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The professional headshot conundrum

A couple of recent incidents:

I was called in to a local real estate brokerage a year or so ago. They were revamping their web marketing, and asked me to present some options for updated headshots, with examples. They were all impressed with the shots and the presentation. They did nothing about it then, and have done nothing about it since. (They’re a boutique firm, currently have several listings over a million dollars, and are using an odd selection of headshots, ranging from a clip from a party snapshot, 8-year-old shots that bear only a faint resemblance to their current owners, to the kind of college summer break snapshot that students are warned against putting on facebook. I thought about including a link, but I’m kind, so I won’t.)

Then, I was recently given a card with a headshot on it from a real estate sales agent from another firm. That photo looked more like an attempt at a glamor shot than a professional headshot. Worse, the woman looked older in the photo than in real life. (Unless you’re 18 and trying to get into bars that’s most likely not the effect you want.)

If you’re in a profession with a public presence, you need a headshot for your company’s website, collateral material, and to distribute with press releases. But what’s this headshot supposed to do? What should it look like? It all depends.

On the most basic level, of course, it should look like you do now. (It should not look the way you looked when you graduated from college 12 years ago. The DMV does likenesses in bulk, but if you’ve got a headshot that looks like the photo on your driver’s license don’t read further, just call me now.) As important, the photo should be able to capture the attention of someone who goes to, say, your company website, and should lead them very quickly to the conclusion that you look like someone they’d like to do business with. So what’s that look like? It all depends.

On what? On what’s your business, and who’s your market. A lot of people think, “Oh, I’m a male accountant, so I’ve got to be wearing a white shirt, a conservative tie, a gray suit, and have a gray background.” Really? What if you’re from Los Angeles, and you’re an accountant in the entertainment industry? Is that the right look for that industry? What if the target demographic for your business is 20-something-year-olds? What’s a look that they can relate to? Gray suits, not so much.

An architect in an unfinished building site.

If you’re in a creative field, shouldn’t your headshot make you look creative, and shouldn’t it look like it was done creatively? If you’re a healthcare practitioner, don’t you want to look kind and approachable? If you’re an architect, I can’t think of why you’d want a headshot that made you look like an accountant. Ever see a photo of Frank Lloyd Wright? Ever think he just might be an accountant? I rest my case.

A naturopathic physician and her pediatric patient.

So what to do? First, think about it. Who are you trying to reach? What are their expectations? What’s the image you’re trying to project? Then talk to a photographer (shameless not-so-subliminal self-promotional hint here) about your ideas and how to make them visual. The process should be fun, productive, and painless. Even if you’re an accountant. And you can click here for some more examples of professional headshots.