Anatomy of … a good professional headshot

Lights, Camera, Action!

“A headshot really acts as a gatekeeper,” says Shelley Golden, an image consultant and founder of Shelley Golden Style in Burlingame, California. “It can influence whether someone wants to know more about you.”

Whether a headhunter is debating your suitability for a key role, a conference planner is considering you to deliver a keynote speech, or a potential client is wondering whether to do business with you, your headshot can help sway the decision.

You have only one shot to make a first impression. To make the best of it, Golden offers these tips.

Decide what qualities you want people to see. Are you edgy? Cool? Really conservative? A minimalist? “These are parts of your story that people can get from a headshot,” Golden says. Once you decide on the qualities, use your wardrobe, makeup, and the backdrop to emphasize your points.

Choose the right photographer. This isn’t something you want your best friend to do (unless she’s a professional photographer). Golden advises visiting the websites of photographers in your area, seeing the people they’ve taken photos of, and asking yourself, Do these subjects look fantastic? If so, inquire about other services the photographer provides. Some will include hair and makeup as part of their package.

Enhance your natural beauty. Even if you don’t use makeup regularly, it can help make your skin look less shiny in a photograph. Lipstick can accentuate your features. “The fuller your lips are, the younger you look,” Golden says. YouTube makeup channels can give some good tips, she adds.

Be strategic with colors. If you have fair skin and fair hair, choose softer to medium colors. Those with darker skin tones should embrace bright, bold, and intense colors. Golden recommends that all women steer away from wearing black, blue, and prints when taking a headshot, as they may make you come off as less approachable.

Smile—or not. A smile draws people to you, and is inviting, Golden says. However, if you want people to perceive you as quite serious, you may choose to convey that by forgoing the smile in your headshot.

Update the headshot regularly. Take a new photo at least every four to five years, Golden suggests. Not only can it be startling to someone if you look 20 years older than your headshot, but an up-to-date image is a way of being authentic. Golden notes, “You’re saying, ‘This is who I am, this is who you’re getting.’”

If you’re finding that people want to meet you after seeing your photo, your headshot is doing its job. “It’s telling people you’re friendly, you’re safe. Come on in. Let’s talk further.”

—Tamara E. Holmes

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