How to prepare for your corporate profile photo

Ross Hall

April 7, 2021
(Updated on July 21, 2021)

Two portraits of the same woman side by side, one in a professional dress, the other in a casual sweater

Even a camera-shy photographer like me needs a headshot. They’re an essential part of the modern business landscape and appear everywhere. From the security pass around your neck to a LinkedIn profile or a profile aimed at attracting clients, your photograph is ubiquitous. While you might get away with a selfie on social media, a professionally taken headshot is usually a minimum to achieve any kind of PR coverage.

Many of us don’t enjoy having our photograph taken. We find it uncomfortable and awkward. We worry about looking foolish and the images never look right. Much of that is to do with our own self-image and we’re used to seeing ourselves reversed in a mirror.

My early work with bands and artists was a learning curve for how to put people at ease on a portrait shoot. Just like everyone else, they found being photographed uncomfortable and awkward at first. It was my job to help them relax and bring out the images they needed for CD covers, flyers and press releases.

Appearing on camera can be unnerving. What follows is some of the advice I offer to people I’m photographing who aren’t used to it. I hope these tips help you get the best shot possible.

Follow your routine – just be relaxed about it

Going out on the town the night before your shoot, or staying up until the small hours, is not a good way to prepare. Aside from “bags under the eyes”, your skin will look tired, you’ll be irritable and the shoot’s less likely to go well.

While some may advocate getting an early night, I always recommend keeping to your regular routine. Breaking habits can disrupt sleep and heighten the sense “something special” is happening. It’s better to have a relaxing evening and go to bed on time.

The same applies for eating. Skipping a meal for fear of having a “paunch” might work for certain models, but for we normal people eating is important. Eat at your regular times, although it is sensible to avoid heavy foods. If you are worried about a puffy tummy, don’t eat or drink for the hour before your shoot.

Dress normally

There are two schools of thought on how to dress for corporate photographs. In the first you should present a smart, professional image as if you were attending an interview or a meeting with a client. The other says be casual and natural.

My advice would be do both. Formal images are good for LinkedIn profiles and PR packs. Informal ones can show more of your personality.

A man in a shirt and tie looked into the camera for a corporate headshot
A typical “corporate” headshot.

Shoot the formal ones first. Make sure your clothes are ironed and clean. If you’re concerned about them getting dirty or crumpled, bring something to the office to change in to (I’ve lost count of the number of people shot with smart jacket, crisp shirt and scruffy jeans).

For informal shots avoid branded T-shirts and patterned clothes. Brands can date quickly, while patterns can produce unwanted effects when images are shrunk for avatars.

Relax and trust the photographer

It’s perfectly normal to get tense and nervous at the start of a shoot. This comes out in photographs through awkward smiles and tenses shoulders. You may also find you want to take control and direct the photographer to catch you in the same poses as your favourite TV star or management guru.

A good photographer will help you relax. They’ll build rapport with you, put you at ease and probably show you the photos as they’re taken to help you settle down. While they may not shoot you in the same style as David Bailey, they will get the shots needed for their brief. Take any conversation as a casual chat rather than an interview and you will relax.

Are you posing for a corporate brochure or Vogue?

Headshot photography is not the same as shooting a cover for style magazines. Complex and over-stylised photographs are rarely needed for LinkedIn profiles or website “about” pages. What’s needed is a clear portrait.

Typically that means being at a slight angle to the photographer with your shoulders back, chin up a little and a relaxed smile. Although it sounds simple, it’s quite difficult to do well.

It may help to spend a little time in front of a mirror practicing your poses. Find two or three poses you think work well. Pay attention to how you hold your body, the position of your head and any thoughts that might help you get into the right frame of mind. If you’re in sales, thinking about the best deal you’ve closed will get a better result than wondering what you’re having for dinner that night.

A woman looks into the camera for a relaxed and informal social media headshot
A casual headshot using a wall as a backdrop. Not every corporate profile has to be in suit and tie.

If you are having trouble with your expression there is a simple trick I use with first-time models. Put your thumb in your mouth and puff your cheeks up. It relaxes the muscles in your mouth, reddens your cheeks a little and reduces the “rabbit in headlights” wide-eyed look that accompanies being nervous.

Choosing which images to use is hard

We tend to be self-critical. I’ve encountered more than my share of people who’ve looked at their images and decided they don’t like any of them. It doesn’t matter what friends and colleagues think; the images don’t match up with how they view themselves. I’ve had more than one person tell me I made them look “too good”.

My suggestion is to hand over deciding which photograph to use to someone else. Let a colleague you trust decide and have them justify their decision to you. Hearing why someone else likes an image will take the edge of any self-criticism. It can also be a lot of fun if a group of you are looking at one another’s images.

If you do want to do it yourself, work backwards through the images, starting with the most recent. It’s a natural reaction to compare against the first image, and the chances are the last one you and your photographer will have settled into a rhythm.

Ready for your close up?

The aim of corporate headshots is to capture a few images that can appear on websites or in press packs. They need to capture a clear image of who you are that’s strong enough to stand out in any corporate materials, social media accounts and websites.

While the photographer will have a clear brief and objective, they can’t create the images they need unless you work with them. Relax before and during the shoot, build rapport, take the photographer’s advice and be mindful of your surroundings. When the images come back, don’t be too hard on yourself and consider letting a trusted colleague decide which ones to use.

Above all, have some fun and enjoy yourself.

I'm Ross Hall, a writer and researcher based in Kobe, Japan. You can talk to me about B2B, sustainability and strategic management.

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