How to Take Professional Headshots at Home

An often forgotten — but extremely visible — element of being a working adult is the professional headshot. At the very least, you’ll upload your professional headshot to your LinkedIn profile, but many workplaces also require a photograph for your company email and communications channels, and sometimes even for their website. A picture that’s outdated, blurry, poorly lit, obviously cropped, or that has a distracting background or props doesn’t reflect well and can detract from all the hard work you’ve done as a student to build your professional profile. But never fear — we’re here to walk you through how to take a photo you can be proud to display, no fancy cameras or big budgets necessary.

Finding the Right Light
Proper lighting is one of the most important considerations for taking a quality picture. Light can be too harsh, too warm, too flat, and a host of other problems that keep professional photographers on a constant quest to find the right light. For your headshot, just keep these tips in mind:

  • Take your photo in natural daylight. This will automatically improve the photo because your camera won’t be amplifying the light to make you visible, which can cause the picture to become grainy.
  • Don’t take photos in midday sun or under overhead fluorescent lights. The harsh light above you can cast shadows on your face and darken important features you want to keep visible — like your eyes!
  • Take your photo in what’s called “open shade.” This can be any location where there’s no direct light on your face or body, but you’re also not covered by a ceiling, awning, or something above you (for example: a courtyard or the shady side of a building). You should be in this shade, but the camera doesn’t have to be. You can use this kind of light any time of day. 
  • Take your photo closer to sunrise or sunset, in the first and last hours of the day. This light can make the photos more dramatic.
  • Watch for cloudy weather, which can be a good photo-taking opportunity because it puts everything in the shade and opens up your options. But beware: If it’s too overcast, the lighting (or lack thereof) could make your photo appear flat.
  • Only use one light source, and don’t use flash or any sort of artificial light. Every source you add puts out a different color of light, which means your picture will end up unnaturally tinted. If you must photograph indoors, turn off all your lights and take the picture by a window.

Choosing a Background
In a professional headshot, the subject (you!) is much more important than the background, so there are a couple things to remember:

  • Find a simple background. Look for something that won’t draw attention away from you and tells the story you’re wanting to share with your headshot.
  • Separate yourself from the background. For example: If your background is a wall, put a few feet between yourself and the wall. This separation forces the camera to blur the background and focus on you instead.
  • Unless your job or company specifically relates to the outdoors, try to avoid taking your photo with nature as the background, as this can look less professional and more like lifestyle photography. Instead, find a wall with a color that contrasts nicely with your skin tone.

Picking Your Outfit
Dress for your professional headshot the way you’d dress for your job (for more guidance on this, check out our post on how to dress professionally). When planning your outfit, consider these tips:

  • Wear clothing and colors that you feel good in, and keep your outfit consistent with what you generally wear and the work you do — just be yourself and represent who you really are.
  • Don’t do something with your hair you wouldn’t ordinarily do. If it’s normally straight and you curl it, people may have trouble recognizing you in your headshot.
  • Avoid busy or excessive colors, patterns, and accessories, such as rhinestones, glitter, sequins, tight stripes, and complex patterns. For a professional headshot, your clothing shouldn’t draw attention away from your face. Not only that, but sometimes cameras have difficulty cleanly photographing elaborate patterns or glitzy accessories!
  • Make sure your clothing is clean. Bring a lint roller and double check that you don’t have any hair on your clothes, especially if you have pets.
  • If you wear glasses, make sure they’re clean. Smudges, specks, and fingerprints will show up in a photo! Tell whoever takes your picture to look out for reflections and glare in the lenses of your glasses, and adjust as necessary. Rotate your body, turning bit by bit until whoever has the camera verifies that there isn’t glare or reflection over your eyes.

Striking a Pose
Posing often feels awkward or staged. Luckily, we’re mainly focused on your head, shoulders, and maybe a bit of your torso for a headshot, so you don’t have to worry about much! To help your pose feel as natural as possible, there are a few things you can do:

  • Stand or sit for your photo. It might seem obvious, but you shouldn’t be lying down or doing any daring poses for a professional headshot.
  • Don’t slouch or lean on anything. Good posture makes for a nice, confident headshot.
  • When standing, set your body at a slight angle away from the camera and turn your face back toward the camera. This forces you to stand up straighter and makes your shoulders appear more narrow. If you want your shoulders to look broader, turn them so that they face the camera more.
  • When sitting, sit on the edge of your seat. This forces you to use your core and sit up straight.
  • Think about where you hold tension. Often, it’s in the jaw and shoulders, and sometimes the forehead. Actively relax these areas. For example: To loosen up and release tension before you take your picture, lick your lips and move your jaw around, roll your shoulders, or raise and lower your eyebrows.
  • You don’t have to smile in every picture — you can look happy and not be smiling! Take a few photos where you smile with your eyes instead. If this sounds confusing, try laughing and then let your mouth relax.

Taking the Photo
The big moment is here! There are a few crucial steps you can take to ensure that the sound of the camera shutter is the sound of success:

  • Have someone take the photo for you! Your professional headshot should not be a selfie. This way, your arm won’t be in the photo, the overall perspective will be better, and you’ll end up with a more flattering image.
  • You can take your professional headshot on a smartphone. Technology has advanced enough that, especially if you follow our other tips here, you can get a nice photo with your phone! However, if you have some kind of digital camera — even a simple point-and-shoot camera — use that instead. If you have a friend or family member with a digital camera, ask if you can borrow it. Better yet, ask if they’d be willing to take your photo!
  • The face is the focus of the professional headshot. Tell the person with the camera to frame your head and shoulders and take a few pictures. Then have them come in a little closer and just frame your head. Take a few photos from different distances and angles so that you have options you can choose from.
  • Don’t waste space in the photo by showing too much of the background.
  • The photographer should take the picture so that the camera is level with your face, not drastically above or below it. If you want your jaw to be prominent and accentuated, have your photographer shoot from slightly below. This will make the jaw look bigger. To shrink the jaw and show your eyes first, shoot from slightly above.

Editing the Photo
With our tips, you’ll already have a great professional headshot ready to use, but some people prefer to give their photos an extra polish. Follow these guidelines to make sure that your editing improves your photo:

  • Try to frame the photo correctly while taking it so you can avoid cropping it later. Cropping can make your image look pixelated.
  • Don’t use any filters. If you need to edit, use the functions your phone’s photo app already has built into them.
  • When editing on your phone, use the light and color tabs. You can click to see more options on both (for example: contrast, exposure, highlights). Use your eye to make sure that the photo is bright enough. Then, look for an option called “cast” under the color tab, which will change the color balance — in other words, make your photo warm or cool. Adjust this so your skin tone looks natural and not too warm, cool, magenta, blue, etc.
  • Keep any edits simple and use a light touch. You want your photo to look natural, not neon.

At the end of it all, pick one photo. You only need one good shot — so don’t stress! Choosing a single professional headshot, rather than having a portfolio of pictures, is better in the long run because all your platforms will match. This helps you build a personal brand; people will recognize your photo and know it’s you.

Now that you have a new professional headshot to upload to your LinkedIn profile, keep that momentum going and update your summary, too! Read our post on how to write a LinkedIn summary, which includes sample sentence templates to help you get started.

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Written by Guild Education
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