As someone who is trying to walk up the corporate or business ladder, there comes a time when you would need to present yourself to the public. One of the more effective ways of doing this is through a professional headshot. Headshots are not only used by people in the corporate world or in business, they can also be used by people who run websites and people who want to beef up their CVs. A professional headshot will make you stand out above the competition.

People in the acting industry are one of the main people that need professional headshots because it is basically their call card. As an actor, employers get to assess you at first with your headshot. This headshot is usually sent out to tons of casting directors and agents who see hundreds of these every day. If your headshot is bad, you won’t get the job, period. You want to be seen as a pro, not an amateur, so the way you present yourself in your picture is everything.

The bottom line is that if you want people to take you seriously, you must have a good, high quality, killer headshot. Most people who run businesses or who have careers, will likely need to have a professional headshot taken at some point or the other. But the sad part of this is that a lot of people hate having their photographs taken. They feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, thinking of all the things that can go wrong with the final output.

One way you can avoid getting your shots and cringing at the first look is to think about the message you are trying to send out so that you can tailor your message towards that dimension. Asides this, there are several other things you can do to make sure you look good in your professional headshot. Here they are.

  1. We all have our best angles, find yours

Not everyone looks good from all sides. We all have our best angles, and if you want to get a great headshot, you need to find your best angle. Some people are quite conscious of certain facial or body features. It is in your best interest to tell your photographer about this. For instance, if one of your eyes is bigger than the other, you can tell your photographer to angle you to one side so that the perspective makes both eyes look the same. You can tell your photographer to shoot from both angles so you can choose the best one later on. If you have body symmetrical issues, it will do you good to keep your back straight and don’t hunch your shoulders. Don’t put your hands in your pockets or cross your arms, this is a closed body language that will immediately make you seem unapproachable. Think about your company’s main values or morals and tell the photographer so they can try to help you portray them through your body language.

  1. Smile to soften your features

Smiling makes you look more open and inviting and can also show off your facial features better. People like to work with happy, confident professionals so don’t be afraid to show off your smile. If you aren’t comfortable with how your teeth looks, you can still smile with your lips closed. Smiling activates chemicals in your brain that make you feel better, allowing a more positive side of you to shine in the images. Most people don’t know whether to smile with their teeth or not. Even for professional headshots, smiling both with and without your teeth works, so smile whichever way you feel most comfortable. A forced smile isn’t good and might even make you seem like you’re holding in a fart. To make sure you bring forth the genuine smile, think of someone or something that makes you laugh. This will both relax you and give you a great smile.

Some people may choose not to smile in their picture because they want to portray a more serious look. That is ok too. Everyone is different, but in most cases smiling is the best option.

  1. Your wardrobe

One other thing that would ensure that your headshot is of professional standards is what you wear.

If you are a man, ensure that you wear your favorite suit (you will feel more confident in what you like) in a preferably dark color, such as grey or navy blue. Bold patterns and colors as well as shiny ties, detract from the face and can look unprofessional. If you don’t wear a tie, it’s best to wear a sweatshirt or jacket or some other kind of layer to break it up.

And if you are a woman, choose a professional suit or a classic office-wear outfit. Don’t pick any bold or distracting patterns, but little pops of color here and there would not do any harm. Avoid short sleeves if possible; this can look unprofessional and also detracts from the face. For jewelry, anything subtle and classic is a yes, but anything blingy or flashy is a no. You don’t want to push people towards your jewelry unless, of course, you are selling them.

One other thing you have to note when you are thinking of what to wear, is your company style. In startups for example, a much more “relaxed” style has been adapted. Jeans, t-shirts, and trainers are allowed, the idea behind it is that you come to work dressed how you would in everyday life. If you are still confused regarding what to wear, your best bet would be to wear what you usually would wear when meeting a potential client. Even though a headshot is just head and shoulders, wearing an un-ironed shirt, or a scruffy t-shirt will show in the photo. If you usually wear glasses, decide whether you’d like to wear them in your portrait. If you aren’t going to wear them, or aren’t sure, take them off around 15 minutes before. This will allow enough time for the red marks on your nose to disappear.

  1. Take care of your Hair

When preparing for a professional headshot, don’t just brush your hair from home and leave it at that. You should bring a brush to the shoot. If you want it looking smooth and silky, try using some conditioner in the shower or using a leave-in conditioner the day of the shoot. It is handy to look in a mirror or a selfie camera to see how your hair is sitting right before the shoot starts.

For men, try styling your hair with some gel or putty and even a blow-dryer to give it the look you’re going for. If you have a beard, make sure to shape it with your razor, and consider combing it if it is long.

  1. The wonders of Make-up

Lots of people ask whether hiring a make-up artist is a good idea when taking a professional headshot. It is, of course, completely up to you. Makeup will help highlight your features and make you look more vibrant. But you have to beware of overdoing it. The camera will pick up clumps of mascara or dark lipstick or even a rough foundation.

  1. Get a good sleep the night before

A good night’s sleep can help you in more ways than one, and one of those ways is that it helps you look relaxed and feel refreshed. Practice would have taught you that losing an extra hour or 2 of sleep will make a considerable difference the following day. If you’re feeling relaxed and positive, you’ll look that way for the photo session. This will also help reduce bags under your eyes and generally make you look and feel more radiant.

  1. Practice your pose

If you are generally uncomfortable in front of a camera, then it would be in your best interest to practice your pose ahead of the photo shoot.

Try keeping your back straight in your poses because a poor posture can evoke a lack of confidence. Through a lens, the way you hold yourself reflects how confident you look, so stand tall and be self-assured. Let your hands drop by your sides or place them in your pockets. Not doing anything with your hands may feel odd at the time, but it looks much stranger on camera when someone is holding their hands behind their back. Your photographer should guide you in this area, especially if the picture is a portrait and will include your hands or whole body. Pushing your chin out slightly will separate your face from your neck and body, and define your jawline. To get this right, imagine you’re holding a a folded cloth between your chin and chest.

  1. Rehearse your facial expressions

Facial expression is another thing to worry about if you want a professional headshot. Everyone prefers the way they look with a certain expression. A full or half smile could work well for a young and passionate entrepreneur. Alternatively, a CEO or a board member in a professional industry may feel that a neutral expression communicates strength.

When posing, try squinting your eyes very slightly. When someone feels uncomfortable having their photo taken they can react with unnaturally wide eyes. Think of a deer in the headlights scenario, you should try and avoid this as much as possible. There’s no harm in trying a few different expressions with the photographer so you can choose which you prefer afterward.

  1. Relax

Most people feel a little awkward having their photo taken. People often feel nervous in front of a camera, especially when they don’t get their picture taken often. Headshot photographers are aware of this and they are experienced at helping people feel more calm. To help you feel more calm at the shoot, start off with some photos of you doing goofy faces to relax the face muscles.

If you have a certain song that makes you feel confident or relaxed, you can request to have the song playing. Once you are warmed up and realize that you have nothing to be nervous about then you can express yourself freely and your shoot will go smoothly.

  1. Get your chin sorted out

To avoid having the double-chin effect in your headshot try pushing your chin just slightly up and forward. This will elongate your neck and make the skin underneath your jawline tighter, which can eliminate the appearance of a double chin. You should also roll your shoulders back and stand up straight to improve your posture and appear more confident.

  1. Use the right background

Corporate headshots can be taken indoors or outdoors depending on the look you are going for. They both can look good, but they convey different first impressions. Indoor headshots with white or mono coloured backgrounds are best for the formal business appeal. It looks professional and can be used for business cards or any other promotional material easily. Outdoor headshots give a more casual look, but they allow for more creativity and unique portrayals of your personality.

  1. Pay attention to framing, lighting and background

You will generally get a good headshot if you get good lighting on your face. Three-quarter shots are good for print, and extreme close-ups are no good. Look directly into the camera, and the focus should be on the center of your eyes, not your left ear, or your shirt collar. Be sure the background is blurred, which means that it’s shot with a good, high-quality camera with a high depth of field, which makes you stand out. The headshot is about you, not the environment.

  1. Tell your photographer how you want to convey yourself

Headshot photographers are experts at bringing out certain looks in people. You may want to portray yourself as “fun and approachable”, “dedicated and serious about success”, “creative and deep-thinking”, or “goofy and unique”.

The possibilities are endless, but if you have a specific demeanor in mind then be sure to talk to your photographer about it. They can set the tone with different music and backgrounds, while using different angles and lenses to portray your custom look. Going into a shoot without any idea of how you want to look can still result in great images, but it is then up to your photographer to come up with different poses and looks for you to try out.

  1. It’s all about the eyes

Just like with on-camera acting, it’s all about the eyes and what’s happening behind them. The eyes are your closeup, your moment. Your eyes should be perfectly in focus, alive, and energized, not dead and glazed over. There should be strong inner thoughts, implying a backstory and a life behind the eyes. A slight squint and strong piercing eyes will bring a picture to life and help it stand out in a pile of hundreds. A good headshot photographer knows how to bring this out in you. You should also tell him or her to take note of the eyes so they don’t forget.

Conclusion

To get a professional headshot, it will do you well to find a photographer who understands you. You should be able to vibe with the photographer and he or she has to make you feel very comfortable. Research photographers before you settle with one. Look through their portfolios. Ask for a consultation. Get a feel of how they photograph your type, your ethnicity, your gender, etc. The more information you have about the photographer, the easier it is for you to relax around them.

Ajaero Tony Martins