I see a lot of really bad headshots used in corporate presentations, awards ceremonies and on team pages on websites. They are bad in different ways, and range from embarrassing to unintentionally humourous. Some of them are just clearly cropped from a photo the subject submitted themselves, probably in a mad rush to get something in place for an impending deadline. Some are selfies, some are vacation photos (you may look great in a bathing suit but that may not be your best office look) and some just an obviously out of date image.
Do you need to have a professional photo taken? Not all the time, but you should consider where your photo will be shown and what it will be used for before submitting that selfie you snapped on a hike in Iceland. It may be a beautiful photo but does it send a message that’s consistent with what you do professionally? Your headshot doesn’t have to be staid and boring, but it is just a marketing tool after all and should be viewed through a marketing lens and be as consistent with your personal or company brand as you can make it.
Hanging on to an old photo, whether it was professionally shot or not is understandable and commonplace because it’s the default position and the easiest thing to do. Everyone is busy, no one really enjoys having their headshot taken and most people feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable in front of a big portrait lens. Much easier to just keep using that photo you had done years ago and hope nobody notices that your hair is maybe a little thinner or a different colour, or that your face isn’t quite the same shape. We all want to stay forever young. A new headshot is one tiny acknowledgement that we’re getting older and no one likes to admit that.
Of course, there is another way to think about it. A new headshot means you’ve been successful and are still working at a career that you are hopefully still excited and motived by. It’s more honest and authentic which are attributes that are respected and valued now more than ever. A good portrait sends a message of confidence too. It tells the world you are right here, now and ready to go.
Consider too that today the trend is for a photographer to come to you to take your corporate shot. Few professionals have the time or inclination to leave work and add an appointment to an already busy schedule at a photo studio. It’s much easier to simply walk down the hall at your appointed time slot and be in and out of your shoot in under ten minutes.
If you’re convinced it’s time for an update, you’ll want to learn about what’s changed in corporate portrait photography since your last one was taken a decade ago. Aside from probably not accurately reflecting how you look today, they were likely shot in a more formal, stiffer style than what is current now. Camera technology has improved as well. Truly remarkable detail and control are now more easily attainable, and the editing suite can add a very professional look to your image without looking like a bad Photoshop job from the nineties.
As someone who regularly shoots corporate portraits, here’s a few ideas to consider for your new headshot:
- Portraits today tend to show people looking friendly and approachable. This is achieved not simply by smiling naturally and easily, but also by your choice of background. Whereas in the past a very plain white or grey background was the standard, these days I am shooting a lot more portraits against cityscapes, building façades or natural environments. While you may still choose to have one traditional shot taken against a seamless paper background if your company requires it, I would recommend looking for something a little more interesting by way of background, preferably something that represents the milieu you work in.
- Ditto for your choice of wardrobe and hairstyle. Nothing dates a photo quite so badly as an out of fashion hairstyle or clothes (e.g. wide collars, fat ties) nobody wears anymore. Society is more open today and people are more comfortable and used to a more natural look. Relaxed, business-casual is the norm. For men you can try a few shots with a collar shirt and jacket, and then a few without the jacket. Women have a few more choices both with hair and clothes, but the same rule applies. Aim for something that is classic but comfortable and that you genuinely enjoy wearing.
- Try a few different crops. There is a much wider playing field today for what would be considered acceptable in a corporate portrait than even a few years ago. While there is definitely a standard head and shoulders type crop, you could try out a few slightly different angles or crops that bring you closer to the camera. You don’t have to look like everyone else, especially if you are running your own business or working as a solopreneur. Explore a few creative options and see what comes up. This can mean a few wardrobe changes and different backgrounds (I sometimes go for a walk around the office with my clients to get shots of them in a variety of settings). Most photographers will charge a session fee that would offer you time to explore a broader range of images if you’ve got the time to spare.
It’s 2018. If the photo you are using was taken with you wearing clothes you no longer own, or no longer really reflect how you look today, then maybe it’s time for a new one. Think of it as just one part of your digital hygiene – you don’t keep using the same email signature for a decade so why are you still using the same photo?