What to Look Out For in a Headshot

When shopping for headshots, you will come across myriad approaches to portraiture, running from highly stylized, heavily retouched images to poorly lit, amateurish images. Neither of these are effective for presenting yourself on LinkedIn, Facebook, or any network as a professional.

Our suggestion is simple: hire the Dudes to make your whole office look amazing, leave the airbrushed photos to the fashion magazines, and just leave the amateur work alone.

But if you do wander into the world of shopping for a professional headshot, we've included some helpful things to look for (and look OUT for!) when you're choosing a headshot (or a headshot photographer). 

Look at Light Quality

Look For: Soft Lighting

The heart and soul of any portrait is good lighting, and most portraits benefit from softer light sources. 

Softer lighting produces a much more flattering portrait, producing more even, natural skin tones and soft directional shadows that help to shape the face and reflect the character of the subject.

Look Out For: Hard Lighting

Unfortunately, obtaining a soft light source can be expensive and cumbersome and many photographers resort to using small, on-camera flash with useless plastic tupperware on top. This tends to result in some of the following issues:

  • Hard shadows behind the subject which can be unattractive and distracting
  • Shiny skin and overly defined pores
  • Blotchy discoloration (usually redness) of skin
  • Uninteresting/unflattering images with directionless light

In layman's terms, using hard lighting results in a picture that looks like it might have been taken with a camera phone or a point-and-shoot camera - how do you want to be perceived as a professional?


Look At Light Direction

Look For: Directional Light

As humans, we are experts at using shadows and light to quickly recognize faces, and only after we have recognized a face can we truly identify and connect with the person in the image. 

In the image above, we have soft, directional light that clearly shapes the face of our subject, giving us a well-defined, friendly face which allows us to truly see the person in front of the camera.

Look Out For: Flat Lighting

Flat lighting is commonly seen when working with new photographers who aren't well versed in the ways of studio lighting. Sadly, this lack of lighting skill is MUCH more common than you would expect in the "professional" photography industry. It can be a subtle thing to catch, but it has a noticeable effect on the impact of a photo.  

As an example, check out the image above; look at the nose, chin, and eyes...notice anything missing? That's right! There are no shadows, so you can hardly make out the shape of his face at all amidst the blah-ness of the lighting.