May 20, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

So you've landed a job interview for your dream job at that great startup opportunity. The day of your interview, you rollout of bed, slap on some deodorant and a baseball cap and drive over for your interview, right? Of course not! Nobody would do that and expect to be taken seriously for a job. But why is it that so many people are content to post a profile picture of themselves on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or other social networking site that is unprofessional, blurry, or downright unflattering?

You know what I'm talking about. Some people struggle so much with finding a good photograph of themselves, they post pictures of something (or someone) else that hopefully represents them. Trouble is, more often than not, it doesn't. You need a photo that represents YOU in the best light possible.

Actors, whose jobs have always relied on appearance, have long had a tool for representing themselves to casting agents: the headshot. Prior to the social networking explosion, the headshot was not well used in other industries, but today, an avatar or profile picture, both just another name for a headshot, are a critical tool for self promotion. Potential employers want to know as much as they possibly can about you, including what you look like.

In today's business climate, potential employers will screen your LinkedIn or Facebook profile even before they invite you in for an interview. If your networking page is now your first impression to the world, doesn't it make sense to put your best face forward?

Business Headshots

A simple corporate headshot for a services professional using even lighting and subtle retouching.

Fortunately, getting a great headshot these days is neither a huge hassle, nor a huge expense. For less than the cost of a decent business suit or dress, many photographers will provide a good headshot in a sitting that lasts less than an hour. The question is, what sets apart a great headshot from a decent one? I believe there are four things that you should consider when choosing a good headshot photographer.

Lighting Style. The most critical element in a headshot, since the compositions are very similar, is the lighting. The ability to light a portrait is a skill that sets the professional photographers apart from the amateurs. Headshots need to look professional, not artistic, so go with a photographer who can provide even lighting and a little dramatic shadow without going overboard. Lighting should also flatter the strengths of the subject, not exacerbate the faults.

Posing. Though headshot compositions are similar, posing of subjects is very important to bring out the best in them. Subjects should appear natural and confident in their headshots. Angles should be chosen to highlight the strengths in the subject's features. A great headshot should say, "This is who I am everyday." rather than "This is who the photographer made me look like today."

Background. A good headshot can be shot on a solid background and some people prefer that look, as generic as it is. A great headshot can often be shot using a location as a background, especially when the location informs the viewer as to something about you. An office setting might hint you have a strong work ethic. Tokyo Tower might show you aren't afraid to travel and interact with a different culture. Use of backgrounds should be discreet, but add information about your personality or experience.

Retouching. Many photographers do not use retouching techniques at all, saying they like "natural" portraits. The trouble with this is that the camera itself often distorts reality, so many times there is nothing natural at all about a photograph of a person. Perspective, lens type and lighting all affect how a person appears in a photograph. A great photographer knows how to play to the strengths of the subject, retouching the image to put a little more light in her eyes, lighten age spots, or remove a stray hair. Even simple perspective corrections to make a subject appear a little thinner or more symmetrical are easy work for a skilled photographer. The trick is that retouching should not go overboard; the subject should not look artificial, or worse, unlike themselves.

Casual Headshots

Even a casual headshot for a church youth advisor benefits from great lighting and a relevant background.

Keeping a headshot current is often a challenge. Many things can affect the currency of a headshot: hair style changes, fashion updates, even weight loss. Some photographers will offer a package that will enable you to update your headshot several times during a 12 month period at no extra cost. If you are one who frequently updates hair or wardrobe styles, you might consider such a package as an added value to you.

Next week, I will discuss other potential applications for a good headshot or variations of the headshot style.



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Hi, I'm Todd, a professional freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area available for all kinds of image creation including portraiture, events and fashion. This blog is where I share my about latest projects and thoughts on the creative process in general.


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