SU Tips - Taking a Professional Profile Photo


You know you need a photo for a Professional Profile. And you’ve probably done enough stalking to see pictures that reflect contacts in great—and, er, less than great—lights.

But if you’re tight on money, doling out cash on a professional headshot may seem like a waste of money when you can do it yourself.

And I can tell you it’s possible to take a powerful, professional picture at home—for free. You just need to make sure you avoid these six common traps that home photographers often find themselves in.


1. Bad Quality Cameras


Years ago, if you came across a sharp, high-res headshot image, you thought, “That person must be a big deal!” But, nowadays high-res images are a basic expectation—they’re the cost of admission for being taken seriously. (Because, you know if you see a grainy, low-res image, you’re more likely to think, “This person is kinda behind the times.”)

So, steer clear of webcams, as they typically have fewer megapixels of clarity than other types of cameras. What’s surprisingly better than that is your phone’s camera, and if you (understandably) don’t have a real camera, it’s a great option.


2. Unflattering Lighting


If you take your pictures in a dark, inadequately lit area, zooming in or cropping down to just a small area of a larger photo, you will see a significant level of graininess and quality loss. Lighting makes the greatest difference between what looks like a professionally taken picture versus what reads like an amateur one.

Never—under any condition—use flash for your headshot photos! The built-in flash is known to be incredibly unflattering on faces. Likewise, taking a photo in fluorescent light often results in a creepy, eerie feeling to the photo.

The easiest way to get natural-looking, even lighting in your photos (without a professional photographer’s set-up) is to use natural light from the sun. Of course, you don’t want harsh, direct sunlight, which creates stark shadows on the face and may cause you to squint uncomfortably. Instead, use diffused sunlight, which you can usually get indoors by directly facing a window. Or, if you’re shooting outside, take advantage of what photographers refer to as “the golden hour”—the last hour of sunlight in the day. It’s the most flattering.


3. Busy Backgrounds


While professional photographers can get a little bit creative with where they place their subjects for headshots, unless you have experience in this area, it’s best to play it safe.

Your most foolproof option is to stand a few feet away from a solid-coloured wall, without getting too close (because it could cast unwanted shadows behind you). A plain white wall does well to mimic the look of a studio backdrop and ensures that no objects (like a couch or bathroom mirror) alter the mood of your photo in an unwanted way.

If a plain wall’s not your style—or is too hard to find—you can try to capture yourself in a work environment, like at a desk. Just be mindful that the more “stuff” in the photo, the more likely any given object could create an association that works against you. For instance, stacks of papers on your desk could make you look disorganised. Small details like these get factored into the first impression of who you are within seconds.


4. Unprofessional Clothes


Yes, it seems a little strange to get all dressed up to stand in front of a blank wall in your house by yourself and take a photo. But that’s no reason to pose in your gym clothes.

It’s important to remember that a photo really is “worth a thousand words.” For example, if you’re wearing a band t-shirt in your professional photos, others could jump to all sorts of conclusions based solely on that band choice. They may get a hunch that you’re a casual person all-around and wouldn’t be interested in a formal work environment.

So before you start snapping photos, ask yourself if you’d wear the same outfit on the first day of a new job. Don’t veer too far off of the traditional path unless you’re being intentional and strategic.


5. Obvious Selfies


There’s a lot of selfie hate in the world today. For whatever reason, many people are quick to hold it against you if they think you took your photo yourself! So, there are two major giveaways you’ll want to avoid:

  • Evidence of an extended arm, including a twisted shoulder
  • Facial distortion (a slightly enlarged nose or forehead, for instance), resulting from the closeness of the camera.

If you’re feeling too shy to or cant ask someone to take pictures for you due to covid, your best bet is to get a tripod so that you can stand a few feet away from your camera. If you’re looking to construct a makeshift tripod from what you have around, books and tissue boxes work nicely. Then, use the built-in timer (or remote) for your camera or smartphone.


6. Not Getting Feedback


Finally, be sure to reach out to others for their thoughts on your new photo. This is important because, even if you followed all of the guidelines above, sometimes your facial expression can subtly communicate messages you don’t intend.

Research says that we can’t see our own facial expressions and body language entirely objectively, so we’re frequently left in the dark about whether our face is communicating a thoughtful or smug message. Maybe your confident pose comes off as overly aggressive. It’s for these reasons that a second (and third and fourth) opinion is key to having that certainty that you’re putting the right messages out there. 

We are happy to give our opinion on your photos, feel free to send us your options and we can work on getting a good candidate photo we can use. Having a few photos to choose from always helps in the long run, you never know when you'll need a slightly different angle.


Examples of previous Sabb Headshots: