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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