A picture is worth a 1,000 words, right? So what does your headshot or profile photo say about you? The photo you select for your web assets — your portfolio, website, social media accounts, CloudPeeps profile — is the first impression you make on a potential client, employee or partner. It’s important to put an adequate amount of time and care into making sure your photo is an accurate representation of you as a professional and person.

Undoubtedly, you want your photo to be representative of your personality, we are creatives after all. But it should also represent Michael O’Donnell professional headshotssomeone who is professional, trustworthy and credible. Someone who a decision maker at a company, big or small, would want to work with.

We chatted with professional photographer Michael O’Donnell (@photo) to gather the best tips for taking professional headshots that don’t suck, while maintaining your unique style. Although one of the tips is to hire a professional, many of these can still be applied if you decide to have a go at it yourself.

1) No selfies

Good god, please don’t use a selfie as your professional profile picture. It’s one thing if you take it yourself with a tripod and proper camera setup. It’s another if you can see your own arm – or worse, a selfie stick in frame.

Also, avoid the duck face at all costs.

2) Take three styles of photos and consider switching it up for different channels

Have three different types of photos taken for different situations. Aim for serious, playful and normal. Consider having different photos for different channels. Michael says that you don’t necessarily need the same photo on all channels. The photo you use in a conference pamphlet that you’re speaking at probably won’t be the same as your Facebook profile, but a lot of people are going to see both.

Of course, consistency is helpful in building brand awareness — especially when it comes to things like URLs and social media handles — but your face is your face, it should be recognizable in all of your photos. Your profile photo for Facebook may be different from your website about page pic, and that’s ok. If you do decide to go with one photo for consistency, make sure it’s a professional one.

Check out how our CEO Kate Kendall has chosen three different photos for Facebook, Twitter and her website. All are professional and high-quality shots, while the Facebook photo is more playful, Twitter is more approachable and her personal website photo is more professional.




3) Work with your natural facial expression

If you don’t like your smile or tend not to smile naturally, try to “smile with your eyes,” as they say. Open your eyes wide to brighten your facial expression and make you look more approachable. A professional or whoever is taking the photo for you can help with this.

Michael says he even pays attention to the way someone parts their hair, explaining “the side you part your hair on is the side you’re opening up to the world.” He tries to capture that essence and find an angle that works with what the person he is shooting is comfortable with. Clever, right?

Also, facial angles change with people. Some people prefer their profile, some like a classic, straight-on portrait shot. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles and poses. Just avoid pointing your forehead down too low or zooming in too close on your face — those are tale-tell signs that the photo was not taken professionally.

Peep, Natasha Benjamin
Peep, Natasha Benjamin
Peep, Krista Gray
Peep, Krista Gray
Peep, Peter Trapasso
Peep, Peter Trapasso

4) Proper grooming is a must

If you’re getting your photo taken, wash your face, brush your teeth and comb your hair. Even if your photo is fresh and fun, you need to look like someone who has confidence in him or herself in order for someone who’s never met you to have confidence in you. Get a good night sleep the night before to avoid looking tired and get cleaned up — this is your image after all.

Anyone else remember that episode of Sex in the City where Carrie looks all haggard at the photo shoot after a night partying? Don’t pull a Carrie.


5) Make fashionable decisions

Michael says, “Elegant but simple, the goal of a portrait is to convey as closely as possible who a person is through their face. To that extent clothing should compliment and not distract from the face, which is why I prefer darker, muted tones. White always calls attention to itself, patterns also draw the eye away, as does a bare arm. Shirts and blouses that complement your eye color are usually great. It’s always helpful to bring two or three clothing options to the sitting to see what works in front of the camera.”

Here are some more helpful tips:

  • Eyeglasses: If you wear glasses they should have non-reflective lenses.
  • For women: Jackets preferred in dark tones; blouses mid to dark tones – avoid white and small patterns. If you’re not wearing a jacket, then long sleeves are best. Turtlenecks are great if you’re concerned about your neckline. Jewelry should be minimal and classic.
  • For men: Jackets preferred, solid colored shirt – avoid white and small patterns. If you’re not wearing a jacket then long sleeves are best. A tie, if you generally wear one, should be classic. Bring a selection of ties to see what works best. Men should have nose and ear hair groomed – the camera sees all.
professional headshots from shinyredphoto.com
From shinyredphoto.com

6) Be color conscious

If you typically wear a lot of black or dark make up, try a bright colored background or have brighter colors in the image. Pay attention to lighting. You can easily show how bright your personality is without having to dress in head-to-toe pink.

Don’t be afraid of a black and white photo. Many people find them more flattering, and that’s totally ok. You can have a black and white photo that’s still professional and artistic. Check out Kate’s above or this one from Michael’s portfolio of Peep Sabrina Bruning.

From shinyredphoto.com
From shinyredphoto.com

7) Don’t restrict yourself with improper formatting

People tend to want to take portrait-style (vertical) photos. But think of most screens you look at – almost everything is formatted in landscape, especially on desktop. Take a wide, landscape (horizontal) photo, you can always crop it later.

8) Hire a professional

Special note: Peep Tory Putnam hosts private portrait pop-up events in San Francisco and on the road. Events vary in price, but they’re all between $50-75, which is super reasonable. Learn more

By investing in your photos, you’re investing in yourself. It’s worth reiterating — your photo is your image. A professional is not only going to have the right equipment to take high-quality photos, they’re going to know how to make you feel comfortable and relaxed and will help the best aspects of your personality shine through.

Photographers will charge a range of prices depending on experience level, location, travel costs, etc. You can expect to pay somewhere between $150-300 for a reasonably priced and talented photographer. Check out sites such as Thumbtack to find a photographer in your area.

If you really can’t afford a professional photographer, consider asking a friend who has some camera skills or a student at a local art school so they can use it in their portfolio.

9) Have fun with it!

If you’re resisting the photo, it’s going to show in your facial expression. Relax, let go and have fun with it! Laugh, smile, don’t smile. Have fun conversations throughout the shoot in order to get yourself in the right mood that you want to be captured.

Now that you have your perfect headshot, go update your CloudPeeps profile! 🙂 Or, if you recommend a professional photographer in your area, leave a comment below so others can hit them up!