A professional headshot is an important part of your online presence when you’re looking for a new job. The great news is, it doesn’t have to be professionally shot! You can DIY a great, professional headshot with just your own camera (cell phones work!) and some simple photography tips.
How to set up the shot
Purchase an inexpensive tripod or recruit a friend to help
Ultimately you’ll want to crop your photo from the chest up, but leave yourself a little extra space for now. You can crop the photo in tighter when you edit it, and you’ll want some wiggle room to adjust the framing of the photo.
👉Pssst... avoid the selfies, please!
If you’re using your phone, be sure to use the back lens to take the photo, not the selfie lens. It can be tempting to go selfie-style so you can see a preview of the shot, but the lens on the back of the camera is stronger and will produce a better picture.
Find bright but indirect light
Take a couple test shots to make sure you are well lit and adjust the light as needed. Overhead lighting can cause harsh shadows, so you may need to time your shoot just right to maximize the natural light coming in through your windows.
Pick a plain background
Plain doesn’t mean boring! Don’t be afraid to use a wall with a little color or texture but stick to a neutral. Busy patterns or objects in the background distract from your face. If you’re in a more creative industry, feel free to have fun and liven things up (just shoot a standard shot or two in case you need them, since you already have the gear out).
If you shoot outside, we still recommend a mostly plain backdrop (like a great painted wall in your city). Plan to shoot when the wall will be in “open shade” - that is, the sun isn’t directly overhead and there are no shadows or harsh lines across your picture.
No matter where you shoot, it’s best to disable your flash and rely on natural light. Flash-lit pictures produce shadows and glares that are nearly impossible to remove while editing.
Have fun and move
A great headshot shows your personality without feeling stiff or forced. Take more photos than you think you need, moving your body slightly in each one.
👉 Practice makes perfect! Here's a few movement ideas:
👩🎤 Tip your chin down.
👻 Try the “fake laugh trick” - smile, relax your mouth and laugh. The “ha, ha” motion relaxes your shoulders and your smile so you look more natural.
👯 Strike a power pose with one or both of your hands on your hips.
💃 Tilt your body 30 degrees one way and then the other.
Not in love with your first round of photos? Practice your pose in front of a mirror to get more comfortable. Think “relaxed, happy, approachable” more than “stiff school photo.”
What to wear for your professional headshot
- Your headshot is your first visual impression on a recruiter, so plan to wear what you would wear to an interview
- Check LinkedIn to get a sense of what other people in your desired position are wearing in their headshots
- Opt for muted, solid colors. Darker colors will bring more attention to your face. Consider wearing a blazer for a few shots, and then taking it off. This gives you options and doesn’t require an entire outfit change.
- Do your hair and makeup, but don’t overdo it. It’s important to feel comfortable and look like yourself in your photos. If your test shots feel a bit washed out, you can always pause to darken your lips or eyeshadow a bit more (or conceal any under-eye shadows that might be popping up on camera).
- Your shoes matter—even though you won’t see them in the picture. Pick a pair that makes you feel like a boss. This will immediately change your posture so you stand with more confidence.
How to edit your photo
The cameras on today’s phones are so powerful, it’s easy to take a great photo and edit it right on your phone. You can use your phone’s editing software, or download a photo editing app like Tezza, VSCO or Afterlight. Most have free versions that will give you enough tools to professionally edit your photo.
You can flip through the filters, or make 3 simple manual adjustments:
- Increase the brightness
- Play with the contrast
- Adjust the color temperature
Now’s the time to crop your photo in a bit tighter (this is why you left extra space around yourself when snapping the picture).
Play around with your position in the frame, too. The “rule of thirds”, a professional photographer’s secret weapon, places an imaginary 3x3 grid on your photo. Next, place interesting or important elements of your photo where the lines of the grid intersect. For headshots, this typically means placing your eyes at one of the intersections. This means you may be off-center in your image and that’s okay.
Social media profile picture sizes are always changing. Here’s the recommended size for your profile picture on each platform.
Most importantly, be you! Your headshot should feel professional but approachable. Stand confidently, and picture this photo being used on the “Meet the Team” page of your next employer. Now go say cheese!
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