WARNING: This article may offend your LinkedIn or Website profile image!
I know, I know...you've all heard me preach about the importance of a good headshot. I promise, I'm not going to talk about that in this post (although it's true!). Instead, I'm going to dive into what actually makes a headshot a good one. After all, if you don't know that, how can you determine if yours needs updating or not? Believe it or not, just because it was taken by a photographer doesn't mean it's good.
I'm going to admit something somewhat embarrassing. Sometimes, when I have some time to kill, I go on LinkedIn and browse profiles. Why? Because as a photographer I am in constant search of improving my craft and one of the best ways to do that is to look at the work of others and learn from it. For me, that means learning what to do and learning what not to do. When it comes to headshots, LinkedIn is chock full of learning opportunities!
Unfortunately, LinkedIn is full of lots and lots of very bad headshots. Now, when I say BAD, I don't necessarily mean bad portraits. Actually, I see some very nice professional PORTRAITS of people but just because it's a nice portrait doesn't mean it's a good headshot. YES, there is a difference - and it's a big one. Oh, and for the purposes of this article I am not going to cover the use of selfies or random cropped event photographs that people use - those go without saying... those are not headshots and shouldn't be used as such. Period.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD HEADSHOT
- Good, professional lighting
- Sharp and in-focus
- Technically sound photograph
- Focus on the head (no body)
- Confident & friendly expression
- Accurate portrayal of the person & their personality
- Complimentary posing of the body
- An image that makes a statement
- Attention to detail (hair fly aways, straight collars, appropriate clothing choice, skin tones, etc.)
Since I don't want to use random LinkedIn images, I'm going to use some of my own work to demonstrate. Let's look at these two images.
Both of these images are great portraits. The lighting is good, they are technically sound, images are sharp and they are both shot from the shoulders up. Both images show a very friendly and happy woman. But one is a portrait, the other is a HEADSHOT. So this one is probably obvious....the top one, while a beautiful portrait, is a very BAD HEADSHOT. Why? She isn't looking at the camera. We don't see her eyes. And while she is obviously happy in the photo, by not looking at the camera we can't really "see" the person. Eye contact is important for connection - even in a photograph and especially for a headshot. Another problem with the top image is the editing. The matte look and low lighting makes this a much more artistic photograph than a business oriented one. Now let's compare that to the bottom image. THIS is a good headshot. Her smile is nice and friendly but the look she is giving exudes nothing but pure confidence. Her hair is neat, and her makeup is clean. You can't help but FEEL that this woman knows what she is doing. This photograph makes a very strong statement and demands your attention. THAT is EVERYTHING!
HEADSHOT OR PORTRAIT?
What do you think?
I love this photograph! Technically it is on point. But is it a good headshot? No. Not even close. This is a glamour or contemporary portrait. Yes, she looks Ahhhmazing. She is smiling and she is confident as heck. But this image should never be used as a professional business headshot. Why? Well, to be blunt - it's just a touch too sexy. She has movement in her hair, the makeup is a touch too glam and the way her lips are poised make it "un-professional". The confident look is a different kind of confidence than what we want in a headshot. Although I will say that if this was a creative headshot (for an actress), this would be fine to add to her portfolio. Acting headshots are very different than business/corporate headshots - but I will not go into that here. When it comes to a business professional, this shot is not acceptable.
The Nitty Gritty
Ok, now let's get down to the nitty gritty details. As with anything, it's the details that truly make a difference. Take a look at the two images below. There is no denying that both of these are strong headshots. They portray one very confident professional. Honestly, either of these would make for a fantastic LinkedIn profile picture, but which one is better and why?
I suppose that is kind of a trick question, because without knowing this woman you can't really answer it. Let me explain - the better image is the one on the bottom. Why? Simply because her hair is up. Why does this matter? Because when she is at work, she wears her hair up 100% of the time. It is a true representation of her. If you run into her on the job, you will see the woman in the bottom picture - not the one in the top picture. But BOTH images are important for her to have because most professionals have a need to portray different versions of their "brand". When we took these, I recommended the top image be used for any sort of formal self-promotion she may need (if she needed it for a brochure or such), but the bottom image was the one we both preferred for her online presence.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There is a lot more to a good headshot than you think. If you are serious about your personal brand it is extremely important that you find a photographer who understands the difference between a portrait and a headshot and can coach you into achieving the strong, friendly and confident look you need to stand out from the rest. Serious headshot sessions take time and experience. Remember, just because a photographer takes a nice portrait doesn't mean they can take a effective headshot. When in the market for a headshot photographer please do your homework.
Here are few tips that should help you:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT PHOTOGRAPHER
- Quality Photographs: Lighting, sharpness, accurate skin tones are extremely important.
- Consistency: Look at their portfolio. You want to find someone who can produce the same results time and time again.
- Professional lighting equipment: Find someone with a professional studio set up. They need professional lights and understand how to use them to produce excellent results. One of the biggest "mistakes" I see is a nasty glare in glasses. This can be avoided if the photographer knows how to work with their lights!
- Realistic Retouching: Sure, we all want to look like super models, but a headshot needs to be REAL. Headshots should NOT look "photoshopped". It's one thing to remove a blemish and a few undereye circles, another to make someone's skin look like a newborn baby's bottom. There is no place for that in a good headshot!
- Accurate Representation: People should look like themselves! Expressions should be genuine, not "posed". It takes a good photographer to eliminate the natural anxiety that most of us feel in front of the camera and instead exude GENUINE confidence and friendliness!
- Posing: Even though headshots are typically shot from the shoulders up, posing is still important. You can spot a slump a million miles away. Stance can affect expression. A good headshot photographer will work with you to find the right pose that highlights your best features.
- Creative Headshots vs. Corporate Headshots: An experienced headshot photographer understands that there is a different headshot need between these two professionals. Acting headshots require a lot more looks and a large variance of expressions compared to the businessman/woman.
- Price: Good headshot photographers aren't charging $50 or less. It takes a lot of hard work and training to be able to produce consistent, excellent headshots and good photographers charge accordingly. A reputable headshot photographer typically charges between $150-$300 for an in-depth session with a handful of images including business licensing. Don't be fooled by the Target $19.99 headshot specials that have you in and out in 10 minutes. Remember - you get what you pay for. When it comes to your career, the investment may very well be worth it!
Now that you know what makes a good headshot, why not go and evaluate yours.
I'm not going to apologize if I offended your headshot image because if I did, I know that I did my job and provided you with the information you need to make it better!!
If you are in Central New Jersey and wish to learn about Fotoplicity Headshot Sessions you can contact me HERE.