I make a distinction between head shots and business portrait photos: Portrait shots carry a significant amount of subtext in their presentation that conveys more than the physical likeness of the subject. It could be as simple as showing what that person does for a living to more subtle elements such as suggesting their moral or ethical beliefs.
Head shots are much simpler as they are seen mostly on social media profiles, magazine articles the person has written or heading up the corporate brochure. As such, these shots have three main purposes: convey confidence, friendliness and approachability.
So; how can you get this across in a business head shot photograph? Here are five ways that will help.
The number one way of showing you are friendly is to smile in your photo. Not simply a turning up of the corners of the mouth, (that will just look fake) but a smile that goes all the way to the eyes. As the photo is your 2D avatar for your real world presence – and the primordial brain can’t differentiate between a photo and the real thing – a real smile shows you are willing to be approached.
2. Look right into the camera
You’d make eye contact in real life because it is the best way of building trust between two people. By looking into the camera lens, you are looking right at the person viewing that image. (remember; their brain can’t tell the difference between a photo and the real you)
3. Tilt your head
Such a simple technique but so powerful in making you look approachable. Tilting the head is a natural response when we are listening and fully engaged with another person as they speak.
4. Clothes maketh the man (woman too)
Wear clothing that supports your work. If you dress in a suit and tie when meeting prospects in the real world, wear the same in your photos. Nothing confuses people more than seeing a person wearing a football shirt in their photo and then you turning up suited and booted. The context is wrong, leading to a mild state of anxiety for them (probably wondering if they should have dressed up too)
5. Pay attention to the details
While we’re on the subject of personal appearance, a good shave/well-groomed beard, or well-applied makeup, plus tidy hair always looks good in the photos. For many, this is also a great way of making them feel confident. And if you feel confident, you look confident.
Bonus tip! Getting the right angle on your head shot also makes a difference. If you are packing a few extra pounds (and after lockdown, who’s not carrying some extra timber?) get the photographer to shoot your head shot from above the eye line. This will help hide any double chin and, because of the way a camera’s optics work, makes your body look smaller as it’s further from the camera.
Pete Bresser is a professional photographer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.