6 Essentials to a captivating modern headshot

Even if you dread the camera


This week, I have the honor of delivering a new set of professional portraits to a smart, successful business advisor. Compelling modern headshots, oozing with personality and elements of her personal brand. They are real, relatable and refreshing. Soon, they will be featured in her social media profiles, website, proposals, speaking promotion and other collateral. These inviting images will greet clients, prospects and others in her network and the business community with the same down-to-earth warmth that she exudes in person. Each offers a sense of what she can bring to the business relationship. They will prompt those who know her to say, “Wow, she looks terrific. I need to give her a call, get together for a coffee and catch up on the latest.” They will cause others to say, “I want to meet her and learn about the work she does.” To say I am giddy with excitement as these photos prepare to go out into the world is an understatement. Why? I know they will play an important role in capturing attention, building trust and starting new conversations.

Thinking of new headshots?

Good news. This blog post is filled with insider advice to help you look your best, even if you are uncomfortable in front of the camera.

Good first impressions

In today’s digital world, you know your LinkedIn profile picture is often the first face-to-face contact many will have with you. The same goes for your company’s website. You understand the importance of showing up as the best version of yourself on these and other social media channels. You value the impact your image can make. You want your photo to cause busy people to pause for a moment and say, “I need to reconnect.” or “I want to meet her.” 

Here’s the struggle

You dread getting your picture made. It ranks right up there with organizing your sock drawer. Sadly, it all goes back to the bad haircut that botched your 4th grade school pics. But you are ready to give it another go. You realize professional up-to-date photos say “I care. I take pride in myself, my occupation and the quality of the work I do for others.”

Enter the modern headshot

Between digital transformations and the lifechanging work-from-home days of COVID, it is not surprising that the traditional headshot has undergone a makeover. Say goodbye to stiff poses in front of muted blue backgrounds. Get ready for fresh contemporary portraits that feature individuals as the best versions of themselves. It’s all about telling a human story that focuses on one’s spirit and presence. A visual tale that highlights a person’s unique traits, talents and interests. One that says “hello” in a welcoming way and encourages connection with others. The modern headshot can be made in a studio, workplace or location meaningful to you and your brand. Even in a classic or retro setting. The options are as endless as your creativity.

6 Essentials

The secret to compelling images begins in advance of your shoot. For maximum impact, focus on these 6 elements before you say “cheese.”    

  • Know what you want your photos to say  

What messages do you want to resonate? Identify key traits of your personality and personal brand that you would like to emerge. For example, positive energy, quiet confidence, voice of reason, trustworthiness. Next, consider how you want others to feel when they see your photos. Are there things you want them to remember or do upon seeing your picture?     

  • Be you

It is normal to be critical of yourself before a photoshoot. My nose is crooked. I need to drop a few pounds. I wish I looked like someone else. Stop. People want authenticity. They want to do business with real thinking, breathing, emotion-filled people. Show them who you are rather than a made-up version. Remember, there is only one you on the entire planet. The world needs your gifts. Be proud of who you are. Celebrate your uniqueness and what makes you, you. When you let your guard down and be yourself, others will be encouraged to do the same. This is where real dialogues begin.    

  • Work with a photographer who wants to help you tell your story

Meet with potential photographers to discuss your reasons for new photos. Talk about what you want to accomplish and ideas to bring them all to life. Learn how the shoot will be structured. Are they interested in helping you tell your own story or simply providing a quick one-and-done session? Good chemistry is another important factor. Not only will this help settle your angst it will set the stage for compelling images to emerge.

  • Select clothes that reflect your personal brand

Choose outfits to align with the image you want to project. Go with clothes that make you feel confident. Select colors that flatter you and blend well with the photoshoot venue. Solid colors generally photograph best. Fit and comfort are also important. Accessories, such as scarves, ties and jewelry can change the look of an outfit. Keep them simple. Consider bringing several for your shoot. Don’t forget the little details. Check your clothes for wrinkles. Iron if necessary. Clean and polish your shoes. Glasses too.  

  • Plan for freshly styled hair  

A trip to the hair salon before your session can create a finished look for your photos. This is not the time to experiment with a new hairdo. Remember that 4th grade haircut disaster? Avoid the temptation to get so glammed up you don’t really look like yourself. Work with your stylist to make you look like you.

  • Create a connection with your audience

When you get in front of the camera, let your body language do the talking. Look into the lens as if you are looking into the eyes of the person looking at you (via your pictures). Display warmth with a genuine smile. Beware. There’s no greater turnoff than an insincere grin or fake look. If you are not big on flashing your pearly whites, instead project interest or openness. Use your expressions to reveal a bit of your personality or the energy you could bring to the relationship. You may find it helpful to practice in front of a mirror before the big day.   

Bonus tips

Here are a few extra pointers to make your photoshoot a success.  

  • Pack a bag

It is helpful to pack a small bag with items for your session. Include extra clothes, accessories, makeup, eyedrops, glasses cleaning cloth, hairbrush and hair products. Don’t forget a bottle of water to keep you hydrated between takes.   

  • Get a good night’s sleep

Unfortunately, the camera is not forgiving when you are tired. To be your best, plan to get a good night’s sleep before your shoot.

  • Arrive early

This allows you a few minutes to relax. Take a deep breath or two. Get comfortable in the space.

Here’s to captivating new headshots. Professional portraits you will be proud to share. Ones that will capture attention, build trust and start new conversations. Don’t be surprised to say, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad.”  

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