Headshots vs. "Mugshots" vs. Selfies - they're not interchangeable

The smartphone, network, and associated applications have transformed our daily lives in many ways – indeed we are becoming a more visual society. The number of pictures being taken and posted is growing exponentially – and it is becoming very common for pictures of oneself, one’s business, leadership teams and employees to be part of resumes, LinkedIn profiles, corporate and small business websites, etc.. These pictures and images convey more information in an instant than paragraphs of background and explanation – people viewing them have both conscious and sub-conscious reactions to the images they see (the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is more true today than ever before).

So, it’s important that you have the right photography that conveys the right message/image (no pun intended) you want to convey to the viewer of whatever platform the photograph resides on. It’s also important to note that employers, educational institutions, potential clients, etc. not only all have access to these images and can easily find them, but that they typically do so as part of their vetting process. In a B2B setting, or when reviewing potential job candidates, companies visit both LinkedIn and Facebook to get a better sense of who people or companies are. When they’re looking for service providers, suppliers, etc., they’ll also visit the website and look to see who the management team is. Investors in startups will visit their website prior to meeting to get a better sense of the company, management team, etc..

I’ve seen 3 general categories of approaches to photography that people use – obviously as a photographer I’m biased here, but I think you’ll find this all makes sense, and the approach you’ll ultimately take will come down to how valuable/impactful you think imagery is to you and your personal brand:

“Selfies” and similar photos

The shot of you in sunglasses, a bathing suit or on the ski slope, smiling, perhaps with beer in hand, etc.. While it may seem cool, hip, fun, etc. (and it is!), put yourself in your audiences shoes – specifically the audience who is checking you out on LinkedIn, where you’re applying for a job with serious responsibilities. Your potential boss COULD be really into beer, skiing, etc. – OR, could be very worried about hiring a person who understands the responsibilities of the position, has the skills (ie, interpersonal, communication, collaboration, as well as technical) to be successful in the position. Does the image of you with beer in hand convey that message, particularly when he/she has 5 other profiles of people with images that convey professionalism?

Mugshots, and the like

There’s a second level of photos I’ve come across – these are the ones shot by a friend (or by the walk in photography booths at JC Penny which are operated by someone who has been taught how to press the shutter button, insure the strobe lights are turned on, and say “1, 2, 3 SMILE”) of you dressed well, facing horizontally in front of the camera, smiling. You may be in front of a white wall, or in the parking lot, or standing near a tree, etc. The lighting can range from OK to that often-seen “flash in the face” look, perhaps with red-eye, shiny skin, etc..

The Professional Headshot

These are the photographs that you can immediately tell were taken professionally – well lit, a pose and expression that conveys the impression you’re looking to really convey. The look can be formal, informal, or in between – laughing, smiling, serious or somewhere in between. The background and lighting is coordinated with the lighting, person’s skin tone/clothing etc. Hair and makeup (if applicable) are done in the context of the image that the person/company wants to convey. If it’s a company website showing the management team, the lighting, backgrounds, and overall look is consistent – this doesn’t imply that they’re all robots or people in uniforms – rather, it conveys a sense of unity (i.e., all working towards the common goal of making the company a success) and purpose, which after all is what you want in a management team. The overall look is designed to be appealing and in concert with the overall branding/messaging the company is presenting. None of this happens by accident – skilled headshot photographers will talk with you beforehand about the purpose/use of the photographs, message you want to convey, etc.. During the session, they’ll help you thru several different looks and perhaps changes of clothing, lighting, etc., giving you a number of options to choose from. You also should be able to easily see the results of each shot on a computer screen or monitor (called “tethered shooting”) so you can jointly evaluate the shot, make adjustments, and shoot again. My sessions with clients generally run between 45-minutes to an hour, during which I’ll generally shoot between 50-100 images – changing/tweaking poses, clothing, lighting ratios, background colors/shades, etc. in order to achieve the best looks, giving my clients a variety of options. My clients have often commented how they didn’t realize the impact minor tweaks in these factors can make in a photograph.

In a B2B setting, your brand/image is an important factor in your success, whether as an individual or company. Be sure your choosing the right photography that reinforces that brand/image.

Barry Braunstein