“Off with (the top of) his/her head….”

Take a look at the work of some of the leading celebrity headshot photographers and you’ll see images where the tops of the subjects’ head is cropped. It’s obviously not a mistake, so why that approach? And is it for everyone?

Before we get started, I should point out that photography is an art form, and so all of this is a matter of personal preference – one person’s art is another’s scrap. There is no real right or wrong way – but before you decide, it may be helpful to consciously look at some of the work of leading photographers and artists, and think about what you look and don’t like.

Peter Hurley originally developed this style of shooting and became known as the photographer who chopped the tops of people’s head off. In his book, “The Headshot”, he talks about how he does this because of his proximity to his subjects, how he likes the eyes above the centerline of the image, and how he also needs to capture the area below the chin. In order for him to keep his proximity to the subject and the eyes in the right place in the photograph, something has to give, and that something is the top of head.

Most people like it, some hate it (my mother-in-law being one of the latter, who looks at my work and always asks me why I chopped off the top of the person’s head!). And at the end of the day, the subject needs to be happy with their image.

But think about a headshot, what you’re trying to convey, and how the elements of the image draw attention to those parts of the image that have the greatest impact on the viewer. In any headshot (or portrait), the key areas that people are drawn to are the eyes and the smile. The eyes (aka, the window into your soul) convey a tremendous amount of information and emotion – happiness, sadness, intensity, passion, or sometimes darkness, lifelessness.

The mouth is next most important – it too conveys emotion, and you generally want the emotion shown from the mouth to support the emotion being conveyed by the eyes (unless of course you’re trying to elicit a different reaction from the viewer).

The top of your head doesn’t convey a whole lot -  it doesn’t smile, it doesn’t convey emotion so why worry if part of it isn’t showing. And, if you’re “hair challenged” like me, why even call attention to it? Personally, I like that tight of a crop on photograph, as it draws the viewer into your eyes and face more; I think this is particularly important for LinkedIn Profile pictures, where the image is so small, you want to devote as much area to the portions of your face that matter the most.

Here are 2 examples of a headshot for LinkedIn from one of my clients – which one do you think is more engaging?

li example 1-2.jpg
li example 2-2.jpg

They are roughly the same size, but the second one, to my eye, feels like he’s really looking at the viewer and you can tell more about his character.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours.