Most of our professional communication takes place online now, and more and more applications have the option to display a profile photo. I think this is a great opportunity to enhance the first impression you give to potential clients, a student’s parents you may not have met yet, or employers who are browsing LinkedIn. Ideally, you want an up-to-date portrait that shows off your best features, providing a friendly introduction that engages the viewer. Getting a professional headshot is expensive, and it may not be an cost you can justify for a profile picture. My goal in this post is to help you take the best self-portrait you can with whatever camera you have.
[Note: All photos in this post were taken with my camera phone, so you can achieve similar results. Side note: As a new smartphone user, I love this thing!]
First, I will address the #1 question I’m asked by my clients when taking a headshot – “What do I wear?!?” (with all the exclamation points and even more question marks). After discussing this with many friends who do hiring in various industries, I think the best thing you can wear is the nicest thing you would wear to work. Obviously, you don’t want to look under-dressed, but I think most people tend to overdress for online portraits, considering the casual environment the internet provides. In fact, when my husband had his last job interview, he wore a black t-shirt and jeans. When I confronted him, horrified, he told me he didn’t want to look weird. I protested a bit, so he accessorized with a dressy (but dead) watch I had given him to make me feel better (::sigh::). Well, apparently he was right because not only was he hired, he is now in a managerial position, and after meeting his coworkers, I could see he must have blended right in. Basically, if you would never wear a suit to work, don’t wear a suit, and if you’re looking for a new job, do some research and dress as you would in your ideal position. When a potential employer or client meets you, online or in person, you want to not only present your best self but also look like you fit right into their work environment.
Jesse and my favorite work ensembles, and Barney’s favorite accessory – dirt on the nose.
Once you find the right outfit, I promise taking the actual photo will be a lot easier. The first thing you need to do is find the perfect location and lighting. Whether you are using a DSLR or your camera phone, natural lighting is most flattering your face, and it’s also easy to manipulate. The best part is that you may literally find ideal lighting right at your front door! The front door of most homes generally have a porch or an eave to block out direct sunlight and shade your eyes, and the sunlight bouncing off the ground will then provide soft, even illumination. You can also stand under a tree to achieve the same effect. Begin by standing with your toes right at the edge of the shade, and then adjust your position until your face is evenly lit and you’re not squinting. FYI – the farther back from the edge of the shade you go, the darker your photo will be, so don’t back up too much.
Barney demonstrating how to position yourself in open shade.
Next, you actually need to take the shot! If you’re not used to having your photo taken, here are a few posing rules to follow:
- Stand or sit up straight, young lady/man! Good posture relays a confident attitude.
- Make sure to look directly into the camera. You’re trying to engage your audience, so try to pretend you’re actually greeting someone on the other side of that lens.
- Tilt your chin downward. It’s flattering and portrays a friendlier appearance.
Below are a few easy poses you can try out while employing these rules. In each set, the photo on the left demonstrates how the subject is positioned, and the right photo would be the final headshot. Even though hand placement may seem silly since you don’t see them in the final shot, you’ll find that you’ll feel a lot more comfortable when you have something to do with your arms. And if you’re really nervous about getting your photo taken, practice your pose in front of a mirror first 🙂
Jesse posing in our doorway. Notice that the background hardly matters if you zoom in.
How you position your feet translates to your shoulders and can enhance the male or female form. Also, I made a point not to wear makeup. Good lighting = good skin!
Sitting on a bench and leaning on a tv table. This also gives you an opportunity to play with hand placement. (And thank goodness you don’t see the surroundings in the final product!)
As you can see above, when you frame your headshot, zoom in as much as possible. Thumbnails of profile photos are really small, and you want to make sure your face is seen. Added bonus – the closer you crop in, the less background will be on display, so you don’t need a fancy backdrop.
When taking a zoomed in shot, take the following camera guidelines into consideration.
- For a camera phone – walk closer to your subject to get “zoomed in”, then pinch in to zoom if necessary. Optical zoom tends to make your photo grainy.
- For a camera with a zoom lens (whether a DSLR or handheld): use the zoom on your lens because longer lens lengths tend to be more flattering.
Don’t feel bad if it takes a few (or more) tries to get the results you want. Remember – photography isn’t about the camera, but the photographer. With a little legwork, you too can take a great photo 🙂