How to get a great headshot photo


First impressions count for a lot. However much we might say that we want to judge by merit, not appearance, our initial opinion is heavily influenced by how someone or something looks.Whether we’re researching a restaurant or shop, a new business contact or potential employee, a website or social media profile, our reaction will be affected by those first impressions.

This is why the quality and presentation of the headshot photos you use on social media are so important. I recently picked up some useful tips from photographer David Morphew which I’m sharing here.

We humans are a social lot and we’re naturally drawn towards pictures of people. Hence the recommendation to use a headshot or portrait photo on your social media profile. We find it easier to connect with people than with a logo or some other, more impersonal image.

A headshot photo brings the added benefit that people recognise you when you meet in person.

As portrait photographer David Morphew was updating the images I’ll be using on my social media accounts, we chatted through the elements that make up a great headshot.

Use a professional photographer

This is my tip, not David’s. A good quality portrait says a lot about your attention to detail and the best way to get one is by using a professional. Or at least a good amateur.

During my training courses, when I talk about using portrait or headshot photos, quite a few people tell me they don’t like photos of themselves. In most cases, I suspect that’s because they’ve not been photographed professionally.

And even if you really don’t like to see a picture of yourself, you’re not putting an image on your social media profile for your pleasure. You’re doing it as part of your online marketing.

People do business with people, not logos, so I recommend you start that person-to-person relationship as early as possible. Photos of yourself that you’re not embarrassed to use are a great asset.

Relax and enjoy the shoot

I find it hard to smile for the camera. That’s because I don’t usually pay much attention to how I smile - it just happens. When David asked me to smile, I became aware of all those facial muscles that normally work unconsciously.

Part of the photographer’s skill is to get the subject to relax and to forget those facial muscles. David’s jokey, slightly irreverent style made that easy. He coaxed me into a variety of facial expressions without me needing to try too hard.

I have a newfound respect for professional models who know how to manipulate their look!

Changing the the environment can help you relax. Below are two photos that I like - one is posed and the other David snapped when we went for coffee after the shoot. I thought we were done when we got to the cafe, but clearly not.

Think about the look you want to achieve

David recommends that you wear your normal business attire for a photoshoot, and ideally have some variations on it.

You’ll look most comfortable when you’re wearing clothes that you’re used to. It also helps people connect with you more easily, both through a photo and if you meet in person.

Variations in appearance can help you transition between the serious professional look and the more relaxed, approachable style. Both may deserve a place in your portfolio, depending on the context in which the photos are to be used.

You may want to use a more relaxed, smiling image on Twitter, but adopt a more formal look for LinkedIn. If you’re using the photos to go out with press releases, you want an image that matches the tone of the story.

Lighting makes a huge difference

David talked about sculpting with light. From the way he speaks, you know that he’s continually thinking about how to use lighting, both natural and artificial, to get a better result.

The easiest way to discover what approach to lighting works best is to try several alternatives. David shot me in his studio using natural light, then with a seriously large but not overwhelmingly bright flash. After that, we went outdoors into a chilly, bright February morning.

While we liked the idea of the outdoors photos, they didn’t make it to the final portfolio.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Don’t face the camera directly

Why do passport photos look so grim? Because you’re staring directly into the camera lens, with no smile, and the lighting is purely functional.

David’s advice for getting a decent headshot is to position your shoulders at an angle to the camera. Take a look at the photos below - one is square on, the other at an angle.

The camera itself doesn’t need to be at the same height as your face. It could be looking down on you, or looking up. Looking down is popular because when you look up to the camera, the skin beneath your chin is stretched, helping to mask sags and bags.

It’s not obvious from these photos, but when David took them, I was sitting down and he was standing up.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Perfecting the results with image editing

Many of my photos looked great straight out of the camera. David’s skill with lighting, angles and depth of field was evident. But there was still room for improvement using Photoshop.

David hasn’t performed virtual plastic surgery on me, trimming off pounds or reshaping my nose and chin. All that was possible, I’m sure, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Now it’s time to play ‘spot the difference’. Before reading on, take a look at the two photos below to see what’s changed.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

How many differences did you count? I’ve not asked David what he altered, but there are at least three changes.

First, it’s brighter, bringing out more of the colour in my face and clothes, and brightening the background.

Secondly, I’ve been flattered by having the lines around my eyes softened. They’re not hidden - just not quite so obvious.

Thirdly, my hair is a little more under control. I confess this is a change I made having received the photos. My hair does have a tendency to stick out at odd angles, despite my best efforts to take control of it. In this case, that control came through Photoshop.

When I put the two images side by side on my computer screen, I also thought that David had airbrushed out a mark on my face, but then I realised it was a mark on my screen!

How often should you update your headshot photos?

The photos I’ve been using until recently were taken in 2008. That’s eight years ago. I leave it for you to judge whether I needed to update them.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

I recommend that you consider updating your headshots every two to three years. Your appearance may not have changed much, but perhaps the image you want to portray has.

Putting fresh photos of yourself on your website and social profiles gives them something of a refresh.

Don’t be shy when it comes to using headshots as part of your marketing. Be confident that your face is an asset. Using good quality headshots means you’re taking control of how your face appears, in order to help make that all-important positive first impression.

Click here to learn more about photographer David Morphew, who's now based in Dorset.

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