You look back at your photos that some random or your beloved relative took, and all you can see are rampaging double chins, forced smiles and Trumpesque hairdos.
No wonder when you are getting a new website done, and your web designer or copywriter says, “And of course you need to go and get some new headshots taken,” that you smile, nod and vow to blatantly ignore the suggestion.
If your web designer is anything like me, stonewalling doesn’t work, and you find yourself on the receiving end of ever-so-polite follow up (aka nagging that puts your mother to shame).
What is a business headshot?
A business headshot is a semi close-up photograph of your head, neck and shoulders from the chest up. A typical headshot for business is in photographed in colour and shows you with an open, friendly smile.
A headshot is different from a portrait. A headshot is designed with the highlight on the face, to show someone what you look like. A portrait often takes in more of the body and is designed to provide a snapshot of the personality of the person or show them doing something related to what they do (e.g. in my case public speaking).
Why do you need headshot photos anyway?
Your headshot forms the basis of all of your personal online branding. A great headshot can be used across all of your online presences including social media profiles such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as on Gravatar and of course, your website on your About Us page. You get a lot of marketing mileage from one great photo!
As an aside, adding in a new headshot gets loads of likes and engagement on social media, which is always a good thing.
If you are in a business that sells to other humans, then people want to eyeball you to see what you look like. Do you have two heads? Do you look like you can be trusted or do you look like you are about to be cast in Wolf Creek? Are you warm and welcoming or do you look as if talking with humans is something only your minions do?
Building trust is vital in the online world. A photo of you brings you eye to eye with potential customers and helps to build connection and trust. People genuinely want to see you!
A quick race through neuromarketing studies
There have been loads of psychology studies looking at the effect of headshot photos in your marketing.
Key findings from a range of neuromarketing studies about photos:
- Smiling faces are seen as more trustworthy than frowning or neutral faces.
- Smiling photos score high on perceived friendliness, affiliation and confidence, with people more willing to connect as a result.
- Smiling faces are seen as more intelligent than frowning or neutral faces.
- Direct gaze directly into the camera is rated as more attractive than if the eyes are looking slightly off to the side.
- Averted eyes are associated with shame and isolation – not exactly enticing when you are trying to connect with a client.
- Drinking one glass of wine before having your photo taken increases your perceived attractiveness. It could be because you relax more in the photo or have a slight skin flush, but the results are there.
So what gets sent through when we ask for headshots for our small business websites?
From my end, I often get sent out-of-focus, highly pixellated photos taken on a smartphone circa year 2001. I also get photos of wedding line-ups, with the direction to simply crop out the rest of the people (and no mention of what to do with the wedding dress you are wearing).
Other photo disasters include glamour photos from the 1980s, shot through a 1cm layer of Vaseline over the lens to create a Dynasty moody feeling, or photos taken at Christmas while the person is wearing a Santa Hat and flying a few sheets to the wind on festive eggnog.
I also have had more than my fair share of arty photos, where the person is literally cut in half by the framing of the image by the art nouveau photographer wanting to be the next Mapplethorpe, or where the person is wistfully staring off into the distance as if they were in promo shots for the Bachelor.
Other arty shots I have seen include positioning the person, so they are Lilliputian against a crazily busy backdrop such as an overgrown garden (which works well only if you are a gardener) or a coffee shop.
Then there are all the tradies photos. I have lost track of the number of photos of unshaved tradies covered in grease or dirt at the end of a super hard day excavating blocked sewerage pipes I have been sent with, “This will do.”
The other extreme is tradies in brand new out of the packet, cardboard stiff Hi-Vis wear which would be fine if the tradies had not suddenly decided to open mouth wink, while making their best James Bond finger point impression.
Tips for a great headshot
Choose your photographer carefully
Not all photographers are created equal.
Some photographers are photojournalistic in style (they do fantastic natural looking photos for magazines or newspapers, but these photos may not work well for website headshots).
Others specialise in families or weddings which means they are great at capturing fleeting emotion and interaction, but may not be able to capture that feeling when you are solo and looking straight into the lens.
Look through the headshots of people they have taken and make sure the images are clear, focused, centred, and flattering.
Look for a photographer that has a strong specialisation in corporate headshots and take a look at their portfolio to see if you can see yourself in their photos. Ask yourself, would I be proud of this image if it was of me?
Some of my favourite Brisbane photographers who deliver consistently high-quality headshots:
The Social Media Photographers – Amber did my most recent shoot is very easy to work with, incredibly budget friendly (yes, I did tell her to raise her prices) and simply captures those magic moments to get the perfect shot. Amber is my go-to for small businesses on a tight budget.
Fullframe Photographics – Michael, Ashley and their team create truly iconic photos (with a price to match). Their work is superb, and they are great to work with. You would have regularly seen their work in some of Brisbane’s top advertising promotions.
Louise Williams – Louise is another one with a hefty price-tag, but she creates truly memorable images that are charismatic and on brand. I have admired her results with a number of my colleagues but don’t have personal experience of working with her.
Work out the feeling you are going for
Your photo is a reflection of your overall brand. Do you want your brand to give the feeling of being down to earth or corporate? Creative or conservative? Do you want to be seen as open and welcoming or more reserved and arms-length?
Talk with your photographer as the lighting, props and poses they choose for you need to reflect the feeling and brand you are aiming for.
Hair and Make-up
Blokes can usually get away with a close shave on the day and a haircut about a week before the photoshoot. Women, unfortunately, not so much.
It pays to get a professional make-up artist to do your face and hair before your shoot.
A few words to the wise. Don’t get your eyebrows tinted within seven days of your photo shoot or you end up with attack eyebrows that are fierce (and not in a good way). The same goes for a spray tan, facials and haircuts.
Get your hair colour 100% right BEFORE you lock in your photo shoot time. I recently changed hairdressers and had been titanically struggling to get my colour right with the new hairdresser. So I ended up with a “just do it” photo shoot because it was too late to change the booking time after yet another hair disaster. The result ended up looking like an ad for Aveo Retirement Living. Those photos will never see the light of day other than for my kids to laugh at.
Book a make-up artist that knows how to prepare your face for photographs. Your everyday makeup or enthusiastic amateur make-up just doesn’t cut it in the world of portrait photography. You either end up looking like you have just finished a half-marathon, or are caked so badly that the make-up forms crevasses in your face (which is unsurprisingly unflattering and adds 20 years to your age).
A good wedding make-up artist is a great option (I used Mequa’s Artistry for my most recent photo shoot) or talk with your photographer for a suitable referral.
Get a good night’s sleep the night before and drink loads of water for the few days before the shoot, so your skin looks hydrated and amazing.
Headshots need direct eye contact so you can connect with the viewer. Do not look off to the side, or be photographed chatting on your phone or drinking your coffee, no matter what your photographer may tell you!
Other poses are fine for portraits to be used in your other marketing, but your business headshot needs to have your eyes looking straight down the camera lens to get the best results.
Your eyes need to be alive and alight, and not dull or glazed. You want your smile to reach your eyes, and not get stuck halfway up your face. You want your eyes to show your personality and your essence.
Millennials love taking selfies which means they can smile perfectly on cue. For the rest of us, getting photos taken is a skill we haven’t mastered.
Before the day of your official shoot practice your smile by taking selfies or posing in the mirror. Just for a few minutes, get your best Blue Steel, or Vogue poses happening (music is an optional extra).
For professional headshots for your website, try and avoid poses with your hands touching your face. Hands on your face have psychological overtones that may not match your brand.
The other thing you can do if you are uncomfortable in front of the lens is scheduling two shoots a week or so apart. (This, of course, depends on your photographer).
I did a double shoot for my most recent photos and found that this helped me change the clothes I was to be photographed in (my first choices didn’t work as well as I would have liked when I got the proofs back). I also discovered the poses that worked with my body and learned to relax with the photographer so she could get some fantastic shots.
Smiles can look forced in a headshot photo. While you are practising your poses, also practice thinking of funny things your kids did or remembering funny videos you loved to watch (Alan! Alan! Is a good one). Being able to quickly remember something funny brings a more natural looking smile to your photos.
Your photographer will be able to guide you, but the standard industry advice is to avoid patterns (it dates your photos and can distract from your face) and go with rich jewel tones or navy.
Avoid wearing all black or all white as they can be hard to photograph and are rarely flattering.
That said, go with the clothes that best expresses your personality and reflects what you would wear when you meet new clients. Are you a suit and tie sort of person or nerdy t-shirt?
Remember to avoid anything with a logo on it to reduce potential trademark problems, and be aware that funny slogans often end up being cropped off which means you may lose the punchline.
Whatever clothes you choose, make sure they are clean, ironed, in good repair and are not too large or too small.
Remember to polish your jewellery before your photo and make sure that it isn’t overpowering. Mr T was great in his day, but not the best look for a corporate headshot.
If you wear glasses, wash them in warm soapy water to clean out the guck before the photographer arrives, and polish your lenses, so there are no smudges.
Landscape NOT Portrait
This tip is counter-intuitive. You want your pictures ideally to be shot landscape and not portrait.
Why? Websites are designed in landscape, not portrait. A photo that does not cut off the edges of your arms but allows the full natural edge is more useful for your website design. You can always crop a landscape photo into portrait shape, but you can’t add bits on to the edges that have been cut off without turning the person into Frankenstein’s monster.
A headshot needs to place the focus on you and your face and not your background.
White, grey or other light coloured backgrounds work well online as they stand out from the other clutter when viewed on mobile phones.
White backgrounds especially can be cropped out which means you can then be photoshopped onto a variety of different backgrounds depending on the need.
If you are going to be photographing your team, then a portable studio with a plain background makes it easier to get photos of new team members over time and still look consistent.
Check as you go
A good photographer will review your photos with you after every few shots. That way you can check your hair and makeup looks good, and your clothes haven’t twisted in weird ways or your bra strap showing.
Make it real
While a little bit of photoshop magic to fix the odd stray hair or blemish is warranted, digital botox does no one any favours. Keep it real and authentic.
Keep it current
A good headshot needs to be updated as often as you significantly change your look (i.e. if you decide to grow a beard or go from long hair to a pixie cut). If your look doesn’t change all that often, then you can get a couple of years out of your headshot.
Women, in particular, put off regularly updating their photos. They want to lose a few kilos, get a better haircut or catch up on a decade of sleep deprivation before they get their photos done.
This results in the invisible woman syndrome, where women are always on the other side of the camera and never in front. The invisible woman syndrome was hit home to me when I was looking for photos of my mother for her funeral. There were decades where no photos of her had been taken.
Don’t become invisible. Get photos taken now, and when you lose weight, get more photos done.
Getting your photo taken for your business is one of the more confronting parts of getting an online presence. A good photographer can make this process easier, smoother and more enjoyable than you realise.
You may never take up modelling as a hobby, but for a few hours you do a little turn on the catwalk and strut your stuff.