© Peter Dressel Photography

What Is A Headshot Photo?

Actor headshot of an actress

Here are 5 things to look for in a successful commercial headshot photo.

Difference Between A Headshot Photo And A Portrait Photo

Technically there’s no difference.  Headshot photos are a type of portrait mostly used for commercial purposes usually to promote the person in the photograph.  It could be for a LinkedIn profile, personal branding or a bio page on a web site just to name a few. 

1. Eye Contact

Take a look at the headshots of your LinkedIn connections and you’ll find most of them are looking at the camera.  If you’re in a profession where establishing trust and approachability is crucial, eye contact with the camera is the way go.  But like anything else there are exceptions.  For some professionals, especially creatives, eye contact isn’t always a must.

3/4 headshot photo businessman
A 3/4 headshot photo with direct eye contact

2. To Smile Or Not To Smile

This depends on the nature of your profession and the impression you want to convey.  In general, a smile can help to make you appear more approachable, friendly, and likable. If you have a great smile good for you. Show if off and enjoy. For those who don’t have a beautiful set of teeth (I’m one of those people) a closed mouth smile can still convey all of the positive attributes of a full tooth smile.

A serious or neutral expression can convey professionalism and competence, which may be more appropriate for certain industries. Ultimately, the best approach is to consider your industry’s and target audience’s expectations and choose an expression that aligns with your personal brand and professional image.

Headshot photo female closed mouth smile
 A closed mouth smile like this still resonates trust and approachability.

3. Background

A successful commercial headshot has a simple background that doesn’t call attention to itself.  If the viewer is looking at the background more than the subject than that headshot has failed. 

Outside headshot photo female
This headshot was shot in front of a building with lots of details but because it’s so out of focus it compliments the most important part of the shot; the subject.

Some professionals want to be photographed where they practice because it’s a big part of their story.  For portraits like that the camera is farther away from the subject and everything is in focus.  This is not a headshot.  This is an environmental portrait. 

Environmental portrait yoga instructor female
We know by one quick look at this environmental portrait that the subject of this photograph is a yoga instructor.

4. Lighting

Soft lighting has softer and brighter shadows which is more flattering for the face.  There are several ways to achieve this look. I use a large umbrella with a diffuser as my key light and a large reflector for fill light. 

headshot photo female soft lighting
The soft light in this headshot compliments the subject because the shadows are barely visible.

5. Retouching

Retouched headshots for professionals should look natural, authentic and be invisible. Obvious retouching can look fake which is the last thing we want when trying to convey trust and approachability. 

Headshot of senior business woman
Headshot of senior business woman with glasses
If you look at both of these headshot photos you’ll see I softened under the eyes, the laugh lines and the neck. I also brightened their eyes, removed the fly away hairs and whitened their teeth and it still doesn’t look retouched.

If you’re interested in working together call me for a free consultation 917-536-7277

(Updated February 20th 2023)

© Peter Dressel Photography