I get asked this one a lot. Why are your headshots formatted horizontally? Well, I’ll try to explain this in 800 words or less.

“Space is the breath of art.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Mr. Wright was a brilliant architect and interior designer. I had the luckiest of chances to take in one of his designs back in my baseball days during the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix — the Arizona Biltmore. A true work of art that makes that quote come alive.

While I’m not designing buildings, I take an appreciation of the need for space and balance in a headshot. A common term in the design and photography world is called ‘negative space.’ By sending the image’s subject off to one side of the frame, the negative space (usually a white, gray or sometimes black background) helps put the viewer’s attention on the person’s face while giving their eyes an uncluttered place to take a break. Balance.


Balance in a headshot is key.

To create this much-needed breathing room, I photograph all of my headshots horizontally. It presents a photo that is visually striking with a modern feel. There is just, hmmm, there’s just *something* about it. I’m having trouble putting it into words because a headshot or any photograph framed in this manner is simply more pleasing and conversational. It’s subconscious. Check out Julie’s headshot. By sliding her to the left of the frame, the photo “reads” much better than if she was centered. The slightest change gives her headshot much better balance.

I’m Not Going to Throw Shade

This blog entry isn’t the proper forum to run off on an I-can’t-stand-vertical-headshots rant. However, I would like to offer a couple of notes on the differences between a horizontal and vertical headshot.

That Breathing Room Thing

When I see a vertical headshot, I feel like the person is in a tiny fish bowl. The shoulders are cropped off on both sides. Their full head is typically within the frame, and to achieve that look the camera has to be pulled back for a wider shot which pushes the person further back in the frame. Now all of a sudden the person’s face is only about 15-20% of the photo and the rest is selling haircuts and clothing. That’s not a great use of real estate. To make a visual impact with a headshot – one that resonates with the person viewing it on subconscious levels – you need to be ‘closer’ to them. That is all part of the ‘lookability’ topic I’ve discussed before.


Question: Which headshot is more compelling to you?

Focusing on the Important Stuff

The point of a headshot is to sell your expression; an expression that’s authentic and genuine to who you are as an individual. Think about this for just a second:

Imagine you’re in a room at a networking event and you greet somebody new from 10 feet away. You nod, smile, and loudly say it’s a pleasure meeting them.

Now picture yourself in a typical situation. You shake hands, smile, and calmly speak to one another from a comfortable range of 2-3 feet. Chances are the first impression in this scenario is much more compelling than the first. Plus it won’t annoy those around you.

The point being, the closer you are to a subject the more likely you’ll *feel* closer to them, thus making a much larger impact mentally and visually. This same thing happens when you’re viewing a headshot, particularly a horizontally framed one. The person in the headshot becomes much more memorable to you. Even though you are looking at a two-dimensional image on a screen or some printed material, if their face is larger within the frame it will make a much more significant impact on you on a subconscious level.

First Impressions with Headshots

We’ve heard it over and over. First impressions are everything. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Go on Pinterest, and you’ll see a million inspirational quotes surrounding this mantra because it’s true. And these days, your first impressions are more than a face-to-face greeting. At 3 a.m. while you’re drifting your way through REM sleep, you could be making a first impression on somebody through a Google search anywhere on the globe. Scary creepy, right?

In Closing…

It’s important that your headshot conveys a genuine expression that speaks to who you are. At the point of reaching 100% lookability, that’s when you know your headshot will grab a viewer’s attention and keep it. It’ll make them want to get to know you, to work with you and feel like they’re having a conversation with you. Making your headshot come alive reigns supreme, and it helps to have space and balance to convey your message. Who knew still photography could be so compelling?

Note: 795 words!