So you need a business headshot for your LinkedIn account or website. Maybe you need it immediately, like, today? Or perhaps you're being sensible with the pennies because you've only just launched. In any case, you're thinking that you've got a good smartphone, so why go to the trouble of booking a professional photographer. Fair enough: I understand. So I thought I'd have a go myself! Here are some thoughts from what I learned...
First off, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. Just because you're using a selfie, it doesn't mean that normal rules don't apply. Above all else, do think about how you want to be perceived by your business colleagues and customers. Don't be tempted to re-use that picture of you at the beach, in the bar or at your mate’s party. It just won’t look right. Instead, take a picture that shows you at your professional best. Dress and get ready just as you would for a day at your job. Up to you whether you shoot your best smile or take a more serious look. But save any temptation for 'pouty duck face' for the next time you’re out with your friends.
Next - they're called headshots for a reason! Your final image should be trimmed back to your head and shoulders and all attention should be on you. When you're composing your shot, bear in mind that it will be cropped down to a square format when you upload it to your social media, so take the shot with this in mind. But also take care where you point the camera to avoid distracting details in the background. Posing in front of your bookshelf may not seem such a good idea if you’ve got “Business for Dummies” next to your ear! Indoors, avoid wallpaper with big patterns and look instead for a plain painted wall. Outdoors shots are an option but be cautious about posing in front of plants as they can also steal attention!
Also think about the angle at which you photograph yourself. There’s been a bit of a fashion to shoot selfies with your arm held up high. This might make sense when shooting yourself in a group of friends and you want to show lots of background but it’s not the best option for a headshot. Don’t shoot from up high - instead try to hold your camera about level with your eyes or even fractionally lower. You will look more authoritative.
If you can, avoid taking the shot handheld. As you'll see from my shots, it's almost impossible to hold one arm out without making your shoulders lopsided. Using a selfie stick may reduce the problem but there are better alternatives. Consider propping your cameraphone up using a hefty book, or asking a friend to press the shutter for you.
However you take your selfie, try to look at the camera lens. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your natural inclination will be to look at the screen, so you can see how you look. If you now check out the picture you’ve just taken, you’ll see that your eyes in the photo are not actually facing towards the viewer but instead just slightly off to one side. Your cameraphone lens is probably at the top of the phone (when held vertically) - only a few centimeters from the screen centre but enough to reduce your eye contact. So, set up your shot using the screen but train yourself to look directly at the lens before firing the shutter.
Finally, always think about the light. You may think that shooting in bright sunlight is ideal, but actually this is likely to make you squint your eyes. An overcast day with soft shadows is generally more flattering. If the sun is too bright, consider moving into the shade, or filter the light with a translucent curtain. Try turning your head slowly and watch how it adjusts the lighting on your face… turning towards the light source will minimise shadows and will make wrinkles and imperfections less noticeable. But turning the head slightly to achieve soft shadows will make the image more three-dimensional and can give more character.
If you're indoors on a dull day then artificial lights can brighten your image. But beware! Bright lights create strong shadows, including the "panda eyes" that I'm showing off in the image above. Artificial lighting can also affect the image colour balance, making everything look a cold blue or strangely yellow.
Ok, so you've got your image. Your phone may well offer you some filters for 'beautifying' the image or adjusting the style. Avoid, or use with caution as the results can sometimes be extreme. And - hopefully it goes without saying - no comical puppy nose or rabbit ears should be added to your business profile?!
How did you do? Now that you've had the chance to think about what makes a good business headshot, here are some reasons to consider booking a professional for your next update:
1. Whilst camera-phones are packing some great technology, a professional camera will make you look better. Your smartphone has a wide angle lens to capture big scenes. Unfortunately, when held up close, this distorts the shape of your face and makes your nose more prominent. Most headshot and portrait photographers choose a lens which reproduces something much more closely to what the human eye sees.
2. A dedicated camera does a better job of keeping the attention on you. Camera-phones focus on your face but generally like to get most everything else sharp too. Unfortunately, this makes it easier for the background to intrude. A professional photographer will focus on your eyes and knows how to adjust depth of field, so that the background is less prominent. And, remember how difficult it was to look at the smartphone lens? You’ll find it much easier to look directly at a camera, meaning maximum engagement with the viewer.
3. It's all about the light. An experienced photographer will get a beautifully exposed picture, whatever the conditions. They will use studio lights or flash to provide the most flattering light for you. They will also know how to bounce light into your eyes to ensure that magical sparkle (photographers call this a 'catchlight') that brings your eyes to life.
4. A better finish. Whilst the filters on your phone may be fun, a skilled photographer can use Photoshop to achieve much more subtle and realistic refinements.
5. It's not all down to the camera! We are all used to taking selfies quickly to seize the moment. So your temptation may be to grab a shot and say 'that will do'. An experienced photographer will help you to pose and will be able to watch out for stray hairs or errant short collars. They will also know how to give you the time and head-space to relax, so you look at your very best.