If you’re like most people you have barely given your current headshot more than a passing thought. The current photo is probably pushing a decade old and may have been taken with a cell phone. But if you consider all the places requiring a great portrait, places like LinkedIn, your company website, Match and so many more, you might start rethinking the importance of a great, updated photo.

If you’re in the American business world its hard to keep somebody’s attention for more than a few moments. It’s a fast paced, multitasking world where people read headlines and look at photos, but seldom read on. It’s a world where we see a red hexagon on the side of the road, but seldom read the word on the sign.

If you’re like most people you live with your old photo because getting a new one is difficult. Its challenging because you might have to go to a studio and sit in strange poses. This takes away from your valuable, billable and comfortable workday.

If you’re like most people you look in the mirror and see your many imperfections. Then you see yourself in high resolution and those imperfections seem to be highlighted. Getting a new professional portrait makes you uncomfortable and causes you a lot of anxiety.

If this is you, you are in luck. This quick read will give you the knowledge needed to get a great professional portrait. You will know what to tell your photographer to get what you are hoping for, and you will walk in prepared for the sitting. Your next headshot is about to be a great experience and an even better photo. But you can’t just scan the headline and look at our pretty portraits. You need to read on.

"There are two types of portraits; environment and traditional."

To the average business professional there are two types of portraits; environment and traditional. There are all sorts of subsets, but we will keep things simple.

Traditional headshots are usually captured in a studio with a manmade background set up behind the subject. These are the photos you see most often. You had these portraits taken in elementary school, and these photos remain popular today.

The muddled grey backdrop is decades old and continues to hold steady as our second most popular background. Our most requested background is bright white. For a few years we would use large white rolls of seamless paper, lighting it with a low-lying studio light with a long ugly cord. But now the better studios, including ours, have white backdrops that are lit internally. They look a lot cleaner and more professional.

Environmental portraits are entirely different. In the place of a grade school backdrop in a studio, the portraits are captured in a more natural environment. These can be greenery in or around an office, a lobby or waiting area or even buildings. Typically, these backgrounds are a little blurry, allowing the eye to wander naturally towards the subject. Sometimes, we will take a headshot in the person’s actual work environment. A chef might have his portrait taken in a restaurant with his kitchen in the background, while a dentist might have his examination chair beside him. A car salesman might have the car lot in the background. While these are a little more expensive than other headshots, they provide significant context to the photo.

Environmental portraits tend to be cropped a lot wider to show a little more…environment. A traditional photo is up close with only the head and shoulders showing.

Lighting is another big factor in portrait photography. We prefer to use a two or three light set up, but some clients prefer the flat lighting of a one light kit or beauty dish.

When using more than one light we have one larger, stronger light doing most of the work. A second light provides depth by lighting the side of the face, creating depth and subtle shadows. A third light, often called a hair light, adds more depth and texture by lighting from behind and above.

Flat lighting is used when the subject is lit evenly. While it’s not our favorite, we certainly understand it may be necessary in some applications. There are few shadows to be found when we light the subject evenly.

Professionally a good portrait is judged by its use of light, and this is something even the amateur can notice. A well-lit portrait stands out from the rest. Skin tones look real, and hair color is recognizable.

"...a good portrait is judged by its use of light..."

Of course, knowing these things doesn’t change the angst people feel before each session. But communicating your wants and needs can help the photographer deliver a photo you can feel good about.

When it comes to preparing for a portrait session there are a few key pro tips you can take advantage of, especially when it comes to hair, makeup, clothing and jewelry. This part seems the most personal, with many of our clients not always following our suggestions. But these are just suggestions. In the end, every photographer wants their subjects to like their photos. Your photographers will do their best to deliver what you desire.

Men don’t have much of a problem when it comes to hair. But sometimes a man will get a cut right before a portrait session only to remark about how short his hair is and that his scalp is showing. Otherwise, there isn’t much the average male can do with his hair.

Women typically have a lot more options. Our guideline is to keep long hair draped over the back shoulder, or the shoulder farthest from the camera. This keeps the nearest shoulder and the side of the face open, providing depth. Meanwhile women can still display their long, healthy hair. Experts have suggested this also portrays a more open personality compared to a portrait with the hair flowing over both shoulders. Hair should never become a distraction, detracting from the entire portrait.

It’s not uncommon for men to join women when it comes to makeup. A little powder goes a long way when covering up a shiny forehead, and some men have significant foreheads.

On the other hand, women run the gamut when it comes to make up. Some never wear any, while others wear quite a bit. We always suggest women wear makeup. Its still expected in most business environments, and any place where your portrait might be seen is a place where others will quickly pass judgement. Always wear makeup and we suggest wearing a little more than usual.

Clothing seems to always be a challenge and we have a few rules of thumb to help get over the hurdle.

The first rule is to dress like you want your clients to see you on your best dressed day. If you typically wear a jacket, you might put on a necktie. If you normally wear a polo with your logo on it, make sure its new and clean.

Second, always wear long sleeves. Short sleeves are a little casual for the typical business owner or executive. Long sleeves can keep things business casual without being too easy-going. This applies equally for men and women. But this is only a rule, and sometimes rules are meant to be broken. (see polo comment in the paragraph above)

Third, try to avoid busy patterns, and solid white or solid black as the outer color. A busy blouse can be a distraction without a solid colored jacket over the top. Solid white or black jackets take away depth and can even make your sleeves blend into your body on occasion.

Our last expert clothing tip is to not dress for the weather. Your sitting might be in January, but people might see your headshot in July. It will probably look a little strange to see you in a winter sweater.

Jewelry has a rule of its own. Men can wear a wristwatch, wedding ring if they are married, and a championship ring if they won it. No other jewelry should be visible. This eliminates pinky rings, bracelets and earrings.

Ladies are expected to wear something. The trick is to keep it minimal. Wear earrings but stay away from large hoops of dangling jewelry. Its ok to have on a ring or two, especially if one is a wedding ring.

When you come to the photo shoot nothing about what you are wearing should be a distraction. Bright red lipstick might jump off the face of a woman with a very light complexion and a huge Rolex can take the attention away from the man who wears it. Remember, few people will analyze your portrait. Most will only take a quick look. Make sure they are looking at you, and not what you are wearing.

When you arrive at your portrait session make sure to remind your photographer about your intent. Discuss lighting and cropping. Let the expert know how much of you should be in the picture. Discuss your favorite poses, including any headshots you have seen and like. Your photographer will make an effort to get what you request, then let the artist get everything else usually captured in a photo session. This way there will be no regrets if your idea didn’t turn out as desired.

Most head shot studios will have you sit on a stool in their studio. Short people will often find their feet dangling over the floor. Ask for a posing block or something else to place your feet. Your feet are your foundation leading to strong posture. And a straight back is something your photographer will ask for.

"It’s not uncommon for men to join women when it comes to makeup."

"A good photographer will guide the subject through poses you seldom use every day."

A good photographer will guide the subject through poses you seldom use every day. It might seem uncomfortable, but its only for a moment. And if your photographer asks you to move your head or shoulders, move it slowly until you are told to stop. Moving slowly will get you looking the way your photographer wishes, without moving too far one way, then moving too far the other way.

Most sittings are no more than fifteen minutes if there is no wardrobe change and can be as fast as five minutes. This is important to keep in mind when planning for new professional portraits for the entire team.

Once the session is complete the photographer will typically supply proofs. Some print each proof while others, including our company, email a low-resolution pdf. These proofs are files taken right out of the camera. No retouching or Photoshop magic has been involved. With this in mind, you should select a photo with your favorite pose, with only a little consideration to a flyway hair or wrinkle in a shirt.

Only after you have selected your favorites will the Photoshop magic happen. Expect it to happen lightly. Most photographers want their clients to look their best for this moment in their lives. While occasional clients want to look twenty-five again. You can always ask for additional Photoshop work, especially if you offer direction. Every photographer wants their customers to be happy.

With all this information, your next portrait session should be easy and hassle free. So, update that LinkedIn profile now. It’s been a while.