How to take a professional selfie

A professional headshot is essential when we have something to sell. We may be selling products and services as a marketer. We may be selling ideas as a manager or leader. We may be selling our services as a job candidate. Whatever we are selling, adding our image enhances credibility and creates a personal connection.

The reason why a headshot is vital is because we humans are wired to pay attention to faces. We have evolved to recognize them quickly, and in an image, we pay attention to them first.

You can – and should – hire someone to take a professional headshot as soon as you can afford to do so. Headshots are nothing more than professional selfies. However, not everyone can spring for a photo shoot or a pro photographer, so let’s talk about how to do-it-yourself until we can afford a pro.

Most smartphones with a decent camera are quite capable of taking a solid, entry-level headshot. Consider the ingredients we’ll need.


Attire should be relatively self-evident. Wear something appropriate to what the goal of the headshot is. If we’re applying for a business job, wear business attire. If we’re shopping around an acting portfolio, wear an appropriate outfit for the desired role.


Many people don’t consider what’s behind them. In daily life, that’s understandable, as we have very little control over our surroundings. When taking a headshot, however, we must consider what’s behind us carefully. The ideal is a neutral background, something that doesn’t clash with what we’re wearing.


By far, the most important factor in a professional selfie is lighting. We need lighting that helps define us and emphasize our better features, while minimizing harshness. Ideally, we have two sources of light – a direct light, known as a key light, and a second, indirect light called a fill light. The fill light smoothes out the harshness of the direct, key light. We want to avoid light behind us, and light directly over us.

Let’s look at some examples.

This is the epitome of the terrible headshot. I took it in my hotel room. It’s a casual selfie. Note that while attire is okay, the background is filled with unnecessary detail, and the lighting is awful:


This looks more like something out of a cheap straight-to-DVD horror film than a professional shot.

Here’s the same hotel room. I cleaned up the background, moving the ironing board out of the way. I turned off the light behind me, and turned on one to my side, one of the nightstand lamps.


This looks much better. It’s not perfect, but it’s a significant improvement. The nightstand lamp is effectively acting as a fill light.

I turned on the desk lamp and tilted it in my general direction as my key light:


The last step is to do a minimal amount of post-processing. I removed the sprinkler over my head and cleaned up the color with Apple’s Photos app:


This headshot is good enough in a pinch. Is it professional-grade? No. Is it good enough? Compared to what I started with, and what I see on LinkedIn, this is a significant improvement. I made it with my smartphone in a hotel room; no complex studio or expensive gear required. Hiring a professional photographer would still be better (or even an art school student studying photography), but this is a good start.

Try this out if your current headshot isn’t professional enough.

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Money, power, influence, and politics

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What can we do to influence the political process? Vote, certainly. Make your voice heard. But amplify your voice by augmenting it with what politicians care about.

Politicians are no different than any other kind of audience. If we are to get what we want, we have to provide value in return. This is the eternal agreement – we must give to receive. We marketers understand this; it’s how we’ve done business for ages.

What do we have that politicians care about? Influence and money. Think of a politician’s career like a business. Votes keep them in their current job, in a position of power. If we can influence their constituents to support them during elections, if we can market effectively on their behalf, we provide real, tangible support. Our influence is a double-edged sword; we can easily lend it to others.

The same is true of money. Politicians need funding to run for office and remain in office; the more money they have, the higher their aspirations. We can provide money as individuals, and we can organize to provide collective amounts of money. In return, we gain access to the politician to have our voices heard personally.

The more money and influence we offer, the more access and power we gain. Politics is no different than any other commercial transaction.

Thus, if you have a particular cause you care about, focus less on shouting loudly on social media. Focus less on complaining about the opposition. One like or a million likes doesn’t give you more personal power to effect the changes you want.

Instead, focus more on growing your own influence, building your own fortune, establishing your own connections and network. The more money and influence you have, the more tangible support you can lend to leaders who can then influence the political process in favor of the causes you believe in. As a side benefit, you’ll also have more money and power to use for yourself, or to directly advance causes you believe in.

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2016: Year of the Yang Fire Monkey

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Happy new year! No, not on the Gregorian calendar, but the Asian lunar calendar. 2016 is the year of the monkey, and in the five elements cycle, it’s a yang fire year. What does this mean for us? Buckle up!

No, really. Buckle up. It’s going to be a rough ride.

The monkey’s personality, as an animal, is lively, active, mischievous, energetic. If you’ve ever spent any time watching monkeys at the local zoo, monkey energy is self-evident. Compare this to the relatively docile, almost boring energy of last year’s animal, the goat, and we get a sense of how different this year will be.

Yin and yang refers to the overall energy of the year. Is it rising or falling, growing or shrinking? A yang year is rising energy, a time when energy builds and grows. A yin year is falling energy, energy in decline or energy contracting. 2016 will be characterized by rising, growing energy.

The fire refers to the cycle of elements, earth, water, wood, fire, and metal. In Chinese, this is known as the Wu Xing; in Japanese, the gogyo. A fire year feeds off the energy of the previous wood year. A yin fire is the dying campfire after a night of roasting marshmallows. This year, 2016, is a yang fire, the blaze of a newly roaring fire with fresh fuel added. Wood begets fire and is consumed in the process. Fire also has a destructive aspect; in the cycle, it destroys metal, an element associated with insight and intellect.

Put these components together. What does rising, explosive energy and a mischievous animal combined yield? Imagine giving a toddler a triple espresso and a candy bar. Hilarity might ensue – but so might incredible destruction.

On the positive side, groundwork and plans we laid in the year of the yin wood goat, when things were quiet and docile, will come to fruition in the year of the yang fire monkey. Old growth burns away, lighting the way forward. Wood feeds fire.

On the negative side, fire’s heat fuels passions and intensity at the expense of rationality and intellect (metal). Any environment which is already contentious and incendiary will almost literally explode. Like becomes love, and dislike becomes hate. Fire melts metal.

What should you prepare for this year? Wood and water.

We can grow the intensity of our fire through the judicious application of more fuel: ideals, curiosity, stories, art, emotion.

We can also tamp down our fire’s intensity with water: logic, intellect, data, precision, rationality.

Our greatest danger will be getting swept up in others’ fires, in others’ passions and conflagrations, not realizing their fires are not ours unless we permit them to be.

Our greatest opportunity? The environment is ripe for fires to spread, so if you have a cause, a passion, a mission you want to catch on, this is the time to do it.

May your new year bring you health, prosperity, and happiness! Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

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