Professional adult getting headshot taken by a photographer outside.
From choosing the right outfit to consulting trusted opinions of others, there are several key tips when taking the perfect headshot. — Getty Images/Ugur Karakoc

Whether it’s right or wrong, people will form immediate opinions about you based on your online appearance. So, when you’re looking to advance in your career, a professional headshot is a great way to set yourself apart. These five steps will ensure that you take a great headshot.

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Select the right photographer

Unless you plan to DIY your headshots, the first place to start is by picking your photographer. Choosing the right photographer can make all the difference, so don’t just pick the first person who pops up in Google search.

A good photographer will have the expertise you’re looking for and help you feel comfortable during the photoshoot. Most photographers are willing to do a pre-session consultation either in person or over the phone.

Use this time to explain the style you’re looking for and what you have in mind for the shoot. Be sure to review that person’s work to see if you like their photography style.

Choose the right location

The location you choose will influence all other aspects of the shoot, including the lighting, your outfit selection and how you’ll pose for the photos. Indoor locations with a simple backdrop are usually the best spot for a headshot. Choose a place that's away from direct sunlight to avoid any glares or squinting in the photos.

If you do choose to take your photo outdoors, be sure to avoid midday sunlight. And have a backup location in mind in case it rains that day.

Allocate at least 30 minutes to an hour to getting your photos taken, and be prepared to make adjustments as you go.

Choose your clothing

The way we dress says a lot about us, so you want to choose the right clothing for your headshots. Our idea of appropriate workplace attire has changed considerably over the last decade, but it’s still a good idea to avoid dressing too informally.

If you’re not sure what to wear, look to see how other professionals in your industry dress in their headshots. You can always use multiple outfits during your photoshoot and see which option looks the best.

Try to stick with solid, neutral colors that won’t distract from the image of your face. And choose colors that will complement your skin tone and contrast nicely with your background.

Don’t rush the process

You may dislike having your photograph taken but try not to rush through the photoshoot. The more images your photographer can get, the better the chances you’ll walk away with some really great headshots.

Take some time to warm up and get comfortable before the photo shoot begins. Turn on some music if it helps you loosen up. Allocate at least 30 minutes to an hour to getting your photos taken, and be prepared to make adjustments as you go.

Have someone else choose your photos

Once the photoshoot is over and you receive your headshots, you’ll probably have a lot of opinions about which images look best. But you may be better served by letting someone else select your photos.

A study conducted by the University of South Wales looked at participants who took photos of themselves to use on social and professional networking sites. Participants chose the images they liked of themselves and rated them based on attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, confidence and competence.

Then those participants did the same thing for images of a stranger. And what’s interesting is that the photos those participants chose for strangers usually made a better first impression than the images they chose for themselves.

So when it comes to choosing a headshot that will set you apart, don’t rely on your judgment alone. Get some input from others about which photos help you stand out the most.

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Published May 14, 2021