8 Tips for Men to Get Great Headshots
How any man can get great headshots.
The tips for men's headshots tend to be limited to choosing ties and wear a dark suit, but there’s a lot more men can do to get great headshots.
Jerrod Langston Ewell, Architect and bow tie aficionado.
1. Express yourself
Whether you’re an attorney, CEO, engineer, or realtor, the single most important thing I can tell a man about his headshots is that they are all about your personality.
Present yourself as a unique individual, not a stereotypical cutout of a member of your profession. You’re a real person with a sense of humor, depth, and dimension. Be real.
You want to be seen with natural, relaxed expressions projecting your personality and character in your professional portraits. Work with a photographer who will coach you through your headshot session, helping you feel comfortable in front of the camera, who will draw you out and guide you on self-assuredly expressing your personality.
2. Don’t underestimate the importance of your headshot to your career
Choose the right profile picture for LinkedIn.
Your profile picture is your calling card on LinkedIn – it’s how people are introduced to you and (visual beings that we are) it governs their impressions from the start.
That was before the Covid19 Pandemic. In our post-pandemic world, the headshots we use in our online interactions play a much greater role in building and maintaining professional relationships than ever before because we won’t be meeting face-to-face as often.
An article titled “First Impressions Count” discussed a Princeton University study of first impressions and how they influence our perceptions about people (Judgment Of Political Competence Takes a 10th Of a Second, Alexander Todorov: Aeon Essays, 2017, https://aeon.co/essays/judgment-of-political-competence-takes-a-10th-of-a-second ) showed that first impressions based on photographs of political candidates could be used to predict the outcomes of elections.
Different students were assigned to different questions, for example ‘Who looks more competent?’ and ‘Who looks more honest?’ We were hoping that some of these questions would predict who won the elections. When we analyzed the data, our hopes were surpassed. Judgments of who appeared more competent predicted about 70 percent of the elections.
Glasses always look great in headshots.
3. Get your hair cut a week before your shoot
Getting your hair cut several days before your shoot will give it time to grow in and look casually well-groomed.
A touch of grey
Don’t be self-conscious of salt and pepper. Men really do look more distinguished with a touch of grey. If you’re going to have your hair colored, even if it’s just a wash to tone down the grey do it two weeks before the shoot. A little wear on the color will make it look casually natural.
4. Shaving and trimming beards, nose, ears, and eyebrows.
Beards look great in headshots, but even big bushy beards must be impeccably groomed.
I personally like a little scruff, but only a day of growth. Any more, and I start to feel self-conscious about it. Some men look fantastic with two or three days of growth. If you like how you look with a little scruff, I suggest you do a set with the beard, then shave at the studio and shoot a set with a clean look.
Trim your ears, nose, and eyebrows carefully. A friend of mine once joked that as men grow older, we don’t actually lose our hair. It just migrates south.
5. Dress well but comfortably
The clothes make the man. Bring too many outfits to your shoot, consult with your photographer about what works best for you, and project the image you want. Suits and a tie are great if you wear sweaters, turtlenecks, t-shirts, or whatever clothes you feel comfortable in.
We go to a lot of trouble to set up and prepare for your headshot session. It makes sense to get as much out of it as possible. So, having lots of options allows us to create casual looks from relationship-building to boardroom dominating formal.
If you’re going to buy new shirts or a new jacket for your shoot, be sure to make time to have the shirts pressed and the jacket fitted. You’ll never be satisfied with a photo in a jacket that needs to be taken out an inch in the shoulders.
Subtle Colors and Patterns
Subtlety is the first rule of clothes for headshots. Loud or large patterns will distract people's attention and undermine the strength of character you’re working to project. Pinstripes and small dots add subtle dimension and depth to your clothes and by projection to yourself.
Different outfits in your headshots show different aspects of your personality.
Jackets look great whether they are over a t-shirt, a button-up shirt, or with a tie. I always ask my headshot clients to bring several jackets and shirts so we can create different looks that illustrate different aspects of their personalities and suit the different roles they play within their organizations.
Shirts with small patterns and woven textures simply look fantastic. They work well to compliment the texture of your skin and hair.
Colored shirts are important. Wear the color and cut of shirts that bring out your eyes or suit your personality best. You probably don’t want to be photographed in your 49er’s gear, but it’s important to express your personality in a professional manner.
Some synthetic fabrics I’ve seen in white clothes from China and Korea will fluoresce under photo lights. This is something your photographer needs to watch out for, but you should also be aware of it.
Wearing a tie will help project authority. The right smile helps communicate approachability.
A tie is required dress for many professions, such as lawyers, but they are usually not required in Silicon Valley. Executives who present or speak will need to wear a tie on occasion and therefore need a headshot with a tie included in their set. So, I suggest my clients bring several ties, and we work together to choose the ones that work best for them in any particular role.
Don’t worry about the sheen of a silk tie. Shiny silk ties cause problems only if a photographer doesn’t take the time to control the shine.
6. Exercise the day of the shoot, but not too much.
It’s a good idea to do only half of your exercise routine on the day of your shoot. You want to be pumped and primed, but save your energy for the shoot.
7. Moisturize liberally
Most of the men I photograph are surprised when I ask them to moisturize two or three times a day and drink eight to ten glasses of water per day for a week before their shoot. Well-hydrated skin has a warm, healthy glow, and it will soften the hard edges of your smile lines.
*Make sure you use a moisturizer that doesn’t have an SPF factor. The chemicals and minerals used to shield your skin from UV rays will give your face an unnatural shine.
Don't use any product with SPF the day of your shoot. It will create an unnatural shine.
8. Give yourself the time you need to succeed
Unless you’re a seasoned professional, don’t expect to hit it out of the park right off the bat. Even professional actors and models need time to “warm up.” Get comfortable in front of the camera, relax and express yourself.
BONUS - Find a photographer who values your professional image as much as you. These headshot photographers are few and far between and are worth the time to find because they'll invest the time you need to relax and express yourself and coach you through your session.
Your career depends on making good decisions; this is not one to make lightly. Google “professional headshots near me” and review the work of your local photographers. Don’t make a decision based solely on price. Interview the photographers as carefully as your employers interview you.
So to recap…
There are plenty of things a man can do to get better headshots. Just remember these eight tips.
Don’t just smile for the camera - Be yourself and address the camera with confidence and good humor, don’t try to “Glad Hand” it.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your headshot to your career - Don’t let a bad headshot undermine all your hard work.
Get your hair cut a week before your shoot - Let it grow in a bit.
Dress well, but comfortably - Dress as though you belong in the clothes you’re wearing, but both professionally and with style.
Shave and trim your beard, nose, ears, and eyebrows - ‘nuff said.
Exercise the day of the shoot, but not too much - Get pumped but save your big push for the shoot.
Moisturize - Moisturize for a week before the shoot; you’ll look great, and those of us who are not kids will lose about three to seven years.
Give yourself the time you need to succeed - No one can knock it out of the park on their first-time at-bat. Make the time to do the job right, and find a photographer who values your professional image as much as you do.
Whether you’re a Lawyer, CEO, Founder, Executive, Engineer, or Realtor, these tips will ensure your headshot makes the right impression. Your headshot is more important than ever because it’s making your first impression in the online, post-pandemic world in which we live and work.
Dean Birinyi is an award-winning photographer, founder, and owner of Professional Headshots Palo Alto. He specializes in guiding his customers on presenting themselves as confident, approachable professionals ready for the next opportunity.