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6 Pro Tips for Your Best Headshot Ever

Strike a pose; it’s time for a new headshot. It’s a facet of your professional identity that deserves more consideration than you might think. After all, a headshot is more than a picture; it’s a representation of who you are and where you’re headed in your career. 

Now hopefully, you’re not headed back to 2010. You may have a particular attachment to that one great photo. It’s the one where your hair had that “just right” swoop, your outfit was on point, and your vision of the future was, well, 2010-shaped. But time has moved on, and it’s time to update your headshot. Aim for a new headshot every 5 years…or less.

Dress to Impress

Choose clothing that makes you feel confident and professional. Don’t opt for something out of your ordinary—if you’re not a suit-and-tie person, don’t choose one for photo day. Instead, select a well-fitting outfit that makes you feel great.

“If you haven’t been color-typed, think about times when people complimented your clothing or an outfit that you feel especially great wearing,” said Kelly May, Design Director at CEL. “It’s likely that you or others are drawn to certain outfits because they naturally flatter you.”

Solid colors or subtle patterns are your best pals here—avoid anything with a logo or brand name on display. Texture looks great in photos, so consider material and accessory options when you dress. But don’t forget the timeless words of Coco Chanel: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”

Want to go a step further? Personal color analysis is a method that helps you identify the colors that complement your unique skin tone, eyes, and hair. By understanding your personal color type, you’ll more easily be able to select clothing that enhances your natural looks. 

Woman in a headshot with yellow sweater and white undershirt strap showing
Don't let your clothing choices take center stage in your headshot.
Headshot of a woman wearing a patterned shirt and black suit coat
Considered patterned or textured clothing or (minimal) accessories to make a statement in your headshot.

Aim for Authenticity

We adore vintage vibes as much as anyone, but a headshot is not a time capsule. Avoid extensive filtering or airbrushing that removes all signs of aging. A photographer can add a little whitening to your teeth or brush out a blemish, but photoshopping yourself poreless dips into the uncanny valley, and we’re not here for it. 

“Your headshot should be a true reflection of you,” said Anna Ingemann, Graphic Designer at CEL. “Not an airbrushed illusion. Be proudly authentic in every pixel.”

Headshot of a woman with thick makeup and airbrushed skin
Avoid over-editing or heavily retouching your photo. While it may look great, "flawless" skin looks out of place in a headshot.
Headshot of a woman with freckles, against a natural background
Let your genuine self shine through your photographs.


Tyra said it best: smile with your eyes. You don’t have to go full-on Mona Lisa, but your headshot should convey the right vibe for your website. For some, that’s a natural grin; for others, it’s a subtle smirk that says, “I know all your secrets.” 

To avoid the dreaded double chin, think chin out, pointed slightly down, and say cheese. Practice in the mirror to get it just right—this pose feels a little weird, but gives the best smiles. 

If you’re sitting at a slight angle, slightly tip your front shoulder down (the one closest to the camera). This helps relax your shoulders and elongate your neck. 

Tip for photographers: bring a friend. Having someone to cause a little distraction in the background may help some reluctant smilers loosen up a little and give a more genuine grin.

Basic Backgrounds

What makes a good background? There’s no hard and fast rule, but generally, less is more. Blurred natural backgrounds raise the level of warmth in a photo, whereas a stark white background puts all the focus on the subject. 

Importantly, consider how the headshot may be used. If used singly, we appreciate a unique background. Hung in a gallery setting, we prefer a standardized background to bring all headshots into alignment. 

Most importantly, there should be nothing else in the background of a headshot. A lifestyle photo session can capture candid moments in your office, but a headshot should keep the sole focus on the subject—you.

Woman standing in front of gorgeous architecture
If your background is too stunning or in focus, it may be distracting, rather than enhancing your photograph.
Photo of woman standing against a yellow outdoor background
A colorful, blurred background can enhance a photo without being distracting.

No Selfies

Step away from your phone. We know this is controversial. Can people take a good headshot with their iPhone 14? Yes. Do most people take good headshots with their mobile? Nope.

It’s difficult to get the angles and lighting right when taking the DIY approach. A selfie is a great option for your Instagram profile but not for most company websites. Plus, you’re not fooling anyone…everyone can tell the difference between a selfie and a professional headshot. 

Don’t Crop

We know your first inclination is to crop your photo, but your website team will thank you for giving them a few wider shots. Even if you’re only having a headshot taken, expect some full-body photos to give the most flexibility for future use.

When taking headshots, make sure your photographer takes some wider frames for varied uses. Later you can crop them appropriately for each use.

Keep plenty of background space to the side and above 

No Pro? No Problem.

If you don’t have the budget for a pro, explore and practice with camera settings to generate the best possible headshots. 

    • Using a wide aperture on your camera can blur the background and make your subject pop. (iPhone example)
    • Experiment with exposure settings. Overexposure makes things appear too bright and washed out, while underexposure makes photos look too dark. (iPhone settings)
    • Soft, diffused, natural light looks best. Use daylight to your advantage—stand facing or angled toward a window for flattering illumination. 
    • Shooting in RAW allows for more flexibility in post-processing compared to JPEG (But JPEG is appropriate for most uses).
    • Take wide shots with plenty of space above the subject’s head. Ensure shoulders aren’t cropped out when taking the photo—you can crop later, but having flexibility in cropping allows for more uses down the road.
    • And don’t crop all your photos—keep high-quality images (JPEG or PNG between 2-5 MB) on hand for future editing/resizing purposes.
    • Mobile phone your only option? Set it to portrait mode and take the highest quality images your phone allows. Use a tripod and a timer to make it look more professional.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so what is your current headshot saying? If it’s saying, “I could be confused with one of our company interns,” it might be time for a new photograph.

Headshot of a man
Headshot of a woman
Headshot of a woman
Headshot of a man

Published on: November 14, 2023