What Makes for a Good Professional Headshot?

This blog post was written by Claire Boyles, Start Up Marketing and Business Consultant, Professional Speaker, and Social Media Strategist with Success Matters

A Casual/Unprofessional Headshot

A Casual/Unprofessional Headshot


What’s the point of having a professionally taken headshot when you have a perfectly good camera you can use to take a perfectly good shot of yourself?

Well, quite simply, it’ll look homemade.  It’ll look unprofessional, and it’ll make you look cheap.

It won’t capture you in the best light, at the best angle, and it certainly won’t capture that perfect expression which exudes your personality.

These are the things that you should pay a professional photographer to do for you, because they are skilled at how do all of those things!
I have a perfectly fine digital SLR (A good camera), I have a tripod with a timer, all of which could mean I could take my own photographs to use in my marketing.

Heck, photography is a hobby of mine, so I’m well equipped to take my own headshot, surely?



These types of photos are fine to be shared with friends on Facebook, but not to be used as professional images for you or your business.

Claire Boyles, Start Up Marketing Consultant.

Yes, I could take a good photograph of myself, in fact I have, and you can see it here, but it’s a natural shot.

I don’t have the very expensive lighting which brings out the very best in skin tones, and even if I did, I can’t evoke that spontaneous burst of laughter, or that glint in my eye.

Even if I could, the chances of me being able to capture that exact expression with the timer on my camera is, well, I’d guess at about a million to one shot.

You see, you don’t just pay a photographer for their ability to use expensive equipment which creates quality images.  You pay a photographer for their expertise in the way they position you, the things they can say to you in conversation to evoke those warm, spontaneous expressions which make you look approachable, friendly, yet professional.

A good professional photographer is worth their weight in gold, and even if you’re not in business, if you’re on the job market, it can make a massive difference to whether people pick up the phone to talk to you, or send you that email that could mean a very lucrative oportunity for you.

You don’t get second chances to make a first impression, so make sure you show yourself in your best possible light, especially when you are likely to often be “meeting” people for the first time online these days.  A professionally taken headshot is vital!



When "Professional" Photography Goes Wrong

When “Professional” Photography Goes Wrong

This is what happens when you hire a “professional” photographer who doesn’t know what they are doing!


See photo to the right >>>>>>>>

I asked for a shot where I would look professional, but not smiley; I’d like a headshot I can use when I’m commenting on serious matters where a big huge smile just wouldn’t seem appropriate.  Imagine my commenting on the business impact of a Tsunami which took hundreds of lives, and thousands of people’s livelihoods.  Having a massive smile just isn’t the right image to use.

There are several things wrong with this photo, here are a few of the major points:

The contrast is too dark, it is reminiscent of a “Midsomer Murders Suspect” (The words of a friend and business colleague when he first saw it).


The angle of my neck creases up my skin in a very unflattering manner.  It is a good idea to turn your head for a headshot, but a professional photograper would have suggested I pull my hair over, to create a more flattering look.  Alternatively, they’d have touched it up in Photoshop!

The lack of a smile is one thing, but this expression (I didn’t realise how it looked at the time) looks like I’m drowning in grief and sorrow.   Non smiley doesn’t mean looking suicidal!  A good photographer would have coached me to add just a little bit of life into my expression, without a full beam smile.


Notice my eyes are half closed?  This is because I’m squinting, why am I squinting? Because this photographer decided to take my head shot outside, directly facing the bright sunlight!

A professional photographer would know that taking a shot where your subject was looking into the sun isn’t likely to produce a flattering look!!

I am sincerely grateful that this wasn’t the first ever professional headshot I had taken, or I might very well have had extreme self esteem issues, thinking I looked awful, whereas in fact, as you can see from the other photos I’ve used as examples in this blog, I do look alright in a photo, when it’s taken professionally that is!
Thankfully I also have a good close network of friends & colleagues who assured me that this photo in no way reflected my personality, or how I usually look!



This photo illustrates clearly why selecting the right professional photographer (By viewing their previous work ideally) is essential, before you invest good money in them!



What Professional Headshots Should Look Like!

Thankfully, I recently had a new headshot taken, there was a professional photographer  working at a sales mastery event that I attended, having seen his work previously (and in the course brochure) I made sure that I took the opportunity to avail of his services while I had the opportunity.

Photos used with kind permission of John Cassidy, the headshot guy
Photos used with kind permission of John Cassidy, the headshot guy

Ask People Who Know You To Help You Select The Headshot To Use



When I received my contact sheet I asked my network of friends, business connections and customers to help me choose from the selection John had provided me.
Why did I ask people who know me which headshot to use?  


Well because it was good market research, it helped me understand which of the headshots people were attracted to.  I learned which types of people selected which types of shots; some shots were more friendly, open, warm.  Other shots were friendly, but more professional.


I placed more weight on the people who matched my “ideal client profile” because their opinion matters more in my marketing.  It’s those people that I want to connect with, more than anyone else.
My friends tended to chose the images that were laughing, or with my head tilted.  Now that’s certainly part of my personality, I enjoy laughing (dont we all), but for my professional image, I want a professional image.  For me, that means I chose a headshot which had my head straight, not tilted, smiling, but not laughing my head off!



I’m very direct when I work with clients, often having to give them information that they might not want to hear, especially when something they’ve been working hard on isn’t going to work, so I chose a shot that had my head very much straight on.

From the selection of photos that were on the shortlist (shown above), can you guess which one I chose?

So What Does A Professional Headshot Do For You?


A professionally taken headshot, like the one I selected (below), taken by John Cassidy shows people that you care about the details, and how you appear to others.  It doesn’t look cheap, it looks professional, captures me in a positive light, and creates a good first impression.



Your headshot is often the first contact people have with you, especially now we’re all so active on social media (If you’re not, and you’re in business, you need to be!).



If your headshot isn’t professional, it doesn’t help people warm to you, it doesn’t inspire confidence in you, it doesn’t help people trust you.

If your business is professional, and has professional standards, and your headshot doesn’t then it indicates an incongruence.



What Do You Need To Do Now You’ve Got a New Snazzy Headshot?

Find everywhere that you’ve used your old one and replace it!  (For me that is 58 different online accounts I need to update!)  If you see any I haven’t yet done, please give me a shout, I’m working through them a few at a time, but I could well have missed some!

It’s important that you change it everywhere, that means every online account you have, Twitter, Google+, Linked In, your Blog avatar, Forum profiles, account profile photographs, everywhere you have a presence online, your professional headshot should be there creating that positive first impression!

Consistency is key in creating trust, and recognition, you do want people to recognise, and remember you, don’t you?
You do if you want positive connections to come from your online and social media activity, that’s for sure!

Claire Boyles Start Up Marketing Consultant & Speaker

Claire Boyles Start Up Marketing Consultant & Speaker


Consistency is essential when it comes to building trust, so to build trust with people, from first impressions you must be congruent with your communications.


Communications aren’t just verbal, or in text, they come in visual format too; your logo, and your headshot amongst many other visual communication tools.


The more professional, yet approachable your headshot is, the more likely people will reach out to ask you about you, your business, your products. And when people reach out to you, that’s a hot lead you cannot undervalue!


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