How to take a headshot – Tips from a professional

Tips from Professional Photographer Sarah Henderson

Taking a headshot can be challenging, which is why I recommend consulting a professional. A skilled portrait photographer manages all the crucial details to ensure outstanding results.

If you're around Columbus OH, you can easily schedule a session with me, ranging from straightforward LinkedIn photos to extensive branding shoots.

Great headshot photos convey personality, engagement, and trustworthiness, which are hard to achieve on your own. If you're unable to work with a photographer, keep reading for essential tips on how to create a professional headshot at home.

What Background Should You Use For Headshots?

Choose a backdrop that is simple yet effective, avoiding patterns that could distract. Plain walls, blurred natural scenes, or subdued hues work best to complement your appearance without competing for attention.

  • Solid Color Walls: Neutral colors like grey, navy, or beige.
  • Textured Surfaces: A wall or a backdrop with a subtle texture.
  • Nature Backgrounds: Soft, natural settings such as parks or gardens with greenery.
  • Bookshelves: In a professional or academic context.
  • Urban Settings: For a more dynamic backdrop, urban elements like metal doors or smooth concrete walls work well.

Make sure to blur the background by using a large lens aperture.

Professional headshot for business of friendly looking Dan Wiley
Business woman headshot

Headshot Camera Equipment and Setup

Employ the best camera at your disposal. For smartphones, utilize 'Portrait Mode' to achieve a depth effect, and for DSLRs, a 50-200mm lens is ideal for flattering portraits without distortion.

If you only have a smartphone available make sure to not get too close, but back up a bit and use the telephoto lens, if you have one, to zoom back in.

Being too close can result in a distorted face.

beautiful white woman with white and brown hair smiling with mouth shut

Optimal Lighting For The Best Headshot

Unless you are a professional and know how to really make the most of studio lighting, then natural light yields the best results.

Indoors, aim to position yourself by a sizable window for soft, diffuse light.

When outside, seek shaded areas where the light is even and soft, avoiding direct sunlight to prevent harsh shadows.

Think about the direction of the light as it falls on the face and try different combinations of lighting and shadow. This will make a difference to how dramatic the final result will be.

Professional headshot for business of smiling man
Professional Headshot for business of Man by Desired Focus Photography near Columbus, Ohio

Dress and Grooming

Professional attire is key for a business headshot.

  • Choose outfits that align with your industry standards. If you are going to try for "casual" then go for "smart casual"!
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum and ensure it reflects your professional demeanor.
  • Also, think about how your clothing color will match with the backdrop you want to use.
Professional headshot for business of realtor Erika Adornetto in red jacket
Professional headshot of Sarah Henderson

Pose and Expression

Maintain an open stance and avoid rigid postures to convey approachability.

A genuine smile or a serious yet approachable expression can make your headshot stand out.

Many people choose to have several headshots, each with slightly different facial expressions, postures or clothing styles. This is so that you can choose the most appropriate one for different scenarios:

  • Neutral: A calm and composed look, neither smiling nor frowning, which can be perceived as professional and serious.
  • Friendly Smile: A gentle, modest smile that can make the individual seem more approachable and warm, suitable for client-facing roles or service industries.
  • Confident Smile: A more pronounced smile that projects confidence and energy, often used by executives, sales professionals, or anyone aiming to convey leadership and positivity.
Woman holding her hand near face. In studio with grey background. Wearing brown and black striped wrap dress. Reddish brown hair.
Professional headshot for business of Jim Sulzer

Editing Recommendations

Minor adjustments to improve lighting, contrast, and sharpness are acceptable, but keep retouching minimal to ensure the photo remains true to your real appearance.

Some amount of skin retouching is fine, especially for small blemishes, out of place hairs etc. But avoid strong adjustments and unrealistic skin smoothing filters.


Overall Presentation

Your headshot should be an accurate representation of your professional persona.

It's your first impression in many cases, so it needs to project confidence and professionalism.

Professional headshot for business of realtor Erika Adornetto in black jacket
Professional looking doctor headshot portrait photo
Portrait photograph of health care professional

Want professional quality? Consider hiring a professional headshot photographer. As outlined above, capturing the perfect image involves numerous factors that only a specialist in headshots and branding photography fully understands.

Investing in a professional is highly recommended, as it significantly benefits your personal and brand representation. It’s evident when professional help is bypassed — so don't settle for a selfie when it's a matter of business and professional life.

A simple local search will reveal many skilled photographers. Choose one whose style resonates with you and who can highlight your best features.

In the Columbus Ohio area?
You can book your headshot session with me!

Call or email using the buttons below. My headshot studio is in Granville, central Ohio but we can also travel to other locations in the Columbus area.

You can read more about my business headshots service on this page:
Professional Business Headshots