Professional headshots are critical to your brand, particularly when you are a freelancer or creative solopreneur. You only have a few seconds to make a first impression when a potential client lands on your website or LinkedIn page. If they see a selfie taken in front of the Christmas tree and cropped in tight so the resolution looks blurry, chances are they’re going to move on.
Unfortunately, the sample I stated above is far too common. I haven’t quite figured out if there is a huge fear around having one’s photo taken, or if there is simply a misunderstanding as to how affordable professional headshots are. Let’s put it this way:it’s going to be a LOT cheaper to pay more for a great photographer and get it right the first time, rather than going cheap and hating them and having to redo them.
I think a lot of creatives panic when asked for their headshot and run out to find the least expensive option. They usually end up with a photographer who doesn’t have much experience in this area. They get their images back and while they are “professional” they don’t portray a professional look. The creative has already paid for them and is on a time crunch so they use what they have. While it is technically a professional headshot, it still doesn’t portray the image of their brand.
When I work with a headshot client, I spend a few minutes asking them exactly what they do, and what they want to portray in their headshot. A Communications Executive that works for General Mills is going to have a vastly different headshot than say a Yoga Instructor and Life Coach who wants images to show calm and tranquility. It is critical that the photographer understands what you do and what you are hoping to convey in your image to the viewer.
Clothing choice is also very important. Just because that beautiful shawl you paid $200 for is your favorite piece of clothing and you wear it with all your client meetings, it does not mean it will flatter you in a photo. Bring a large selection of choices, a good photographer will be able to eye them and pick out 2 or 3 that will work best and convey the look you are going for. In general, a solid top with a flattering neckline is going to be best. Avoid bright colors and bold patterns, even if that really is *who* you are.
Background is also important to the professional look of your image. I get asked quite often to use a white background, and 80% of the time I say NO. It doesn’t look professional. It doesn’t stand out off the page. In general I use a muted blue and beige background that gets blurred out by use of aperture of my camera. I also have a cream and beige one that I will use as well. Sometimes I will use a solid black if we are going for strong, dramatic black and white imagery. I will occasionally use solid white for the right client, such as my yoga instructor who is trying to portray calm and tranquility.
In general, a headshot should NOT be taken outside. This is not true all the time, but if you’re going for a high-end look, it is going to be better conveyed through studio lighting and backgrounds. I am not opposed to going outside for the right look, but in general, headshots are going to be taken in the studio. I will also go on-site for larger companies that want me to photograph their entire staff, but I bring my lighting and backgrounds with me and set up a “portable studio”.
I also will go on-site to a creative’s work space. Sometimes the image you are trying to convey is best done with some of your work in the background. I once worked with a Designer who makes textiles. We had a shelf in the background with her beautiful work on it. Another example is a fashion designer I worked with, she brought out bolts of fabric and a form with one of her dresses on it to use for the background. It’s really about the “look” your trying to convey. Some of this needs to be thought up by you, and some of it is at the discretion of the photographer. Between the two of you, you will come up with a fantastic plan of action!
Hair and makeup are extremely important, and I recommend hiring a professional makeup artist if your photographer isn’t able to supply one. The look you are trying to show in your images (your BRAND) is a big deal, your every day hair and makeup is great for meeting with clients, but you want to go big or go home with your portraits. Don’t skimp on this aspect of the session. You won’t be disappointed!
I think for some, the fear of getting their photo taken stems back to their high school years. When your school photo was put in the yearbook and you had no control over it. But you DO have control over what you put out to the world now. Why on earth are you even considering putting a selfie out there?? We live in an avatar society, your image is connected to your social media, to your email, to your website, to your LinkedIn, and so much more. It is a critical part of your business, and an area that seems to be continually overlooked. Get over your fear, save your money, and do it right! Do it professionally!
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Amy Zellmer is a professional photographer located in Saint Paul, MN. She lives in the Schmidt Artist Lofts with her Yorkie named Pixxie. She has been in business since 1997 and has hundreds of business portraits under her belt. She travels the country with her Yorkie in tow to teach other photographers about the business of photography. She uses the same headshot on each and every one of her social media profiles, her website, and her business cards. Consistency is key to Branding!