Not everyone can afford a professional photographer for their headshots, particularly if you’re running a small business. Selfies, though cheap, don’t hold much kudos with your customers.
If you need to take your own headshots, here are a few guidelines that will help so that, whoever is holding the camera, your website headshots look great.
This image of Monika shows the effect of many of these techniques.
Position your body at 45 degrees to the camera lens, create space between your arms and body.
Accentuate your jawline by pushing your chin out and down.
Keep your eyebrows in their resting position.
Decide on whether or not to smile, make sure the lips are relaxed and avoid pouting.
Wear clothing that represents the role you do, preferably un-patterned.
Keep the background simple.
Get your hair and makeup professionally done or make sure your skin and hair are at their daily best.
Make eye contact by looking into the lens.
If outside, stand in the shade; if inside, make sure it’s a bright room.
Turn your body at a 45 degree angle from the camera and look back to camera. It adds interest, slims and can help accentuate the jawline.
A lot of head shots won’t include arms, but where they do, you need to think about them. Arms pressed against the body make your arms and your body look bigger. If you create some space between your arms and your body, you make everything look smaller.
Lean toward the camera. Not only does this help with jawline issues, but it also makes you look as though you’re interested. As small business owners know, you are not simply selling a product, you’re selling yourself. You need to show your customers you’re approachable and eager to help solve their problem.
Push your chin out and down, but don’t overdo it. A new headshot photographer came to a business I worked for (before I became a portrait photographer myself) and he’d obviously been taught to get the chin out and down. He had us stretch our necks out to crazy lengths and the result is that we all had massive heads and tiny bodies. If you already have a good jaw line, you may simply want to tilt your chin down a little. If you’re worried about a double chin, you may want to stretch it out a little more. Whatever you do, don’t push your head back into your neck because it looks horrible. When people are uncomfortable, they often do this without realising.
Keep Eyebrows Down
Eyebrows are much more important than you might imagine. Makeup artists and beauticians will be able to tell you how important eyebrows are for framing the face. Most people can’t stop themselves raising their eyebrows during a photo shoot. It’s instinctual! We see a camera and our features suddenly contort for no apparent reason. Try to relax, take a few deep breaths, think about your forehead and eyebrows and let them fall back to their resting position. This will give you a calm, relaxed face that will inspire confidence. Sometimes the tiniest frown is not out of place. It gives a gravity that’s appropriate for many business professionals.
Example of a non-smiling headshot. Hugh has a tiny smile in the corners of his mouth which keep his headshot from being too serious. His lips are relaxed in order to keep tension out of his face. He is also turned at a 45 degree angle which is very flattering. His jawline is accentuated as he pushes his chin out and down. Hugh has a very slight frown to add gravitas to the headshot.
Smiling (or Not)
This one is down to your market and personal preference. We all know a smile is welcoming but if funeral directors had images of their staff smiling it would feel inappropriate because we want to see gravitas here. If you’re a child carer, too much solemnity would feel out of place because we want to know we’re placing our children with someone who will fill their days with joy.
Make Your Smile Genuine
If you decide to smile, it has to be a genuine smile. Do whatever it takes to get you there. Think happy thoughts, have a laugh with the person taking your photograph or put something funny on the TV.
If You Don’t Smile
If you decide smiling is either not for you or you need a sense of gravitas, be careful that you don’t look sad. Our resting faces vary. Some people look sad, others look completely blank, and some have a slightly mean look. None of these looks are good for your business headshot. You need a hint of a smile in your mouth and around your eyes. A hint simply involves fighting the pull of gravity on your face or the tightness of your skin the tiniest bit (be careful not to let the eyebrows rise with the rest of your face though).
You can have an otherwise perfect image, but if the lips are pressed tight shut, your viewer will feel the tension. Just let your bottom lip fall ever so slightly away from your top lip. If you are smiling, the lips mostly take care of themselves. Whatever you do, please, please don’t pout!
Clothing is very personal, but make sure that your outfit is in keeping with how you want to represent yourself. For example, if you are in business, don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt, or if you’re a gardener, don’t wear a suit. Plain clothes are usually preferable to patterned clothes because patterns are distracting. Remember that black and darker colours will make you look slimmer, while white and lighter colours will make you look larger.
Try not to have anything distracting in the background because you want the viewer to look at you. Windows will give you problems as backgrounds because they will be much brighter than anything else which means the attention will be on the window and not on you. As well as this, whoever is holding the camera might be reflected in the window. Make sure your clothes work well with your background because you want the image to feel cohesive. Watch out for overpowering colours like red because these will dominate the image.
Hair and Makeup
Rochelle did her own hair and makeup prior to the photo shoot. Her foundation matches her skin tone and she has kept her makeup very natural. This makes the image feel more like a business headshot.
For those of us who wear makeup, I would always recommend having it done professionally. It makes such a big difference to the images. If you have to do it yourself, be careful to use a foundation closest to your skin colour to avoid changes in colour around the jaw and mouth. I’ve retouched so many photos where someone has used a darker foundation which looks absolutely fine everywhere except around the mouth and jawline. I don’t know why the foundation goes thin around the mouth, but it does. Be careful not to overdo your makeup – remember this is a headshot, not a night out.
If you absolutely do not want to wear makeup, make sure your skin isn’t either too oily or too dry. I’d suggest using a tissue to dab off excess oil, particularly in the t-zone. If your skin is very dry and a little flaky, a good facial scrub might help, but use it well in advance of the photo so your skin isn’t red. You may want to consider having a facial beforehand.
Hair can make or break an image. Everyone’s style is different so go with your style and how it is on a good day. Just make sure you don’t take a photo of your hair on a bad day hoping it won’t show in the photo. It really will!
Look Into the Lens
This is how you engage your viewer. Looking off into the distance as though you’ve just been distracted is beautiful in the right setting, but it is not normally for headshots. The whole point of a headshot is to show who you are in your professional role. Most people search around the eyes and mouth for a hint of your personality and, from this, judge whether they want to work with you. So make eye contact because it’s reassuring.
This is the more difficult part, but there are a few things that you can do easily. If you’re photographing outside, stand in the shade. If you’re photographing indoors, use the brightest room you can to help light your face.
I hope these tips are helpful.
I’m a Kent based portrait photographer helping small businesses attract customers through photographs. If you’re interested in personal branding, images for a marketing campaign or private portraits, please get in touch.
Nina Carrington Photography