The Business Value of a Good Headshot

Like it or not, the quality of your headshot says much more about you than you might realize. In particular, I’m referring to the quality of the photograph you use as:

  • your profile image for all your social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, You Tube, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
  • as your profile image for your Email account at work,
  • as your profile image for your personal Email account,
  • as your profile image for your user account on blogs, community web sites, and subscription sites
  • as your profile image for your instant messaging account
  • on your own web site
  • as your profile image on your fantasy football website or app
  • as your profile image on dating websites
  • for other web site where you can, or want to, or need to provide a photograph of yourself

On the Internet, these kinds of images are called Avatars. I think offers a simple, basic definition of an Avatar: “An avatar is a personalized, graphical illustration that represents a computer user, or a character or alter ego that represents that user.

As a photographer, I admit that I’m naturally focused on image quality. As it relates to headshots or avatars, my criticism of bad headshots usually concerns the composition of the image. By composition, I mean the layout or the content within an image. I see too many headshots that are either poorly composed or are obviously cropped out of another image.

The Consequences of a Bad Headshot

If you use a poor-quality image for your Avatar, some people may think less of you for one of several possible reasons. They may think you’re too lazy. Or that you don’t care how you look to the world. Or that you don’t believe that appearance should be important. Or that you are so technically inept that you can’t figure out how to shoot a simple selfie and upload it to the Internet. Or, worse yet, that you have something to hide.

No avatar is just as bad. I see lots of LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook profiles with no headshot or avatar of any kind. I’m sure that many folks purposely don’t post a headshot because they’re trying to remain anonymous or keep a low profile. But that strategy can and probably does backfire. A missing avatar invites suspicion.

I also understand that some people simply don’t like the way they look. So, they try not to share any photos of themselves online. Or they vigorously oppose anyone tagging them in any image where they appear. I’ve dealt with plenty of people who say, “I don’t want my picture taken,” or “I don’t like the way I look in pictures.” Some of those folks don’t want an Avatar because they don’t want anyone to see (and agree with) how bad they think they look.

I understand. And I completely empathize. I’m not particularly happy with my mug either. But it’s the only one I have to work with.

You Can’t Hide

Like it or not, we are more exposed than ever. Anyone who uses a computer or mobile device is likely to have some online social exposure, even if it’s only an Email account at work. If anyone else has ever taken a picture or shot a video of you, it can end up on the Internet – and you can be “tagged” (identified) in the photo. The point is, you can’t hide, no matter how hard you try. As an experiment, Google yourself. You might be surprised to learn where you and your picture show up.

Transparency is Expected

Like it or not, today’s culture expects, demands, and rewards transparency and accountability. Our culture has made heroes out of people like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange because they exposed opaque government entities and characters. To an extent, questionable transparency cost Hillary Clinton the U.S. Presidential election.

Maybe you’re not hiding anything or trying to be purposely invisible. Or maybe you strongly believe that you shouldn’t be judged on your “looks.” I get that. You want to be judged for who you are, not on how you look. Unfortunately for you, that’s not how society works.

Since you can’t (and shouldn’t) hide, doesn’t it make sense to try and look as good as possible? Don’t you want to have some control over your appearance?

Avatar Quality Defined

What do I mean by a “poor quality” image? Generally, I mean any image that doesn’t clearly and positively portray you in the best possible manner. But more specifically, I’m referring to four variables that impact every avatar/headshot:

  • The pose or positioning of the subject of the photo
  • The facial expression on the subject of the photo
  • The background object(s) in a photo
  • The clarity, exposure, color, and contrast in an image

Here’s what I commonly see in bad headshots/avatars:

Your image has been cropped out of another image. Too often though, it’s a bad crop. I can still see a part of your spouse’s head in the picture. Or your head is angled so radically that you look like you’re about to fall out of the image.

The background is distracting. What’s that object growing out of your head? Is that a bong sitting on the table behind you? Are you at the beach?

You in your tuxedo. In your attempt to look somewhat business-like, a cropped photo of you at your sister’s wedding doesn’t cut it. While you look good in the tux, it’s not something you often wear. Unless you work in a bridal shop, try not to use that photo of you in your dinner gown.

You and Your Dog. Why do you need everyone to know that you love your dog? Is that dog so important to you that you want to bring it to work with you? Or take the mutt on sales calls? The fact that you are a dog lover might suggest that you’re a nice person. Or that you hate people but love dogs.

Why Are You So Pissed-Off? Don’t frown. I understand that you might want to portray a serious persona. You’re all business. No fooling around. But you look mad. And unapproachable. Do you want people to think that you’re a crabby, unsociable, hard-ass? Good luck with that strategy.

Your Mugshot. The two worst photographs of you were taken when you got your driver’s license and on your first day on the job when you were issued your employee ID badge. You look like a sociopathic mass murderer in one photo. And a cadaver in the other. Please, do not use either one for your avatar.

Bad Quality Usually Isn’t Your Fault

I completely understand. Just because someone has a camera in their smartphone, it doesn’t mean they are capable of shooting a good selfie/headshot of themselves. Self-portraits are not easy for anyone to shoot, especially with a small, hand-held camera.

So, in the absence of an acceptable self-portrait, many people are forced to use a photo of themselves that someone else shot. And it’s often a cropped image. Or it’s a blurry picture of a blurry picture – scanned on the office copy machine, then faxed to your email account.

Two Solutions:

The best solution is to have your portrait made by a professional photographer. Let someone take your picture who is in the business of making things look good in photos. A pro will give you suggestions for what to wear, what to do about your hair, which side of your face offers the better profile, and what kind of poses work.

Or, if you prefer the DIY approach, have someone else take your photo. Follow these suggestions:

  • Choose a good background. Try for solid colors and/or subtle patterns. Watch out for lines and angles. First, compose the background. The compose the person against the background..
  • Use natural light and avoid flash. Stand near a window. Or outside in the shade. Never have the shot taken in direct sunlight or any harsh light.
  • Get close. Don’t forget, this is a HEAD shot. That means shooting no lower than the shoulders. It should be a photo of your face, not of your upper-body. Most avatars are no larger than the size of a penny. That means is hard to see small details in small photos. Let your face fill at least 75% of the frame.

Take Two

Many of us act differently at work than we do outside of work. We are more serious or more formal than we are with friends and family. We have outside interests, hobbies, religious beliefs, and political opinions that may not align with our “day jobs.”

It’s not unusual or unacceptable to want to project different personas for different reasons. I know you don’t want to fool anyone, but you might want to demonstrate your multi-faceted personality. One image alone rarely does a good job for both. So, take two portraits. One for your business personality and one for your leisure personality.

Once and for All

It’s time to fix your headshot. Years ago, when the Internet was young and before every phone had a built-in camera, shooting, developing and uploading a photograph was harder than it is today. Modern smartphones have high-quality camera electronics, feature-rich apps for creatively developing images, and apps for easily transferring a photo to your laptop or other device. There’s no excuse anymore. Once and for all, take a few minutes now to upgrade your headshot. After all, you look marvelous.

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