“Everybody needs professional headshots these days.” – Me, 2016.

When I first cranked up headshot photography, this was something I repeated often but didn’t fully grasp. Of course, the headshot guy would say such a big, bold statement. Over time, I was able to realize just how true that statement might be. Sure, not *every single person* needs a headshot, but if you have any sort of online presence anywhere on the web, there is a good chance you need a headshot that works for you, not against you.

I won’t put having a great headshot in the same category as food and water, but professionally speaking it carries an incredible amount of importance. First impressions can happen every hour, every day, year after year. It’s truly a vital cog in the machine.

Professional Headshots & The Faces of the Organization

Instead of just seeing the logo, the board of directors, and the C-suite cheesing away on their ‘About Us’ pages, many businesses are taking the time and expense making each employee the face of the organization. No matter what business you’re in these days, we are our core constituents. So if you are putting your image out there, it might be high time to have professional headshots ready to roll. It serves your personal and professional brand well. So what makes for a great business headshot portrait?

Lookability, Confidence, Approachability

We’ve all seen a photo that stops you dead in your tracks. Perhaps it’s a relaxing landscape in the mountains or a beachfront shot where you practically feel the sand between your toes. Sometimes we see a portrait in a magazine or newspaper that makes it tough to turn the page. In Peter Hurley’s world, this is called ‘lookability.’ The world-renowned headshot photographer (link: peterhurley.com) coined the term years ago, further outlining it in his debut book The Headshot where lookability is the ‘measurement of an image’s ability to secure the attention of an onlooker.’ The expression is so spot-on that the subject appears to be looking at you in the shot, almost like the camera isn’t even there (more on that later). There are a couple of different layers within the photograph itself.

Layer 1: Confidence

Deer-in-headlights is not a good look in any headshot, let alone a corporate headshot. It’s quite evident that the camera is messing with somebody when they have two frisbees for eyes. Don’t feel bad if you’re one of those people. We’re all affected by the camera in some way. It’s plastic, metal, and glass and it can transform the most confident and powerful people on the planet.


It’s easy to see which set of eyes are more genuine and confident.

Confidence comes from your eyes. Look at most celebrity photos, and you’ll see them looking extremely confident walking the red carpet. Watch people on stage speaking about something they’re passionate about, and they’ll have a confident look in their eyes. The mere act of narrowing your eyes even the slightest bit can transform your headshot from appearing scared to looking like you have your stuff together as the expert in your field. Peter calls this “squinching.” Squinching involves the activation of the muscles below your eyes — much like what happens in a Duchenne Smile. It’s genuine. Subsconsciously, we love a smile that’s real — one that’s tied to the eyes through the many muscles in our faces.

Shortening the distance between the top and bottom of your eye eliminates the frisbee factor and subconsciously adds juice to your photo that makes you appear genuine. Look at the two examples in the image above.

Did you know?

Duchenne used to stick electrodes in people’s faces to learn how muscles form facial expressions. No joke. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duchenne_de_Boulogne)

Layer 2: Approachability

The second component of an active expression is designed to make others want to work with you. Approachability comes from the mouth, and it can go a long way in transforming your overall vibe. We’re not talking about the ear-to-ear cheesy smiles from elementary school. If you couple one of those with frisbee eyes, you’ll … yech. Scared and overly eager is a bad look so let’s avoid it!

The range of smiles you use can depend a lot on your profession and what you’re trying to put across to your audience. The smallest uptick in the corners of your mouth can take you from appearing angry at the world to a quiet confidence. It’s a look that makes you seem like you’re up to something or know something that others do not. It’s incredible how this slight movement can change an entire headshot. Check out the image example.

smile-comparison-ian-johns-photography-professional headshots

When it comes to friendliness and approachability, the slightest movement can make a world of difference.

Note: Industry Differences

Your industry can sometimes determine what type of smile is appropriate for the situation. I often like to take headshots of individuals where they aren’t showing teeth — a closed-mouth smile. However, fields such as sales and real estate greatly benefit from showing some of your pearly whites. Again, not ear-to-ear toothy grins, but a friendly look that instantly makes people want to work with you.

The idea of these two layers isn’t to come across as smarmy, cocky or indifferent. You want to leave the viewer wondering what exactly it is that’s on your mind. When you make a person pause and think, *that’s* when your headshot has reached what Peter calls ‘camera invisibility.’ It’s a professional headshot that makes it seem as though the camera isn’t even there. Kind of like having a conversation with a photo. Sounds weird, but again if you’ve had a photo stop you in your tracks, you have had this phenomenon happen to you.

Rounding It All Out

When you layer these two major concepts together, you’re off and running to fantastic professional headshots that can help transform your business and brand. By letting go of the idea that the camera is messing with you, you will soon discover that you’re getting headshots that bring out the best of your personality that you’ll be excited to use. And the best part? These are tips that can apply to any photograph you take going forward!

For more on this topic, check out a recent blog post talking about lookability and overcoming camera shyness.