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January 13, 2015
Snap It, But Make it Professional!
 
You’re a confident businessperson, or a job seeker. So why do you have a grainy, years-old, amateur photo of yourself on your website? If you’re serious about connecting with clients and want to show the world you mean business, invest in a professional photo portrait. People who want to do business with you will appreciate seeing what you look like.

The reasoning is simple; if your headshot is lousy, you look bad. You want to be seen as professional and how you present yourself in your photograph is key. To be taken seriously, you must have a quality headshot, not an iPhone pic (or god forbid, a selfie) or a Facebook photo taken with the wind messing your hair, and certainly not a JC Penney glamour shot with palm trees in the background.

Regardless of your expertise, a bad photo sends the message –– "amateur.” Everyone needs a good-quality business photo for their website, LinkedIn profile, for articles you write for publication, and to give to journalists who request it. When a writer submits a guest column to a publication, the editor will request a headshot. Reporters who write about you should also receive your photo, as will newspapers with ever-shrinking photo staffs.

Unfortunately, all too often new clients send me photos that appear to have been taken on a street corner, on a rooftop, or in front of the fireplace. Many are fuzzy, grainy, too light or too dark, poorly composed — the list of problems is endless. Why do businesspeople find it so difficult to get a head shot that makes them look like professionals? 

Here are some tips to keep in mind about headshots:

1. Hire a a pro
Go to a trained professional photographer who understands lighting and takes headshots for a living. Quality headshots, which include digital retouching, range from $150–$1000, depending on your location. If the headshot looks cheap, it probably was. 

2. Project your personality
Make sure the photo looks like you. Enough with the Photoshopping. It’s not about looking pretty; rather, it should look like you on your best day, showing your age, and who you are now. 

3. The eyes are the windows…
A photo portrait is all about the eyes, and what’s happening behind them. Your eyes should be perfectly focused, alive, energized. There should be hints of inner thoughts, implying a vibrant life of the mind. A slight squint, and piercing eyes, brings a picture to life. A good headshot photographer knows how to capture his subject’s personality. 

4. Pay attention to framing, lighting, the background
Typically a headshot is taken chest up with the face smoothly lit, and without dramatic shadows. Look directly into camera. Ditch overt jewelry, unkempt facial hair, or the infamous “hand on face” pose. The background should be a soft solid color or blurred environment, which requires a professional camera. Don’t be tempted to have your photo taken on the beach (unless that’s appropriate to your job), or in front of the Statue of Liberty. This photo is about you. 

5. Clothing and props
Keep your attire simple and professional, and follow the standard framing format (vertical). Professionalism makes the best impression. A simple, solid-color shirt with a little texture that fits well and matches your eyes is recommended. Avoid strong whites, and any graphics that might distract from your face. And, please lose the props.

6. Makeup for your close-up?
There’s no need to use much makeup. You want to look like yourself on your best day, not like you tried too hard. Some people overdo the makeup (and waste lots of money hiring a makeup artist) only to wind up with a fake-looking image.

Finally, find a photographer who "gets you," who you feel comfortable with. Start with some online research. Check out their portfolios, and request a consultation to get a feel for how they photograph your type, ethnicity, gender, etc.

Ask the photographer to quote a price that includes photos of you in one or two outfits — a suit and casual attire, which will be useful for different platforms. Discuss your ideas for an environmental shot, if your budget allows location travel, that places you in a setting appropriate to your occupation. 

Choose a photographer who will let you use your photos however you wish. Some insist on maintaining the copyright and will force you to pay extra after a period of time.

OK, one exemption – if you find yourself in a pinch and need a headshot quickly, do not be tempted to take a selfie.  Ask someone else to take your photo with an iPhone but be sure you have good lighting, a neutral background, and position the camera chest high.  Then, find a professional and get the job done right.

And don't forget to smile, genuinely. Nobody likes a sourpuss or a clown.

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Len Stein founded Visibility Public Relations to position the full spectrum of creative marketing services companies for industry thought-leadership. 

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