Why YOU Need a Professional Headshot

Let’s face it, fair or not, humans formulate opinions based on appearance within a fraction of a second and that is not hyperbole - two Princeton psychologists found that it takes merely a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face.

I’m going to venture a guess and say that the experience and education you bring to your field took more than a tenth of a second to acquire. Don’t let your professional brand be jeopardized by a poor headshot -- perhaps the one a friend took of you at a bar or a not-so-professional setting, or the overfiltered, grainy Instagram selfie from last week. And as it relates to a business, employees are often referred to as a company’s greatest asset so don’t cheapen your brand by having bad photos of your people.

Professional headshots aren't what you remember from grade school

But here is where I need to alter your perception from that of a traditional headshot. When you think of getting your portrait taken at a studio, maybe you are harkened back to the 1980’s images like this:

I didn't want to pick on anyone else's embarrassing photo so I created this glorious self-portrait without the consent of my dog and part-time assistant, Buddy.

I didn't want to pick on anyone else's embarrassing photo so I created this glorious self-portrait without the consent of my dog and part-time assistant, Buddy.

Remember the tenth of a second judgement discussed earlier? If someone is seeing your face for the first time via a headshot on social media, what would you want them to take away?

Confidence with approachability

If you are thinking about doing business with someone for the first time, what will your impression be if they look like they are either nervous, uncomfortable, or boring in their headshot? This is where the confidence is obviously important. Whether you are hiring someone or doing business with them, you are trusting them with your time and money, and their appearance of confidence is going to do a lot to provide you with the confidence that they have the ability to get the job done. On the other hand, confidence without approachability isn’t exactly desirable and most of the time can leave you with a perception of arrogance. And who wants to work with, or give their time or money to, a prick? No one. Approachability in a headshot portrays that people can work with you, trust you, and enjoy being around you. (Full disclosure: "confidence with approachability" is a phrase I learned from the headshot master - Peter Hurley)

Getting the look

Choosing the right photographer is key to getting the confidence with approachability look, and it’s the responsibility of the photographer - not you - to create that moment. Face it (I know, bad pun), getting your headshots taken can be intimidating. The setting is just you, the photographer, a camera, and a bunch of lights. There are no candid moments like that of a wedding photographer taking pictures of the groom when he first sees the beautiful bride (or groom). The moment has to be created, by the photographer, to make you forget that you are in front of the camera which can be tough to do when it is less than five feet from your face.

So when it comes to selecting a headshot photographer, take a look at their work and more specifically their subjects’ expressions. All professionals should be able to provide a well-lit, properly composed photograph but the differentiator is in the expression. You’ve only got a tenth of a second to make an impression so make sure you are hiring a headshot photographer that will bring out the best in you.

Helix Sleep photoshoot with Amelie Mancini

"So would you like to shoot a couple hanging out on their mattress?" That was the message I received from Alisa Sheridan of Smalls Girls PR. That sounded interesting however the first question that popped into my head was 'what are they going to be doing on the mattress?' Alisa then told me it was just going to be more of a lifestyle shoot for Helix Sleep, showcasing the mattress within the setting of the bedroom. This photoshoot was fun for me because it provided an opportunity to combine my interior photography with my portrait photography. 

Amelie Mancini and her husband, Rami Metal were the (expecting)couple featured in the shoot. Amelie is an uber talented artist and textile designer from France, now operating her business in Brooklyn and Rami is the director of strategic engagement for the NYCDOT. You can check out Amelie's work here. As evident in the photos below, their cat Ladybird, was not camera shy and spent some time hamming it up for the camera. As an animal lover, I've never been opposed to letting pets have their moment to shine in front of the camera. 

Helix Sleep used the photos for their blog post - In bed with Amelie Mancini.

Executive Headshots in a Crunch

More often than not, when it comes to shooting headshots of executives, time is limited and this held true for a recent shoot of the new Chairman of Arup Americas - Andy Howard. But that wasn't the only reason I was crunched for time on this particular shoot. Normally when I've been hired to shoot headshots at businesses in Manhattan, I bring a certificate of liability insurance specific to the building. But this shoot was a last minute call, a couple hours beforehand, so getting a certificate wasn't going to be possible in that timeframe. When I arrived at Arup's downtown office, it seemed that the building security might not let me in. After chatting with the building security for about 30 minutes including multiple calls between Arup and the security guard, I was finally allowed to enter, phew! 

At this point, I had about 20 minutes to scout locations and create two different lighting setups - the client wanted a headshot of the Chairman with the adjacent building in the background and then another headshot on a white background. I ended up getting both setups finished right as Andy came into the room for his shoot. At that point we had approximately 10 minutes to nail headshots at both setups before he had to attend another meeting. It was definitely a little stressful but we had fun and ended up with some great shots. Here are two of the six Arup ended up acquiring from the shoot:


The headshot above was the photograph selected by Arup for Andy's profile page and press release announcing his promotion to Chairman of the Americas.


Gravitating to Gray

Although most of my headshots are shot on white seamless backdrops, it is fun to mix it up to achieve a different look. Changing the background to gray or black gives a completely different feel to the image and can be better suited to complement certain expressions by toning down the overall mood of the image. Check out how the gray matches the quiet confidence expressed in this headshot of writer/director Jess Carson:


Now compare that image to the headshot below and you can see how the white background is more suited for her expression of playful exuberance:


Another item to note is the use of fill lighting in the two images. Although both images used essentially the same angle on the main light, the amount of fill light was reduced in the first image to further enhance the drama by deepening the shadows on her face. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes commentary in future blog posts!

6 Feet Under - Portrait of a Sculptor

Sometimes to mix it up, it is good to get out and shoot some personal work. I'd been to my friend Jean-Marie Grenier's studio before and thought that it would be an interesting place to do some experimentation and create a photo essay about him and his sculpting. He refers to his studio as being 6 feet under because it is in the basement of he and his wife's converted funeral home.

Without time constraints and with Jean-Marie keeping busy on his latest piece, I was able to shoot using the natural lights, supplementing with my strobes, and even playing around with some gels to add some color effects. I also shot a roll of black and white film and will provide a followup post when I receive the scans. 

If you are interested in his work, check out the link below:

Jean-Marie Grenier

Jean-Marie's work is inspired by dancers in motion. His studio is adorned with imagery of this elegant muse and his work is a reflection of the human body's ability to move and be shaped as such.

Future dancer/artist?