How To Take Your Own Professional Headshot (With Examples)

By Amanda Covaleski - Nov. 13, 2020

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There’s so much to think about when getting ready to apply for jobs. When setting off on a job-search, the first thing that comes to mind is having a solid professional resume and a well-written cover letter. These are undoubtedly essential pieces, but one of the most often overlooked parts of a job application is the headshot.

Having a good headshot is the first step to making a good impression for job-seekers. With sites like LinkedIn becoming popular for professional networking, potential employers will often see an online profile before seeing your resume.

It’s a good idea to have a high quality and professional headshot on hand. Having a photo of you on networking sites makes you look like a friendly and put-together potential employee.

However, now more than ever, it can be difficult to get professional headshots. Whether you’re stuck because of social distancing, financial reasons, or time constraints, professional headshots aren’t always possible for everyone. Good news – you can take high-quality headshots right from your own home if you have a helpful friend, good lighting, and a camera on your phone.

We’re going to share a few of our best tips to get professional-looking headshots right in your own home to accompany your resume and help you make a great first impression.

What Makes a Good Headshot?

Headshots are all about you, and specifically your face. You’ll want to make sure that your face is front and center in the photo so employers can see what you look like.

There are a few general guidelines that the pros use to take good headshots. One is to use appropriate lighting, so there are no harsh shadows or washed out parts of your face. When you take your own headshot, you should have a friend around to help you get the lighting just right. You’ll want your face evenly lit from the front instead of backlit, which can cover your face in shadows.

Another pro tip is to pay attention to what you wear for your headshot. If you look around at other peoples’ headshots, you’ll notice that there are a lot of muted colors, like black, white, grey, and navy. Follow suit and wear something simple so all the attention can go straight to your face.

Make sure to avoid bright and distracting colors, like bright red or yellow, since these can distract from your face and wash you out. You should also avoid busy patterns since they tend to blur in the photo and pull attention from your smile. Simple patterns with muted colors should work, but when in doubt, don’t be afraid to try out a few different outfits when you take your headshot to find the best one.

Something else that professional photographers advise is to remove glasses if you wear them. The lenses can sometimes reflect whatever you’re looking at and make it hard to see your eyes. Try a few photos with and without your glasses on to see which version you like better.

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For women, it’s a good idea to wear simple jewelry and keep any makeup light. Large accessories can distract from your face, so think about wearing a simple necklace or stud earrings instead of your fanciest jewelry. The same goes for makeup, where less can be more. Sometimes makeup looks too heavy on-camera, and it can distract from your face.

Finally, one key element to a good headshot is personality. If you can find a way to incorporate something about yourself in the photo, definitely do it. Some examples include taking your photo outdoors if you’re an adventurous person or your job involves being outside, wearing your scrubs if you’re a medical professional, or holding a book or other work that you’ve published or created. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, so you don’t come across as boring, but do keep it appropriate and professional.

15 Steps to Taking Your Own Professional Headshot

If you keep our tips above in mind, you’re well on your way to getting a great headshot at home. Now, we’ll give you all the steps to taking a winning headshot. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how to get a professional-grade headshot on your own.

  1. Find a friend. First things first, you should find a friend to help you out. They’ll be able to tell you how you look, how to get good lighting, and take the photos for you. While you can take a headshot on your own, it’s much easier to have someone else helping you.

  2. Gather your tools. If you can’t have a friend help you, there are a few tools to make the process easier. Try taking photos with a tripod and a remote, so you don’t have to mess with a self-timer or repositioning your phone or camera each time you snap a shot.

  3. Set up your background. Take a look around your house for areas with lots of light and plain walls. The closer you can get to a white wall, the better. You don’t always have to be inside, though. Some people like to take their headshots outside with natural lighting and outdoorsy backgrounds.

  4. Get good lighting. Lighting is critical to the overall quality of your headshot. Having your face evenly lit will make your headshot look professional, so don’t be afraid to play with light sources and set up a spotlight or lamp to get perfect lighting.

  5. Pick out your outfit. Like we mentioned above, take some time to put together the best outfit you can. Avoid bright colors and patterns and go for solid fabrics in neutral colors, but don’t be afraid to try out a few different options in your photos.

  6. Practice your poses. One of the hardest parts of taking a headshot is figuring out how to pose and look natural on camera. It’s a good idea to test out a few poses in the mirror beforehand, so you have an idea of what makes you look good and gives you a natural smile.

  7. Block off some time. A good headshot doesn’t happen in 20 minutes, unfortunately. Plan to spend about an hour to nail the perfect headshot, or more if you want to try out multiple outfits and poses. Even if you save two hours, you probably won’t need it, but you’ll be glad that you planned out enough time, so you’re not stressed about keeping your friend busy.

  8. Check your camera. Headshots are totally doable with phones these days, thanks to photo technology improvements on most phones. Just make sure you double-check the capabilities of your phone and the camera app that you’re using. Some apps are better for taking portraits than others, so do a little bit of research before starting.

  9. Clear up storage space. You won’t get the perfect headshot on the first try, and that’s ok. Since you’ll likely be taking dozens of photos, you should clean up your phone storage before starting your photoshoot. You don’t want to pause halfway through your shoot to clear up photos, so it’s a good idea to do this beforehand.

  10. Get ready. When you’re ready to take your photos, take some time to get dressed and fix your hair. You don’t need to do anything special. After all, a headshot is supposed to show how you typically look, but you can take some time to fix any flyaway hairs or check for stains on your shirt.

  11. Test camera positions. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend to try a few different positions for taking photos. You’ll want a wide range of pictures to choose from to get your final headshot, so have them move around. Ask them to stand close to you and take photos from the shoulders up and further back from the hips up. You can also try taking photos from straight on, or have your friend stand slightly to the side to get different angles.

  12. Switch poses. Just like you don’t want all your photos taken from the same position, you don’t want to be stuck in the same pose for all of your pictures. Here’s your chance to pull out some of the poses you practiced in the mirror and show off a bit of your personality. Try standing angled away from the camera or looking over your shoulder to get a different view. You’ll be happy that you got some variety when it comes time to pick a final headshot.

  13. Look at your photos as you go. You don’t want to take dozens of photos blindly without looking at them. If you try out a few poses or switch outfits, look at the pictures and see which shirt or angle you like best. This can help you take the perfect headshot if you evaluate the photos as you go. If you find a pose you love, try taking a bunch of photos in that pose until you get the best one.

  14. Relax. Don’t get too stressed about taking your headshot. Have a normal conversation with your friend, or ask them to try to make you laugh to get a great smiling shot. Taking headshots doesn’t have to be an awkward and stiff experience; you can have some fun with it, and it will show in your photo. Putting on some music is another great way to shake off any stiffness during the photo shoot.

  15. Edit your photos. Last but not least, once you’re done taking photos, you need to sort through them all and pick the best few. Take those best photos and try editing them lightly. Ask your friend to look at your best few headshots before publishing the winner or adding it to a resume.

How to Adjust the Photo for Publishing

There’s a whole range of tools you can use to make your headshot look great once you have the photo, but most of the time, heavy-duty, professional editing isn’t necessary.

You only need to edit your photo lightly if you think the lighting is off or there’s something on the edge of the frame you want to crop out. These edits can be as basic as trying to enhance the lighting or removing red eyes, or as advanced as blurring the background to make your face stand out or editing out any blemishes. Most phones can do light retouching right in the camera or photos app, so play around with them and see if you can improve your photo.

One thing you definitely want to edit is the size of the photo and how it’s cropped. When you have your final photo, you should make sure that you’re in the center of the image, unless you’re following the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a guideline in art and photography to create a balanced composition. The theory goes that if you divide up your photo into equal thirds horizontally and vertically (so you get nine sections), the subject should be centered or in line with those nine lines. This can help you position yourself in a balanced and appealing way even after you’ve already taken the photos. You don’t have to follow the rule of thirds, but it’s a good idea to test it out to see if your photo looks better when you use it.

Once you have your photo positioned and edited as you like it, you should ask a friend to give it a quick look and make sure it looks good. When you’re ready to share your headshot with the world, try cropping the photo to fit different size specifications before you publish. For LinkedIn and Twitter, the photo should be 400 px by 400 px, or a square. On Facebook, you can make the image smaller at 180 px by 180 px, and Instagram requires the biggest image at 110 px by 110 px.

There you have it! You’re on your way to getting a great, professional-quality professional headshot on your own. If you add it to an effective resume with your qualifications and key skills laid out and a cover letter highlighting your work experience, you’ll get the job in no time.

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Amanda Covaleski

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Amanda Covaleski

Amanda is a writer with experience in various industries, including travel, real estate, and career advice. After taking on internships and entry-level jobs, she is familiar with the job search process and landing that crucial first job. Included in her experience is work at an employer/intern matching startup where she marketed an intern database to employers and supported college interns looking for work experience.

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