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In this digital age business portraits are very important. Even before you meet a client for the first time or go for an interview, you will have been checked out on LinkedIn or on your website and will have already made a first impression. A potential client surfing the net may have opted for the next listing below your’s because they liked the look of the person more!

So you can’t avoid it any longer, you need to get your head shot updated. That grainy old picture just doesn’t communicate the right professional image and let’s face it, was taken ten years ago. You’ve changed and fashions have moved on and it just won’t do anymore. If you are like 90%+ of the population you dread having a formal picture taken as much or more than a trip to the dentist for a root canal filling! I would certainly prefer the latter and am infinitely more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

I’ve photographed lots of different people over the years and have also had to face up to having my own portrait done and have amassed a number of hints and tricks to make the experience more pleasant and to ensure that you end up with a portrait you are pleased with.

What to wear (and what not to!)

  • A head shot usually means head and shoulders, usually to around chest level, so pay particular attention to what is worn in this area.
  • Think about the image you want to project. Usually for a business head shot this will be professional business clothes but it depends on the profession you are in. In this shot Maura has chosen a slightly softer but still smart look – she is a collaborative solicitor and wanted to appear approachable and professional but not stuffy so opted not to wear a business suit.
  • Wear something you feel good and comfortable in. Avoid tight fitting clothes and clothes that wrinkle and crease easily.
  • Avoid busy patterns, logos or overpowering bright colours. Reds, yellows and oranges can reflect a colour cast onto your skin and should be avoided. Pastel or nude / skin colours can make you look washed out. Colours that match your eyes are good.
  • Avoid fussy scarves and collars. Simple is usually better. Jewellery is OK as long as it is understated. Don’t wear anything that will date your picture too quickly.
  • Go for 3/4 or full length sleeves rather than bare arms. Bare skin distracts attention away from your face and unless your arms are tanned and toned (and mine aren’t!) then it doesn’t look great.
  • V neck jumpers are generally quite flattering as they elongate the neck. Avoid polo or roll neck tops.
  • If you need a full length shot rather than a head shot, then wear tops and bottoms in the same colour. Avoid strongly contrasting colours i.e. white top and black bottoms, as this cuts you in half and makes you look shorter.
What about make up and hair?
  • If you know you look good then you’ll feel good too and that will show at the photo shoot. There’s no need to book a full makeover, especially as you might end up not looking and feeling like you! But this is a personal choice, some people feel better if they’ve had their hair and make up done and others are happy to do their own.
  • If you have long hair you could do some shots with your hair tied back and some with it down. 
  • Wear what make up you would normally wear for a evening out – and we’re talking a meal out not a full on Christmas party! Avoid lip gloss and anything too shimmery.
“I feel really uncomfortable posing for my photo”.
Don’t we all! But any good photographer will know how to make you feel relaxed and how to pose you in ways that flatter you. Here are some tips to make sure your best side is captured:
  • We all feel uncomfortable just standing in front of the camera – how should we stand, what should we do with our hands? To avoid feeling so awkward lean against something if possible and you will feel much more relaxed.
  • Try not to stand full on to the camera, instead stand at an angle, with your hips and shoulders on a slight diagonal and turn your head towards the photographer. If it’s for a full length shot, then put your weight on your back leg and bend your front leg slightly, toe pointed towards the photographer.
  • Where possible I get people to sit down on a chair as this is often much more relaxing for them. It also enables me to shoot from above, getting the model to look up slightly which is often more flattering.
  • Sitting “cowboy” style on a chair (astride it backwards) works well, giving you somewhere to rest your hands and getting you to lean forward.
Top Secret Tip
  • To avoid those double chins (we all have them especially when we smile!) then try this little tip: point your chin down and then jut it out forward – this tightens the jaw line.  The photographer is shooting you from face on, not from the side so although this feels unnatural it really works! Try it in front of the mirror.
Backgrounds
The decision whether to go for a plain background or a natural one depends on you and sometimes on restrictions imposed on you. In the shot below a graduated grey background was required to match existing head shots of business colleagues on the company web site.
Where possible I prefer neutral, natural backgrounds that complement the image the client is looking for  – complimentary colours, nothing distracting in the background to draw the eye away from the face. In the image below I purposely included the urban background but made sure that it was out of focus so as not to be distracting.

In some cases you can hint at the working environment but always ensuring it isn’t a distraction.

And in this next shot we styled it so that the client was lying down amid hundreds of toy white rabbits. It’s still suitable as a head shot but has a much more informal feel and is suitable for PR purposes.

A little extra help…

I edit every shot in post production and make sure that the client looks at his or her very best. I remove blemishes and imperfections, reduce wrinkles, slightly brighten eyes and teeth and even slim faces a little. We’re not talking L’Oreal airbrushing, my intention is that the client will look at the picture and say “Wow, that’s a really nice shot of me!” but not be able to put their finger on exactly what I’ve done!

What happens after the shoot?

Everyone works slightly differently, but I usually select a number of final images, do an initial edit on them and then send them across as low resolution files to the client who will select two to three they wish to use. I then provide fully edited high resolution JPEG files.

Who owns the copyright to the final images? 

It’s usual for the photographer to retain the copyright for the images but to grant you full business usage.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I’d love to hear your comments too!

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