• Elton Cilliers

What makes a good headshot image?

Updated: Dec 13, 2019


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Why is a good headshot even required?


It's cliche, but like most cliche sayings, it's very true, "People buy from people." It takes under 7 seconds in person for someone to have a solid impression of who you are. When it comes to a profile image, this is under 1 second!


Another cliche, "Don't judge a book by its cover." As much as many will say they don't, the vast majority of society does exactly that. Tinder is a great example of this.


Swiping left or right purely based on the image you see. No interest in the personality of the person.


Research from Cornell University suggests that the photograph you choose as your profile image can make a long-lasting impression.


With a lot of existing research into how we form impressions of people based on facial features alone.


We see a picture of someone and almost instantly make an assessment.


Studio corporate headshot of a young businessman

Further research (citation at end of the article) by Cornell University showed that first impressions from photographs are sticky. That is, the impression people made from simply looking at the photograph carried forward to when they met in person.


Studio headshot portrait

With this in mind, I hope you will agree that a headshot image that creates a good first impression is absolutely crucial to your personal brand and business.


So what makes a good headshot image?


  1. Suitable attire. Wear clothing that portrays you and your businesses personality. If you are a solicitor or financial advisor, for example, it's likely you would want to wear a full suit. However, if you are a personal trainer or artist, you may not feel that a suit is, erm, suitable. My advice to all my clients is, "Wear what you would wear if you were meeting a client for the first time.

  2. Good lighting. I see so many headshots that have 'hot spots'. This is where the highlights (bright areas of the image) are 'blown out'. Basically this is the result of overexposing the shot when taken and the highlights are so bright, that the detail in the area is completely lost. Some photography issues can be fixed in post-processing, this, however, isn't one of them.

  3. The eyes have it! The eyes have it! A headshot or portrait image is all about the eyes. Photography 101 states that when you take a headshot image, the focus point of the camera should be in the eyes. Eyes are, after all, the windows to the soul.

  4. Catchlights are a MUST. Catchlights are reflections of light in the eyes. When eyes lack catchlights, they appear lifeless (and in some cases can look genuinely spooky!).

  5. Look at the camera/viewer! Again, I see many headshot images where the subject is not making eye contact with the camera and hence the viewer. As far as body language goes, this does not ooze confidence. If you are talking to someone in person, and they are unable to maintain eye contact with you, what is your assessment of them?

  6. Smile or laugh naturally. I know for many people, it is not at all 'natural' to sit/stand and pose for someone to take your photograph (I think if you're under 20 is probably far easier!). A good photographer will make you feel comfortable enough and hopefully be able to assess your character quickly enough to be able to bring out a natural smile or laugh from you. A fake smile is easily recognisable. And remember, it takes less than a second for someone to assess your character from an image! Do you really want to send the message that you're fake?! I think not. Not all people are comfortable, or indeed, even capable of smiling with teeth on show. It just doesn't feel natural for some. So this is not at all important. What's important is that it's genuine. HINT: A fake smile does NOT include the eyes. When you genuinely smile or laugh, even if your mouth was not visible, it would be portrayed in your eyes.

  7. Put your best side forward. Know which is your best side and make this clear to your photographer. An experienced photographer will be able to assess your face and decide which is your best side, however, I personally prefer to ask my clients. No one has a perfectly symmetrical face, that's just one of the oddities of life. One eye is almost always a little smaller than the other, slightly thinner cheekbone and so forth. No one knows your face better than you do, so I'm always happy to take the lead from my clients on this unless I strongly disagree in which case I will convince them to allow me to take photos of both sides.

I hope that this has been useful and aids you when making a decision about commissioning a photographer to take your or your colleague's headshot images.

Please feel free to message me should you have any questions, I'm always happy and willing to assist.



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Sources:

Online profile pictures leave lasting impressions, researchers say https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/online-profile-pic-first-impression-1.3904030


Which Side Is Your Good Side and How to Find It https://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/news/a14637/good-side-bad-side/




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