Headshots and Portraits – First Impressions

Psychologists have long known how quickly first impressions are formed, how they influence decisions and, most importantly, how long they last.

Whether buying a house, meeting someone new, a recruitment decision, or establishing business ties, first impressions count.

First impressions happen almost instantly and more often than not, they are based on appearance and how this resonates with the viewer. In terms of people, this isn’t about the notion of “beauty”, but rather how someone presents. This includes dress, and mannerisms.

And once a first impression is made, whether accurate or not, it is very hard to change.

This is why it is important to make a good one.

It wasn’t that long ago when the main avenue of connecting with people was through personal contact such as the phone or face-to-face. It was here that impressions were made and relationships formed.

But this has largely changed. These days, the earliest opportunity for contact is usually online. The first thing most of us do to find out about someone is to look up their profile and, in business, this is very often on LinkedIn, the company’s website or other social media. This is particularly the case with recruitment.

Making a good impression and your personal branding therefore goes hand in hand, with one influencing on the other. While personal branding has been around forever, in recent times and with the growth in online communications, it has become part of mainstream language. Whether deliberately cultivated or not, whether actively pursued or passive, we all have our own personal brand from which others form perceptions about us.  And while there are many elements at play that make up our personal brand, one of the most important is our online profile.

It is important to recognise that your online profile is much more than simply your ‘bio on LinkedIn. It encompasses all your online communications, as well as the more formal elements of your profile, such as the information you include within your LinkedIn profile page. Some pay a great deal of attention to all these elements and work hard to build their personal brand online, taking a very strategic and deliberative approach to optimising the opportunity of making a good first impression and, in doing so, extending reach and making connections.

For others, who don’t explicitly market their personal brandper se(probably the majority of those on LinkedIn), a more passive approach is taken. But even so, seeking to make a good first impression online and concurrently paying attention to personal branding is an opportunity to enhance your profile. To do so does requires a little effort, including regular reviews, updates and paying attention to visual content.

The Importance of Using Good Images.

We all make decisions based on impressions, which are usually established on what we see and feel.

And the key element to an online profile, which forms the initial impression others make, is the imagery used.

Headshots and portraits are both important if you want to ensure your personal branding tells a story about you that encourages engagement with others.

Headshots and portraits are sometimes confused. They are similar, with the difference being that a headshot is a tightly cropped photo focusing on your face and with a simple background while a portrait is not being as closely cropped, allowing different compositions, environments and looks. This can assist to tell more of a story and allows greater “artistic license”. Both have their place in developing your personal brand and should be complementary.

And this isn’t just with LinkedIn. Facebook business pages, your own website and blog, your company’s website, and other areas such as conferences and speaking engagements, are all areas you should carefully consider to make sure the images you use complement your personal brand. Very often, having a suite of headshots and portraits that you can draw on for different activities and platforms is useful.

The Headshot – An Important Starting Point

While simpler than a portrait, your headshot is really important as it is the first image that appears on your profile and is probably that most viewed. A bad headshot can be more damaging than you might imagine as your headshot forms the basis of that all-important first impression.

Your headshot brings you to life on-line and tells a little of a story about you.  It should something about you; in particular, your personality, profession, and style. Very importantly, it should engage with the viewer.

A good headshot is not about “beauty’. Instead, it should be authentic and convey a genuine message about your character. It is a great opportunity to promote your own “personal brand”, invite viewers to find out more about you, and engage.

And headshots don’t need to be boring. They can be inventive and eye catching, which is where engaging a professional photographer pays dividends.

But whether you engage a professional photographer or seek to do your own headshot, some simple guidelines can assist you to get a good result.

So What Makes a Good Headshot?

  • A good headshot is worth making an investment. Failure to obtain a good headshot can be counterproductive and damaging to your personal branding.
  • Seek to get a photograph that is authentic and portrays the real you. This needs to reflect your character, personality and role. For example, there is no point dressing in a dark suit and tie if your role involves working in a more casual or creative environment.
  • Make sure the lighting is relatively even and allows the viewer to see your face.
  • Look straight into the camera lens to make eye contact and engage with the viewer. As a general view, don’t sit square to the camera, but position your shoulders slightly side on to the camera and lean forward a little to avoid the “passport” look.
  • Be neat and well-groomed.
  • Make sure you keep the background simple. A busy headshot can look unprofessional and disorganised, creating a negative impression. But that doesn’t mean the background needs to be boring (eg, having a softly focused office background can add interest).
  • Don’t try and fit too much into the photograph. Keep it simple and avoid really “artistic” photographs with special effects, filters or unrealistic skin smoothing.
  • Dress in a way that reflects who you are and your occupation.
  • As a general rule, it is better to wear clothing that is relatively plain in colour and not full of loud patterns, which can be distracting.
  • Be aware of the impact of different colours. Plan your outfit and choose colours that reinforce the message you want to convey (there is good information on the web about the subliminal impact and representation of colours).
  • Spend some time preparing for the photography session. Where appropriate, engage a makeup artist.

Engaging a Professional Headshot and Portrait Photographer

Producing images for your online profile is an important investment.

Sure, many people have good camera gear and smartphones that can capture great images. While (unlike the days of film) shooting digital images is cheap and many will just “shoot and pray”; that is, take loads of photos and eventually get an image they are happy with.

When engaging a professional photographer, you can be confident the photographer will take a very considered and planned approach to produce images that enhance your personal brand and provide a great return on your investment. The professional photographer will have studio and other lighting equipment, backgrounds and equipment that will help create the image you want. Many have their own studio, while others can come to you.

But all of this isn’t necessarily cheap. So, if you want to get some “economies of scale”, many professional photographers offer packages that include headshots as well as some environmental and personal portraits in the same shoot. This is a great way of getting a suite of different images with a complementary branding message, which can be used for different purposes.

Another way is to join forces with several other colleagues or friends. Most professional photographers offer discounts when conducting a shoot for several clients at the one time.

In choosing a professional photographer, do your research. Check out the photographer’s website, their gallery and Facebook and/or LinkedIn business pages, which will give you a good idea of their professionalism and style.

And most importantly, pick the phone up and have a conversation about your requirements. While you will of course have formed your first impression, this will assist you to make an informed decision.

Article by Des Lewis of Mondo Photography, Perth, WA.

Mondo Photography provides a bespoke photography service that can assist you with your photography requirements. This includes headshots and portraits, events and images for reports and promotional material. Please visit www.mondophotography.com.au for further information or email des@mondophotography.com.au.


I’d like to thank Dan Colgan and Owen Robinson for allowing me to take their headshots and musicians Shara Rose and Grant Hart for the opportunity to take their portraits, which are included in this post.

The good news

I can assist you to with headshots and portraits that are professional and will complement and promote your own personal branding.

Don’t hesitate to call me to discuss your requirements.

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