5 Elements to an Effective Headshot

When the result gets you noticed

Why am I saying “effective headshot” instead of a “great headshot?” Any portrait that makes the viewer feel something, whether it’s good or bad, is caused by the portrait. The image they see evokes some kind of emotional response. That doesn’t mean for the portrait to be effective you have to evoke an intense reaction. 

The point of any good portrait is to get noticed and make a connection with the viewer. Therefore, if you are interested in showing an effective headshot to your audience, then this article will help you decipher what you should give to the camera/photographer and your intention behind it. 

Is what others say about you what you intended to communicate?

There are many studies on first impressions and what a profile should and shouldn’t have. A popular tool, backed up by a lot of science, is Photofeeler. This app rates your profile images based on competence, likability, and influence. Also, whether you look smart, trustworthy, attractive, and finally- confident, authentic, and fun. 

The primary thing to understand here is that your portrait needs to communicate what you want it to the first few milliseconds it is seen. 

You must have the right intention and goal before you begin

Most people trust their photographer solely to generate a good headshot for their business. All the technical details are taken care of to make them look like pro shots, not selfies. But if you are not clear in communicating what your intention is- you may end up with portraits that are not that effective. This may boil down to understanding what your brand means more clearly, or simply knowing the result you wish to accomplish.

1. The Importance of Eye Contact in a great headshot

One of the keys to making a connection with a viewer is through the eyes. William Shakespeare said, “the eyes are the window to your soul.” What he meant was that if you look deep into someone's eyes you can see their inner essence. You can also see their emotional state and how they view the world around them.  

So when you look into the camera, be authentic and direct. Envision the lens as it were the person you want to connect with, whoever that may be. Project with confidence, and own who you are; perfect and imperfect. The difference between eyes that show uncertainty and ones that show authenticity is equal to a handshake with a feeble grip compared to a strong bold grip.

If you are relaxed and being yourself you will connect with your audience. Don’t get overly critical with the details, but have an intention and let your essence shine!

2. A legit SMILE says “Like me”

A smile is going to instantly accomplish one primary thing- your level of likability. All the research backs this up. A smile with teeth makes you look younger, more attractive, and approachable. 

If your goal is to make yourself appear more likable, then definitely smile. Just make sure it’s genuine. Most viewers will be able to tell. Showing teeth or not doesn’t matter, the real smile comes through the eyes. Try laughing inside when you show off your pearly whites. 

What if the goal is to attract more customers? This is something that needs to be explored based on what you do and who your ideal customer is. A big smile may also make you look less competent in the wrong context. Imagine a lawyer with a big cheesy grin, would you want to work with them? In this case, an effective headshot would be no smile or a small confident smile. 

3. Consider how BOLD you could be

Get the viewers' attention by being expressive or telling a unique story about who you are. If you’re a sci-fi author, then maybe you’re a character in one of your books. If you’re a hairstylist, maybe you’re super excited about being surrounded by hair. You get the idea. 

The setting and situation, and how dramatic you want to be, are endless. To make your portrait truly compelling be clear about what you want to communicate, even if it is in the moment. 

If you want to add drama but are not sure how to begin then ask your photographer. Say something like this “I want to do a portrait that is captivating… strong… intriguing….” They will love you! This gives them creative license to brainstorm. 

4. Let’s be candid about your headshot

A candid portrait presents you in a real moment and communicates honesty. It is an unaltered view of reality. This type of portraiture will show the viewer what you are like. They are captured when you don’t realize you are being photographed. They can be taken when you are engaging with someone else, in a conversation, doing an activity, or in deep thought. 

This point of view can produce highly effective headshots, especially when the image is an illustration of your character. 

Is this relevant to what you do? It can be. Especially, if you are the primary marketer of your personal brand. Influencers, public speakers, or artists, may use these kinds of images to tell a deeper story about who they are and their motivations for their work. 

5. Technical aesthetics can make a difference

Even if you have all the elements above in a portrait, if it's poorly lit or too busy that will affect the outcome. Good lighting and composition are essential. It all comes down to the photographer to capture a great headshot. An experienced photographer just knows when all elements are right. This even includes the position of the head. 

To summarize, having the right intention of what you want to accomplish before you begin and hiring a professional photographer will generate a highly effective headshot. With good eye contact, a brilliant smile, and letting your personality shine through you are guaranteed to be likable, approachable, capable, intelligent, or whatever it is you are trying to get across. 

If you need a new headshot and you'd like it to be effective in your outreach then give us a call at (805) 440-03655 or schedule your Headshot Session today.