Headshot photography: 6 easy steps

Matthew James Oxlade
Updated on

Take your headshot into your own hands with these six easy headshot photography tips.

Identity is a crucial factor in your professional life. From an employer’s point of view, the headshot is often the first thing they see of you. Get it wrong and you risk not only harming your chances but also being labeled as ‘careless’.

Fortunately, there are many practical ways to have your headshot photography done professionally without breaking the bank – and still get it right!

In this post we’ll cover everything from what to wear; how to pose for your best side; as well as what not to do, like using Snapchat filters or blowing up a picture from Facebook.

Six steps to good headshot photography

Using your smartphone

Everyone has a smartphone, and the cameras on these devices take a really clear photo. Today you can even take a very good portrait on your phone. We often hear that a “good photographer” is needed to take headshots, but these days that’s not the case. The best way to get started is to download a camera app that has some of the basic portrait controls (like a little slider or arrows for the exposure).

A few good camera apps are:
– The stock camera on your device

Make sure you clean your smartphone’s camera lens before you take a photo, and if you want to use a tripod mount (this is always best) you can get those inexpensively too.

What to wear

Our recommendation for a headshot is to wear something dark that doesn’t distract from your face. But don’t wear black, because it drains the color out of people’s skin tones. Make sure your outfit is neat and clean. One thing that works is to have the subject wear a simple button down shirt, with a clean white t-shirt underneath, or a clean button up shirt.

The shirt with the more saturated colors is usually worn over this under one, so it’s even cleaner and brighter underneath. So everything is dark except for the white of your skin and your face. You can also test out different colour shirts.


The less in your background, the better. Simple composition is key. Use a plain wall and take one step forward from it to give a little space between you and the background.

If you are outside, be conscious of what is behind you. A tree is nice, but a dying tree is not. Kids throwing a ball in the background is distracting. Keep it simple.

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How to pose

The goal of a headshot is to show a professional, alert, and attentive person. There are many types of headshot photography but for us it’s all about the eyes. Your headshot should not look like someone is trying to be ‘cool’ or ‘extraordinary’.

Try to avoid putting your hand on your face – unless it’s a typical hand gesture for your profession (as in-house counsel) you won’t make a very good impression.

Headshot Photography
A bad example of a pose.

The easiest way to pose is to turn to your side a little. Your back should be straight (not leaning against the wall), with one of your shoulders pointed towards the camera at a 45 degree angle. Having both of your shoulders pointed towards the camera will give you a flat, boring photo that doesn’t produce any confidence.

If you are taking a 45 degree angle approach to your shoulders, your head should be pointed directly at the camera at eye-level. Headshot photography is not done at a party – so keep the lens at eye-level rather than looking down at your phone or up at the lens.

Headshot Photography

Experiment with different expressions, like smiling vs. neutral. If you want to look friendly, smile (but never a smirk). A neutral expression is the most professional out there.

A lot of people are afraid to be “different” in their pictures so they end up making themselves bland through headshots that don’t stand out or say anything about them.

Use natural light

Do your headshot photography near a large window that offers a lot of natural light. Don’t use a flash. Flash in smartphones gives a washed out look that offers no mood. Freelance photographers doing headshot photography will have a lighting setup that brings mood to the photo, but since we are helping you do your own headshot photography, using natural light will produce a much better result than the small flash on your smartphone.

Headshot photography
An example of natural light coming through a window from the front-left.

Natural light should never come from behind you. The light should spill onto you. When I say ‘spill’ onto you, that means that raw sun rays are not what you’re looking for. Some soft light that just comes in a from a window to either your front-left or front-right is most ideal.

No Snapchat filters or narcissism!

Snapchat filters are not meant to be used in photographs. Filters are fun and can add a creative element to certain photos. But not your business headshot. If you use a Snapchat filter, you are telling the world that you are more interested in having a good time than in looking professional. This is a very bad message to send out to potential employers and clients.

When I say no narcissism, that means you shouldn’t use a significant amount (or any, really) of face-tuning. Even if there are aspects of your face or head that you don’t like, others never notice it, but they will notice face-tuning. So avoid it at all costs with headshot photography.

By now you’re ready to take your first photo and avoid needing to outsource a freelancer to do your headshot photography. Let me know how you go with it!