colors are best to work with your overall look. They can introduce textures from different studio style backgrounds. Or, if you head outdoors, the photographer likely has scouted spots that are perfect for headshot photo shoots.

A bit more about posing… Many AI headshots that vendors use in examples on their website look like the person is not looking into the camera – they are staring just off at something else. It comes across uncomfortably unnatural. A photographer that has done thousands of headshots has countless posing tips and facial expression tips that lead to noticeably superior results.

All of these things add up. If the saying “death by a thousand cuts” loosely means lots of bad things are happening rather than one fatal moment, the opposite for a great headshot is that a thousand little things add up to deliver prime results: the camera used, the lens, lighting, the photographer, posing, your outfit, the background, facial expressions, post-production, your attitude during the session, and on, and on.

A LinkedIn headshot of a woman in a suit in studio in Los Angeles
A True Professional Headshot is Just Way Better Than an AI One

Real Photographers with Great Results Are Not All Expensive

Headshot photographers have a bad rap for being expensive, at least in Los Angeles. But that is not always the case. You can get some of the best headshots in Los Angeles at great rates if you do your homework. You don’t have to risk the misfortunes of using a poor representation of yourself from an AI headshot.

Just be sure to do a little research, like reading reviews, expanding your search beyond the first 10 that Google shows you. This is important because Google tries to show you results nearest you and nearby does not always translate to the best value.

men professional headshots outdoors natural light in Los Angeles
Whether in studio or outdoors, working with a "real" photographer can make your headshot stand out

The Morality of it is a Concern

Artificial intelligence is a potential threat to art, photography, music, and possibly your own job. If you think your own profession may not be impacted, think again. Even lawyers are at risk of being replaced by AI. There is talk of AI replacing doctors and other healthcare workers. The domino effect of job losses that AI threatens is dark.

AI providers will tell you it is not going to replace jobs and the argument can go on and on from each side. But is art still art when no talent is required to create it? Is AI art real art when it basically steals from existing art to create it? There is a huge moral concern with AI too that even the technology industry has expressed. So, do your homework for a good affordable photographer so you do not have to worry about this or worry about the bad results AI produces anyway.