On Brand Headshots: How to Guide Your Photographer or DIY

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

Want to look like a pro? A nice headshot can really help. What was once the province of actors hoping to play Background Cafe Patron #3 in an episode of Friends has now become, thanks to the internet, an important tool for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Since your business doesn't have the built-in brand recognition of a chain, customers want to know who they're shopping with when they go to your website. It's important to connect with potential shoppers (and show off your personality).

Unless your brand identity is very relaxed, though, you probably don't want to just throw up some snapshots. How can you get a nice headshot for your site?

The Basics

Traditionally a headshot is just what it sounds like: a close-up photo of someone's head and shoulders. It's usually brightly lit and not overly arty since its original purpose was to show a casting director exactly what an actor looked like. If you go to a professional photographer and request a headshot, they're probably going to give you a photo along these lines. That's why every Real Estate Agent in the Tri-State Area uses some variation of this style of headshot for their billboards and business cards.

If your goal is to appear very professional, this standard headshot is a solid route to take. See Weebly customer Lauren Beth of Glory B's for an excellent example of a traditional headshot.

On Brand Headshots - How to Guide Your Photographer or DIY

To take as good headshot of yourself:

  • Much like Lauren Beth in the image shown above, position your body at an angle to the camera and turn your face towards it. Tilt your head up slightly—this will create cleaner lines around your neck and jaw.
  • Stand in front of a plain (white, some shade of gray) color or blandly patterned background (like brick), so there's nothing to distract from your face. Don't lean right up against this background—stand at least a few feet away from it.
  • Use a higher aperture (f-stop) setting to blur out the background and give the photo depth. A number lower than 4 should do the trick.
  • Keep in mind that the focal length of whatever lens you're using (focal length is essentially the lens' zoom) is extremely important when the photo is this close on your face. A focal length of 35mm or less may distort your features, enlarging your nose and slightly warping the rest of your face. The lens should be 50mm to 120mm to ensure you look your best.
  • If you don't have access to a nicer camera, find a friend who has an iPhone 7+. This phone has a portrait mode that adds background blur to make the photo look more professional. It works wonders.

Of course, there's no reason to limit yourself to a traditional headshot. It never hurts to:

Add a Little Personality

Your brand likely has a personality. If it doesn't, it certainly should.

Bring that personality through in your headshots. Move around a bit. Don't look directly in the camera. Take a photo mid-laugh. Give the camera an intense glare. Pull the camera back so you're framed waist up instead of shoulder up. Vanessa and Kelly from The Woven Home do a great job with their headshots just by adding some movement and variance in facial expressions.

On Brand Headshots - How to Guide Your Photographer or DIY

Even something as simple as leaving negative space in the image can make it more interesting. Chelsea of CA Makes has a wonderful headshot that is all the more striking because of the excess space that takes up the top third of the image.

On Brand Headshots - How to Guide Your Photographer or DIY

A few tips for this more freewheeling style of headshot:

  • Since your face doesn't fill the frame, you can get away with using a wider angle lens. 35mm or a little less is fine here.
  • You'll notice the example shots above still use plain backgrounds. A busy background is distracting even in these less traditional headshots.
  • The lighting is bright but soft. To recreate this, use window light in the morning or late afternoon, or be fancier and use a set of strobe lights with a softbox placed over each. You can rent this sort of thing from sites like borrowlenses.com. (Though simply relying on window light is probably easier if you're doing this yourself or with a friend). This would also be the proper approach with the more traditional headshots above.
  • Because you're adding movement and space to the photographs, you don't have to worry quite so much about how you position yourself. It doesn't hurt to start with your body pointed to the camera at an angle though, much as you would in a basic headshot.​

If you want, though, you can take your headshot beyond this basic plain background setup. How?

Use Your Work Environment

Use Your Work Environment

If you're a maker and your work involves creating something, be it food or clothing or art, taking a headshot within your work environment can really help show off just what it is that makes your business so unique. Remember, it's you, not a factory or a group people in some far off place, that's personally creating the products your customers are purchasing. That's a huge differentiator.

Molly of Molly Sanyour Ceramics does this well. If you didn't know she was making the ceramics herself, you certainly figure that out within a minute of visiting her site.

Even if you don't personally make your products, photographing yourself using them in the wild can still show how passionate you are about what you do. Robert Tsai of Juniper does just that, wearing his outdoor clothing company's clothing... outdoors.

On Brand Headshots - How to Guide Your Photographer or DIY

Since this kind of photo is much more relaxed, it isn't technically a headshot, but it ultimately serves the same purpose—to connect visitors to both you and your brand.

Which type of headshot is right for you?

  • If it's important for your business (or just to you) that you appear very professional, a traditionally photographed headshot is the way to go.
  • If your brand identity is more relaxed or fun, break the rules a bit and let your personality shine in your headshots.
  • If you're a maker or love your products so much that you constantly use them, consider bringing those products into your shot.

Whichever approach you choose, a nice, at least semi-professional photo of yourself can do wonders towards establishing the legitimacy of your business. If you don't already have one, make taking one a priority.