How to look good in business head shots / corporate professional portraits / about me profile shots
Updated: Feb 4
My key tips that will help you get relaxed & professional portraits every time
I’ve been shooting professional commercial portraits for over 20 years now and I’ve picked up a few tips that can really help out when having your photo taken. Let's face it, no one gives you any advice, so I thought I’d try to help you get the most out of having your profile photo taken. So here you are!
Look good in professional portraits every-time
1. Think about what you are going to wear
So don’t wear any graphic logo t-shirts or band names or funny slogans on your top. The chances are that they may be cut off in the shot and look silly. After all who wants to wear a T-Shirt with the slogan “my mum went on holiday and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’. When that's photographed and it’s just a head shot, it’ll be your face with the words ‘my mum’ below it. You’d be surprised how many people have writing on their tops and it just looks bad. After all this photo is probably going to last a couple of years on the company's website. So a band who may be cool now, might not be in two years time. Or you might have got a promotion and don’t want to be associated with One Direction any more now that you’re a manager.
Also patterns and thin stripes don’t work well on camera and computer screens. There is a thing called the moiré effect, this is when thin stripes close together create a secondary rippling pattern. This is especially evident when an image is small on a screen. Also patterns which look cool on your clothes may just be a busy visual noise on camera. So if you can think about wearing something plain that will look good no matter what size the image is.
A lot of portraits get converted into black and white. So something else to consider is the tones that you wear. That pink tie with that light blue shirt may look great in real life, but by the time the image has been converted to black and white, they may be the same tone and just blend into one another. So think about contrast and tones, if in doubt take a couple of shots of yourself in the mirror on your phone and convert them to black and white and see what looks good.
2. Shiny skin
Most of the time when a photographer comes into your work place and sets up a studio the chances are they will be using artificial lights. This is to ensure that they can get constant results from the portraits. This is great as they will usually set up the lighting to get the most flattering image of you. However, one of the disadvantages of studio lighting is that it can often make your skin look shiny / glossy / sweaty / greasy... This is especially true in the summer when it’s a hot day. So ladies I’d recommend having a bit of concealer / foundation handy. And gentlemen a trip to the toilet to wash your face just before you have your photo taken, or a quick wash with a baby wipe also works well. As no one wants to look like a sweaty mess in their photos.
3. Your hair
I’ve had so many people arrive to have their staff photo taken, and they’ve just rushed over to me though the wind and their hair is a total mess. I have to admit this is more likely for women than men as the guys tend to have shorter hair and it doesn’t get messed up that much. But the ladies with long hair, I’d always recommend bringing a brush with you to the shoot. You want your hair to be like a shampoo advert. Looking all smooth flowing, full-bodied and neat. Don’t have loads of straggly strands of messy hair. Make sure that it’s all brushed and neat around the edges. If you have a fringe and want that looking good, try not to have any big gaps in there, unless that’s what you like. Photoshopping hair is so difficult as there are so many lines in so many different directions that it really is a specialist job and usually over and above what is included in the job. It’s so much easier to get it right before the photo is taken than afterwards.
4. Make up
This is a professional shot of you at work. So think about that when you’re applying your make up. A natural look always works best. Don’t go overboard, what you’d do for a big night out probably won’t work for a corporate head shot. Keep it simple and make sure it feels good for you. If you normally wear a strong lipstick, then that's fine, but don’t go for a bold look if you don’t normally look like that. After all you want the image to be a good professional representation of yourself.
This isn’t a big one, but it’s probably worth mentioning. So if you normally wear glasses and people are used to seeing you in them. Wear them. If you only wear them for computer work and don’t often wear them when meeting people, make the decision beforehand whether to wear them in the photo. If you aren’t going to wear them, make sure you take your glasses off way before you come to have your photo taken, so you don’t have two red marks either side of your nose. It takes a while for them to go down. So leave plenty of time.
If you are going to wear your glasses, there are a couple of things that are really worth doing. Firstly give them a really good clean. It’s surprising how much dust / fingerprints / eyelash hair etc can show up in the final image. So make sure the lenses are spotless and if your frames pick up fingerprints or grease marks give them a clean as well.
Lastly when you’re having your photo taken, make sure you push your glasses back as far as they will go. Often glasses just slip slightly down the nose and tend to cover your eyes ever so slightly. In professional portraits and headshots, it’s really important to see your eyes, so when the glasses are pushed back that shows them off to their best.
5. Your best side
A lot of people know how they look on camera and what side of their face they prefer. I personally don’t so it always surprises me when people say this is my best side. But it really helps me and makes my life easier as I’ll focus on that side and work with it.
Likewise if there is a feature of your face that you don’t like or something that you are self-conscious of let the photographer know. I’ve often had people let me know that they don’t like the fact that one of their eyes is bigger than the other. So I’ll make sure I shoot with that eye closest to the camera, so perspective makes it look slightly bigger. I’ve also had lots of people tell me they don’t like their teeth, so we’ll get them smiling with their mouth closed. It’s much easier to tell your photographer these things, than to put up with a portrait that you don’t like. Think of us photographers like doctors, you can tell us anything without being embarrassed. Chances are we’ve heard it all before.
6. Shut up (in the nicest possible way!)
I can guarantee that one of the first things that people say to me when they come in to have their photo taken is ‘I hate having my photo taken, I’ve never had a picture that I’m happy with.’ They then proceed to nervously chat away in front of the camera and all I’m capturing is them talking and pulling faces. So if that's the kind of thing that you’ll do to calm yourself, don’t.
Stop talking for a few minutes. Take a deep breath and relax. You’re in safe hands. The photographer wants to take the best picture that they can of you and make you happy. Just have trust in them. Saying that I often talk to my subjects to relax them a bit and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera, but just be aware of how much you’re talking and if you’d talking too much.
Easier than you may think. How do you like yourself when you’re smiling in a photo? Lips shut or lips open? If you’re not sure, ask your photographer what looks best. They can take a few tests shots and can work with you to find what suits you best. Or take a few photos of yourself and ask friends and family.
I’ve always found that when you ask someone to smile for the camera, it tends to look a little fake. It’s not a proper smile and what I mean by that is that it doesn’t show in the eyes. So I never ask people to smile. I either try to make them smile or I ask them to think about someone or something that makes them laugh. That way I get a great reaction and a genuine smile. So if you think about someone / something funny when having your photo taken it’ll look much better and more natural.
8. Visit the mirror just before you have your photo taken
Lastly, I’d always advise a quick stop off to check yourself in the mirror before you go to have your head shot done. The chances are that the photographer has never met you before, so they don’t know what you look like. So just give yourself the once over to make sure that you’re happy with the way you look. That your hair looks good. Your necklace hasn’t slipped round. Your tie is straight and the top button isn’t showing. There is no food in your teeth etc.
So thats about it for now. I may do a follow-up one at some point in the future as this isn’t a definitive list by any means but just some easy tips that I’ve picked up over the years.