The lazy person’s guide to awesome headshots
If you want to be taken seriously on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, a professional profile image is a must.
You need a good headshot. Forget about presenting an ‘I’ve totally got it together and I’m super professional’ vibe when you’re using a cropped image from last month’s bachelor party. (We know that’s a beer in your hand – you’re not fooling anybody).
Professional headshots can be prohibitively expensive, not to mention the fact that you have to get fully dressed AND leave the house. It’s positively exhausting. If you have neither the budget, nor the will, to set yourself up with a professional photographer, there’s good news. It’s not so hard to score a professional-looking profile photo without shelling out tons of cash or investing in expensive equipment – or even leaving the house.
Bribe your photographer friend
The ultimate in lazy is having a talented photographer friend do all of the work for you while you just sit there and try to look smart. You might be surprised how far the offer of free food or babysitting will go; I myself have gleefully accepted frappuccinos and home fries in lieu of actual money.
Note: If they’re not the type of friend you would ask to help you move, they’re not the type of friend you ask to do you professional favours for free – especially if it’s their livelihood. By all means ask – beg, even, but be prepared to pay in cold hard cash, or return the favour in kind. It’s only fair.
Scout your location
As you’re ultimately going for a tightly cropped photo of your very hireable head, the actual setting doesn’t matter too much. Great light and a simple, clutter-free background are all you need.
For the best light, head outside on an overcast day. The light is soft, even, and you won’t have to deal with ageing shadows and dark circles resulting from direct sunlight. Alternatively, sit next to a window so that the light falls evenly across your face – the glass will defuse the light to give you a nice, soft glow. Avoid flashes and any harsh lighting with obvious shadows.
If you prefer a neutral background, a painted or textured wall makes for a nice backdrop – but don’t be afraid to bring in some colour. Be on the lookout for distracting, uneven backgrounds, and trees growing out of heads. Get creative. Feel free to use your home office, workspace, or other urban environment. Abstract graffiti backgrounds often make for a striking portrait.
Dress The Part
Wear what you feel great in. You want to look comfortable and portray confidence – kind of like you know how awesome you are, but it’s no big deal. Select clothing that reflects who you are on an average workday / great hair day. Don’t feel like you have to wear a full suit and tie, especially if you’d never wear one in real life. Do wear something that exhibits the level of professionalism you’ll be expected to project on an average workday.
Dress for the job you want. If you’re looking to score a job in a high tech startup, a power suit probably won’t cut it – unless you’re wearing it ironically.
If dressing up feels like too much effort, remember that it’s a headshot – so it doesn’t matter what you wear on the bottom. Jeans, yoga pants, shorts, skorts, kilts or *nothing at all are perfectly acceptable (*in the privacy of your own home and very open-minded coffee shops only).
Choose your weapon
Not sure a hunting knife needs to be part of the scenario…but, if it helps your creative process, go ahead and embrace it.
You don’t need a DSLR or fancy mirrorless camera to get a great shot – today’s smart phones and compact cameras can take amazing photos.
Smart phone headshots
A smart phone is the best tool for the rest-inclined. Not only is it always with you for when motivation strikes, but you can take the photo, edit your image and upload it all with your finger tip. A few useful tips for smart phone portraits:
- Don’t zoom in or use the front-facing camera. The resolution is much poorer and will inevitably look like a selfie. We’re going for something a little more ‘professional’. Like you’re fancy enough to have someone else take your photo.
- This leads directly to: have a friend take the photo for you. Your best candidates are easygoing, patient friends who take direction well and can be bribed with beer.
- Alternatively, you can use a tripod (regular or table-top) and set your camera’s built-in timer or download a timer app.
- Make sure your phone’s camera lens is clear of smudges and fingerprints. Use a lens cleaning cloth, or dab it with a cotton swab moistened with distilled water to get rid of built-up dirt and grease.
SLR, Mirrorless, or compact camera headshots
If you know what aperture means and how to control it, then I urge you to make the most of your talent and equipment. Use a large aperture (f/2.8 – f/8 will do the trick) and blur that background like nobody’s business.
If you have no idea what bokeh is, and no desire to learn, no worries! Set your camera to auto or portrait mode and play around with both to see which you prefer. Portrait mode will automatically use a wider aperture in order to get that blurred / out of focus background. To take best advantage of this feature, keep some distance between you and the background – stand a few feet ahead of the wall or scene you’re using as a backdrop. If you’re feeling particularly energetic and/or creative, try experimenting with other automatic settings to see which you prefer.
Strike a pose
This is the hard part – if only because standing up straight while trying to look natural can be so exhausting. Pull your shoulders back and lift your head. Angle one shoulder slightly away from the camera to avoid the dreaded passport photo-effect. Slouch from the waist down only – you want to look alert and engaged, even if it’s just for pretend.
In any headshot, the eyes have it. Practice your squinch for striking eyes (seriously, it’s a thing). For a flattering jaw line, lower your jaw slightly, and push your forehead gently forward. Watch both videos at the bottom of this post for instructions on how to excel at both.
Decide what aspect of your personality you want to highlight. Shoulders angled towards the camera with the photographer shooting slightly downward helps you appear approachable and friendly. Shooting head on, or with the camera slightly lower than your face and angled upwards can make you seem more imposing. Your eyes should be in focus and looking directly at the camera for maximum impact.
Play around with your poses – and try to have fun with it!
Edit and Load
Edit your photo on the computer if you like (but maybe remember to turn it on).
You will want to edit your photo – at the very least you’ll need to crop it into a nice square for your social media profiles. The recommended LinkedIn profile picture size is 500 x 500 pixels (200 x 200 pixels is the minimum) and should cover you across all the main platforms. Make sure your head and shoulders are front and center, and don’t be afraid to crop in close – your gorgeous mug should fill the frame.
There are heaps of free, in-phone photo editing apps available. Personally, I am a big fan of Google’s Snapseed – a free, robust and easy-to-use app available with both Apple and Android. Cropping your photo to the right size, adjusting the brightness and lightening shadows should be just about all you need. Stay away from fancy filters and sepia tones – you don’t want to look too blurry or too vintage.
If you prefer to edit your photos on a computer, there are several free photo editing software options at your disposal. I am personally a fan of PicMonkey for its simplicity and the unfortunately-named Gimp for being a solid free alternative to Adobe Photoshop. Should you decide you’d like to go the Adobe route, you can download Photoshop and Lightroom for a free 30-day trial before committing.
And…you’re done. Upload your photo to LinkedIn, turn on Netflix and wait for the compliments and job offers to roll in!
If I’ve overlooked any ways to cut corners and still score an awesome headshot, please set me straight in the comments below! And now for the promised videos…