3 Things That Make a Great Professional Headshot (Plus, Why You Need One)

professional headshot of a woman

Adobe Stock

Profile Picture
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
July 25, 2024 at 8:0PM UTC
Do you really need a professional headshot? Won’t that super flattering photo from your vacation in Europe do?
1. Yes!
2. No!
Professional headshots help you project a, well, professional image to the world. Business cards are well and good, but in today’s digital age, most work-related contacts will scope you out online via LinkedIn and other sources before or while conducting business with you. Whether you are well-established in your field or just starting out, you need to be putting forth an image that makes you appear confident, capable, and polished.
So, how do you take the perfect professional headshot? Whether you hire a professional photographer or have a friend taken your photo on an iPhone, we’ll outline the steps below.

What is a professional headshot?

A professional headshot is a photograph of yourself that you use for business contexts, such as your LinkedIn profile, your business’s website, your own website or portfolio, article bylines, email signatures, and other professional purposes. It allows you to project a certain image to colleagues, clients, recruiters, hiring managers, and other people who know you in a work context.

Why do I need one? Are professional headshots worth it?

Your professional headshot is often the first point of contact you’ll have with anyone with whom you are currently or may do business in the future. For example, recruiters may find you on LinkedIn, and, like it or not, will at least partially evaluate you based on the image you project. The same is true of a prospective client who looks at your website to determine whether or not to use your services.
Senior- and c-suite-level employee especially are in part representing their companies with their professional headshots; after all, a prospective client who sees a sloppily-dressed vice president on a company website will likely form a negative impression of the level of service she can expect to get from the entire organization.
But even people just starting out in their careers should make sure the image they project is one of professionalism; this encourages people to see you as someone who is capable and mature. The cliché “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” does have some validity, and the same is true of your headshot: project the image of the professional you want to be, even if you don’t have your dream job yet. 

What is the best way to take a professional headshot? What makes a good professional headshot?

1. Find a photographer.

Some photographers specialize in taking professional headshots, so the first step is to find a quality one with a strong portfolio who falls within your budget (more on that below).
Some networking events and conferences offer opportunities to take your professional headshot for free. However, since these photographers will be taking many photographs and likely won’t touch them up or make other adjustments you will get with a paid service, the photograph probably won’t turn out quite as well as a paid one might. Still, it’s better than nothing, and if you’re not sure you’ll be using it often, it could be the way to go. (We’ll also outline the steps for having a friend take the picture.)

2. Dress professionally.

Wear a top that isn’t too revealing and makes you feel comfortable and confident. Avoid tank tops and low cut blouses. It’s also best if it is in a solid, basic color (no patterns or bright colors). If you have long, dark hair, choose a lighter color to prevent your hair from blending in with your top.

3. Discuss any pertinent details with the photographer.

Be sure to mention anything you want the photographer to capture.

4. Take the photo and choose your favorite.

The photographer will probably take several shots. Choose the one that best captures the professional you!

5. Be yourself.

At the end of the day, you should always be yourself! You want people to get to know you through your headshot. The real you. So let them see who you really are by being authentic.

6. Loosen up.

Professional headshots can be awkward to shoot. But don't sit or stand so stiffly. The looser you are and the more comfortable you seem, the more confident you come across.

7. Smile!

Just because you are a professional does not mean that you have to have a serious face. People like to work with people. Smiling shows pride. It also makes you seem more approachable and like the kind of person others will want to work with.

How much should I pay for professional headshots?

If you do decide to use a photographer, you’ll see a wide range of prices from about $75 to over $1,000. 
Prices will vary considerably due to factors such as location (you can expect to pay more in cities like New York and Los Angeles and less in smaller towns), the experience level of the photographer, the editing services included in the package, and more. 
Some professions, such as executives, speakers, salespeople, real estate agents, and others require the use of headshots more frequently than others. If yours is one of them, then it may be worth investing a little more in high-quality headshots. If you don’t think you’ll be using it very frequently, then it’s probably fine to choose a lower-priced package.
However, do be wary of very low-priced deals. You’ll most likely find these among photographers who have little experience. That doesn’t mean they can’t take beautiful shots, but just be sure to look at their portfolios before booking the service. Department and superstores may offer similar deals, and these photographs can sometimes appear-low-quality, which is not the effect you want.
On the flip side, you really don’t need to be paying more than about $1,000 for a high-quality photographer.

How do I take professional headshots with my iPhone?

It is possible to take a DIY professional headshot. Again, a professional photographer will take higher-quality headshots, but if you don’t have the budget, this is a fine alternative. Here’s how to do it:

1. Ask a friend to help.

It’s pretty much impossible to take a professional-looking selfie, so choose someone who takes decent pictures to be your photographer. It’s possible to use a phone with a self-timer, but having someone else take the pictures will help ensure that the shots are capturing your best angles and expressions.

2. Choose a well-lit location.

A solid, light background (gray is ideal) with natural light is best. Avoid direct sunlight, which will produce a glare. 

3. Make yourself presentable.

See #2 above.

4. Take several photos.

Have your friend take a few eye-level shots, giving you many options.

5. Edit.

After choosing your favorite, crop, adjust the brightness and contrast, and edit as needed. If you know your way around Photoshop, you can edit other details there; otherwise, most photo-editing software that comes with your phone or computer will allow you to make basic changes.

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up! 

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always