What does your photograph say about you?

By: Fiona Humberstone

Date: 26 July 2011

If I had a pound for every time I’d suggested a client or prospective client change their headshots I’d be very rich.

Your ‘headshot’ (ie a portrait image of your face and head) is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. A great headshot will communicate professionalism, enable people to engage with you and actually help raise your profile. If you have one of those headshots that people tell you they’d never have recognised you if you hadn’t been wearing the name badge, it’s a sure sign you need to think about speaking to a photographer – and fast!

Let’s think for a moment about why people look at portraits in a business sense. They want to see who the person is behind the business. They don’t want to see you with a silly hat on or you in your favourite bar – they want to see the professional person they’re going to be dealing with. That means that your photograph must fit your brand.

Start off by making a list of how you’d like your ideal customers to perceive you professionally (in my case, approachable, friendly, creative, warm and professional). Now take a look at your photo – does it communicate those things? Chances are – if you’re at a party or a wedding it probably won’t be – you need to invest in a professional headshot.

Secondly, how are you posing? My brief for headshots is always look at the camera, look relaxed, welcoming and engaging. You want your photograph to make you look as approachable as possible. Now, if you work for a law firm, you’re going to need to put the emphasis on formality and professionalism. And if you’re in an ad agency, you will naturally need to look more relaxed and creative – but you should look like you.

Which leads me on to point three. Why this obsession (particularly amongst creative agencies) to produce illustrations/ baby photos/ school photos? Sure, it might look a bit funky, a bit cool, but I’ve clicked on your profile because I want to see who you are. An illustration doesn’t cut it for me. I’m not going to recognise you at a networking event. And – you’re missing a trick.

Finally, and this is so important if you have a team, get your photography done by the same photographer so that images are consistent. I recently worked with an estate agent on some marketing mentoring and this was one of the first things we addressed. Three people in the team – two pictures in colour, one in black and white. One very formally posed with a suit on, one in a nightclub and one at a wedding. That doesn’t suggest “cohesive team”.

Essentials of powerful headshots

  • Decide how you want to be perceived and brief the photographer accordingly.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Look at the camera.
  • Look like you.
  • Do team headshots at the same time.
  • Natural light always looks more real and approachable than studio lights and backgrounds. 

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing