7 Steps to Create a Compelling Professional Headshot

7 steps to best professional headshot

If you look around on LinkedIn and corporate websites, you may be surprised at the lack of high-quality, professional head shots you will encounter. This is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Numerous studies show that your potential clients see you for the first time from that picture, 60 percent of the time. Yikes.

How often do you see a colleague with a bad picture they took on their phone, hanging out with their dog or drinking a glass of wine? What about those individuals who over process their image so their eyes look possessed and their skin plastic? Even a well done over-processed image in photoshop is a mistake. The one thing that’s worse than a bad head shot is one that leaves people disappointed when they actually meet you.

Why not take the time to get a good headshot? Not one with your phone in a room full of clutter; a clean polished image that shows you at your best and is professionally retouched yet natural.

Here are my 7 steps to creating a compelling and unforgettable professional head shot: 

1. Determine What You Want to Communicate

Do you have a personal brand? You have to start there. What do you want people to think about you when they see your head shot? Are you serious, approachable, creative, efficient, fascinating, holistic? You must know what you want to communicate before you know what to wear, where to stand, what pose and lighting will tell your story.

2. Let Your Wardrobe Tell Your Story

The one thing your photographer can’t control is your clothing. First, make sure that your clothes fit. It is easy for wrinkles to occur when you lean into the shot, cross your arms or pose in any way. If you have ill-fitting clothes, those details will show and you will appear to not pay attention to details. Do you know what colors look good on you? If so, wear them. Solid colors are better than patterns;  basically, less is more.
I recommend wearing the type of clothing you wear when you meet a client. When someone meets you first from your head shot, they will want to see that person when they meet you in person. If you wear a suit and tie in person, then wear it in the image. If you are always in business casual then that’s the right choice for you. If you always wear statement jewelry than you can do that in your head shot.

3. Be Seasonal in All Ways

I  recommend dressing for the season, wear light colors in the spring and summer and darker colors in the fall and winter. Changing out your head shot every six months is a good idea. Posting a new profile picture in LinkedIn and other social media sites gains you attention. This is a great strategy  to increase visibility.
For women, I highly recommend professional hair and makeup. Find a makeup artist who works with photographers and professionals regularly. Unless you are a model or a makeup artist, you don’t want a glam look you want natural makeup that will bring out your features and smooth out your skin.


4. Choose a Setting that Relates to Your Story

Think about your website and other ways you will use your head shot. What is the color scheme and the look and feel of your other marketing materials? What best tells the story of your personal brand and business? A white background is considered contemporary, light and airy; a black or dark background is more formal, moody, dramatic, seriou. An outdoor environmental setting is more casual and on trend for models, actors and people in creative fields; environmental indoor backgrounds, like libraries, board rooms, studios, etc., can add a storytelling element to your headshot.


5. Consider Color Harmony

The idea of a “head shot” is to bring attention to your head; more specifically your face. You want your skin to be the biggest point of contrast in the image. It is counter-intuitive but light hair and skin is best on a light background making the greatest point of contrast (the darkest part of the image), your face. If there are colors in the background than wear clothing that matches or compliments that color. If you are dark skinned or have dark hair, dark backgrounds are recommended for the same reason.


6. Be Sure You Use Professional Lighting

A trained professional photographer will know how to control the light so it compliments you. Lighting can be bright and flat for a more contemporary approachable look or more dramatic for a serious feel.

7. Relax to Gain a Natural Expression

Everything else can be perfect but if you, the subject, is not relaxed your head shot will fall flat. Be sure to work with a photographer with whom you feel at ease and someone who will invest whatever time is necessary for you to relax behind the lens.


Cyndy’s expertise with professional image branding and  photography is well-known across Northern Virginia, Loudoun, Fairfax and the DC Metro. Contact Cyndy today to schedule a consultation, professional head shot session or to join one of her personal image workshops! 

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