Tips to Nail Your Pro Head Shot

(Photo by Gary Horn Photography)

Think of your professional head shot as your first, virtual impression – the audience is wide and varied! In today’s social media-focused society, your head shot (along with your experience, of course!) is your first impression on a recruiter searching LinkedIn for qualified candidates.

Your head shot might also help a colleague put your face with your name when they are meeting with you for the first time.

Professional Photographer Gary Horn, who has taken corporate (traditional, neutral background shots) and environmental (using the environment – outdoors, office – as background) head shots for more than 20 years, told me that, “It’s really about showing what you look like in a common and pleasing manner and you want the first thing people to look at is your eyes.”

Personal brand

What does your Facebook profile picture says about you to family and friends? What do you WANT it to say?

Now, think about what your LinkedIn profile picture says about you to prospective employers, colleagues and your industry. What do you want THAT photo to say?

How you smile and pose in your head shot can leave a warm, welcoming impression – or a cold, stiff one.

Your head shot shouldn’t be a low-res photo taken of you at happy hour, clearly leaning in to take a photo with someone else you’ve cropped out. It shouldn’t be from 2000. And  it is best if you don’t have the default LinkedIn image where your smiling, ready-to-give-100% profile should be!

Also – remember, this is not about “looks,” this is about your approachability, and making connections. When I see someone’s head shot, I don’t look at whether their facial features are symmetrical or their teeth are crooked.  Of course nothing beats an in-person interview or even a phone interview to get to know a job candidate, but I do look for a sense of warmth in someone’s head shot. I look at their eyes and I look for confidence and a sense of welcoming.

What to wear

When I dress for a head shot, I go for reasonable color, neutrals if possible, and not patterns (that wasn’t always the case, as you’ll see below!). Green happens to be an important color in my work culture, so I will try to incorporate that somehow. For my most recent head shot, I chose a green top and black suit jacket.

Unless you’re having a full-body photo done, you don’t have to worry about your bottoms. I may have even worn jeans that day – but I would have coordinated black dress pants and heels had I had a full-body shot.

Gary suggests that if your photo may be replicated in black and white in any way, stay away from crazy patterns and black and white clothing, which can wash out when reproduced.

While crazy patterns are generally cautioned against, Gary said, smaller patterns – like the pattern of my dress in the below head shot – will show up better than say, a huge paisley print.

Also, consider your accessories. “Less is more,” Gary said. While wearing a bold necklace or earrings (never both!) can make a sophisticated statement, be careful that you’re not overpowering your eyes – remember, it’s about connections! You don’t want someone to meet you after seeing your LinkedIn profile and think, “where’s the necklace?!” or “Oh, it’s the woman with the huge scarf!”

It should be “all about your face, and nothing should detract from that,” Gary said.

For my current head shot, I simply added a sterling silver and diamond necklace my husband and daughter gave me for Mother’s Day last year.


Speaking of makeup!

Makeup is a great accessory. Sometimes, you may have access on site to a makeup artist who can add just the right amount of makeup to enhance and not overcome your features. Ask if that’s an available option.

Makeup can help you hide a pesky blemish, or it can simply enhance your features. But, Gary cautions that less is more here, too. Be careful in wearing foundations that aren’t a good color match, for example.

“Bad makeup is harder to touch-up,” he said, than someone who takes a natural face photo.

Here are some tips, but remember, do what will make you feel confident the day of!

  • Use mascara. Even without eye makeup, a black mascara will add a little volume to your lash line and highlight your eyes – it’s all about the eyes!
  • Try a bold lipstick, if you’re comfortable. I usually whip out a red lipstick when I am presenting to a group of people. Late last summer, I was the guest speaker at a lunch, discussing “effective communication with leaders,” and I sported my red lipstick (see the above photo, I was a bit more casual, but gotta have that red!)! The right red lipstick makes me feel confident, put together and has become a bit like my signature. (Want to try it but not sure what shade of red would look professional for you? Check out this guide I found on on choosing the right red lipstick for your skin tone!) I’ve also done a bright, skin tone-appropriate pink, as well.
  • Keep it simple. Like Gary says, don’t stress. For my head shot, I wore neutral makeup, with some highlight on my cheeks that is visible, the way the light hits a certain part of my face. For my head shot in 2013, I went neutral all the way. But bottom line – if you don’t normally wear makeup, don’t go so far outside your comfort zone that you become someone you’re not, or uncomfortable when the camera is snapping your mug.

Say cheese – at least every four years

(Photo by Gary Horn Photography)

If your head shot is some type of “Glamour Shot” from 1990, you’re doing it wrong!

First – as we already discussed, your head shot shouldn’t be a “Glamour Shot!” It shouldn’t be a blurry or poorly lighted selfie.

Second – you should have your professional head shot updated every three or four years – five at the most – to reflect who you are at this moment.

I love my head shot from 2013 that you see there above. I’d lost a bunch of weight for my wedding that year; my collar bone juts out and my face is thin. My makeup is on point. I’m pretty sure Gary, who took it, did some great editing to make me look airbrushed!

But that head shot doesn’t reflect who I am now. Check out the shot at the very top of this post. THAT is me (even if my hair is a little different in color and length even from when this was taken last summer). But my face is fuller and my shoulders are broader from child-bearing weight gain…it’s the face and body anyone who sees me in real life will get. And I embrace that!

Using an old head shot – or in my case, that “perfect” 2013 head shot – might say to someone that I’m uncomfortable with who I am now, perhaps not as confident in myself. It doesn’t keep up with your personal brand, and it all goes back to your personal brand – you always want to keep your personal brand consistent and clear and your photo is a silent extension of who you are to the professional public.

Have Fun and Relax

Gary said that he shoots a small percentage of people who are extremely nervous or uncomfortable getting their head shots taken. He says it would be a huge benefit for those who are nervous to try not to think negatively about the experience or results.

“Practice in a mirror,” he said. “Find a face you like. [Remember] it’s just a photo.”

He suggests practicing the power of positive thinking – if you think you’re going to take a terrible picture, don’t. Because you just might. Relax, and think positive!

And, if you’re nervous about how your head shot looks after it’s done, it can’t hurt to ask the photographer if you can take a peek at the images on his camera after he takes them. Just keep in mind, Gary said, that the photographer may have a lot of clients in a short amount of time, and may say no just because of time crunch.

Also, the pictures on the camera are not as clear and color-correct as what the photographer will see on their monitor back at the studio.

Have you had a professional head shot done? What was your experience?! Do you have any tips for nailing a professional head shot? Any questions?! Let me know in the comments below!