How to Avoid Looking Unprofessional in Your Photo

A professional photo will impress clientsIn about the time it takes to blink, a client who’s looking online for a freelancer will form that all-important first impression about you. A professional photo on your LinkedIn profile and your website shows the client that you’re a professional, and that you’re worth the money you deserve.  But a bad photo is likely to send the client to one of your competitors.

Making a great first impression is important—because changing someone’s first impression of you is really hard.

Skip the Selfie

Today’s smart phones can take some remarkable photos. The selfie portraits we see in commercials look like a professional photographer took them.

But having great technology doesn’t make YOU a professional photographer.

Don’t use a selife for your professional photo.

Don’t Drive Away Clients

Here are some other things you should NOT do with your photo:

  • DON’T use a photo from a party
  • DON’T use a photo of you with your pet
  • DON’T use a photo of you with your children
  • DON’T use a photo where you’re wearing sunglasses
  • DON’T use a photo where it’s obvious you’ve cropped out other people.

These are all things I’ve seen on the LinkedIn profiles or websites of freelancers.

Do Look Your Best in Your Photo

A professional photographer will make you look your best, even if you’re like me and hate to be photographed. The photographer knows:

  • How to use flattering lighting
  • How to choose a professional background
  • What you should wear
  • How you should pose.

Here are some things I learned when I had my professional photo taken by Christina Cericola of CSJ Studios:

  • Don’t face your body directly toward the camera, as this can make you look wider than you are.
  • Lean forward slightly and bring your chin out and down, so your jawline will be more flattering (this minimizes double chins).
  • If you’re sitting, put your feet up on your toes to straighten your back without looking stiff.

Doing some of these things felts awkward, but they really did help me look my best in my photo.

Christina also brought out my smile, which is important because a smile makes you more likeable.

Get a professional headshot for your LinkedIn profile. On your website, you can use a photo that shows more of you if you want to. But the headshot works great (that’s what I use).

My Before and After Photos

You can see my before (Photo 1) and after (Photo 2) headshots in the image at the top of this post. I used Photo 1 on my website back in 2008. My neighbor, who’s a good amateur photographer, took this photo. He had a professional camera, studio lighting and a backdrop.

But he didn’t give me any directions. So I just stood there, feeling uncomfortable while he clicked away. I think that shows in the photo. Also, there isn’t enough contrast between my hair and the background.

At the time, I thought it was a good photo. It was definitely better than many photos I had seen of freelancers online.

I didn’t realize how much better a professional headshot was until I had my first one taken a few years later.

Christina made the photo shoot fun. She gave me gentle instructions on how to pose so I would look my professional best. Despite the fact that I prefer to be behind the camera instead of in front of it, Christina was able to do this.

The result is a fabulous professional headshot that I use on my:

I also use my headshot for the American Medical Writers Association’s AMWA Journal Freelance Forum, and for programs where I’m presenting.

Dressing for Your Photo

When preparing for your photo session, choose outfits that reflect your style but are professional and project confidence. Don’t wear clothes you don’t like or find uncomfortable. This will show in your photos.

Bring several outfits to choose from, including one or two blazers or jackets, which make you look more professional without being stuffy or uncomfortable. The photographer can help you decide which outfits are most flattering and take photos of you in different outfits.

Women should wear something personal, like a piece of jewelry or a scarf. This can make you seem more personable and approachable. Men should bring a nice shirt, tie and jacket.

Everyone should stay away from busy prints. These can be distracting and are difficult to photograph well. Plaids and checkerboard patterns can create especially unpleasant patterns in photos and make you look less professional.

If you always wear glasses and they’re a part of your look, consider bringing a pair of empty frames for the photo session. This will eliminate glare from eyeglass lenses.

Find the Right Photographer

Getting recommendations from other freelancers with headshots you like is the best way to find a great photographer. If you can’t find a photographer near you this way, try an Internet search. Once you’ve identified potential photographers for your headshot, assess them out using the same process a client might use to decide whether to hire you:

1. Review the photographer’s work. Pictures speak louder than words. Visit the photographer’s website to see his/her portfolio of past work. Things to beware of include:

Outdoor photos where the person has dark shadows under the eyes, bright patches of light on the face, or uneven skin tone

Studio photos where the person looks too good to be true (“airbrushed to death”) or is posed in light that’s unflattering to his/her face and shape.

2. Look for professional headshots. Make sure the photographer is experienced in headshots.

3. Get references and contact them. If you didn’t find the photographer through a recommendation, ask for references and talk to a few people who have used the photographer. The photographer’s portfolio may be great, but there are other factors to consider, like timely delivery of your photos.

Make a Great First Impression with Your Photo

Showe clients that you’re a professional they can count on, and that you’re worth the money they’ll pay for your services, with a professional headshot.

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