Corporate Headshots: Best Practices (And What To Avoid)

Corporate Headshots: Best Practices (and What to Avoid) | CorporetteWhat are the best tips for looking good in a corporate headshot?  Should “looking good” be the goal? Reader J wonders:

I have a professional photography session coming up. Any general recommendations?

Good luck, J!  We haven’t talked about corporate headshots, or whether to wear eyeglasses in your corporate photo in a while, so let’s revisit. As I’ve said before, above all else, I think the main goal in a corporate photograph is to look FRIENDLY. Don’t try to look “smart” or interesting or (God forbid) beautiful or stylish. It’s ok if you END UP looking like smart, interesting, beautiful, or stylish, because, you know, you are, but don’t try — leave the duckface and burning, non-friendly smizes for when you’re taking pictures with friends.  As for “looking smart” — most times, your corporate headshot will be displayed next to an abbreviated form of your resume and experience.  Let people evaluate your intelligence based on those years of work, not one single photograph.  (I’d say that the model pictured here is trying to look smart.  Don’t be that model.) The purpose of the headshot is really for that two second, subconscious, gut decision: do I want to work with her?  Does she look like someone who would get me what I want, on time, with no errors?  I could say “look responsible” here instead of “friendly,” I suppose, but I think attempting to “look responsible” or “look competent” is a fool’s mission beyond combing your hair and making sure that your face and clothes are free of smudges and so forth.

For my $.02, these are some other tips:

– Think “interview style.”  If you wear a suit to job interviews, first client meetings, or other big events, then at least wear a collared blazer in the picture.

– Do figure out what’s flattering — this is a bit different than prepping for a glamour shot.  For example, for my engagement photos I wore buckets of makeup, false eyelashes, and foundation (which for me is a big deal since I never wear foundation).  For my corporate headshots I’ve always pulled my hair forward so it falls across my forehead more than it does in real life, separated a strand to fall neatly in front of my shoulder, powdered my nose, and made sure I had blush and (properly applied) lipstick, which fits with my “interview makeup” theory that your makeup should be a) not distracting and b) make you look awake and alive.

– Focus on what’s going to be in the picture.  You may have a killer watch or amazing shoes on, but if the picture is shoulders up, think about a brooch or necklace close to your face.  I would go conservative here — pearls or something delicate, rather than something big and blingy, but again, that’s me.

– Finally, look like yourself — or at least your interview/first meeting self.  If you always wear eyeglasses, keep them on in your photo.  If you never wear your hair up, don’t get a fancy French twist because you think it looks more professional.  If you never wear your curly hair straight, don’t get a blowout for the photo. For me, a “first meeting” look for anything would involve contacts and my hair down (even though it’s probably 50/50 after that, and 90% glasses/hair up when I’m working quietly with no meetings planned), so those would be my personal choices, but again — that’s me.

Readers, what did you wear for your corporate headshots?  Have you seen any truly regrettable headshots, either in your own organization or elsewhere?  (Gaah, and as I type that I seem to remember readers talking negatively about a political/academic figure’s headshot recentlyish.  Ah yes: here’s the thread, from last August regarding Ambassador Samantha Power — I believe we were discussing this photograph. For my $.02 I think a collared blazer would have been an amazing addition, but I don’t have any big issues with her makeup, hair, or jewelry choices — I suspect that’s what she looks like in real life, and her resume speaks so much louder than her photograph.)

Pictured: Goran Djukanovic/Shutterstock.



  1. Definitely too much bosom in Samantha Power’s pic!

  2. Great advice, Kat.

    My suggestion would be to always wear a blazer. the cut of the collar frames the face and just looks more put together for a work headshot.

    • And look at other women’s blouse necklines and do something similar. If everyone else has a high neckline you’ll look funny if yours is a low V.

      • Yes, I was screwed when the photographer cropped my photo so that my shell (a modest, but wide scoop neck) did not show. It looks like I am naked under a blazer.

    • this is SO timeley! The manageing partner had a new firm photoshoot yesterday week for Top Lawyer’s Magazine, and he wanted ME to be in the front and center, weareing my RED suit with my new white silk blouse. He had me hike up the dress just a littel, so that peoeple reading our ad will think to come in b/c of my leg’s. I thought that was a littel sexist, but after he explained that that was busness, I said OK, b/c it will translate into more firm profit’s and a bigger draw. He also had me pout my lip’s a littel bit b/c he know’s men like that. The guy had to take at least 15 different picture’s b/f the manageing partner was satisfied with 2 of them. I think I look a littel cheep in them b/c my leg’s show at least 4″ more leg (both leg’s) then Madeline, who is all the way in the corner on the end. Even the manageing partner is trying to hide her a littel b/c his leg’s are in front of her leg’s. He also had Lynn sit near me even tho she is NOT even an attorney. The manageing partner think’s peeople will think she is a lawyer also and bring in firm busness. The good news is that we are all schrunched in so no one can see any of our tuchuses. We will also use this picture for our new firm websight when we get one. YAY!!!!

      • I hate the fact that it’s a man’s world out there and we have to show more than a little leg and boobs to get business. But until this changes, we need to do what we can to earn a living and no one will fault you for this so stop kicking yourself. Look at the actresses — they do more than show a leg. Their full body is available for inspection on the big screen. So don’t feel bad. Some day, we will laugh as we inspect different men and compare their private parts to see if and how they fit ours.

    • On top of wearing a high neckline, make sure it is symmetrical/even. I once wore a top with an asymmetric, drapey neckline and made the photographer crazy trying to get it to lie straight (even under a blazer).

      Also, stay away from very long necklaces that will get cut off at the bottom of the shot.

    • Rachelellen :

      I don’t mean this to sound snarky but having just done this myself, my #1 tip is get a good photographer. He or she can help you choose between the different pieces of clothing you’ve brought, can make sure lighting is perfect, talk you through your nerves and get you to smile, etc.

      • Rachelellen :

        And actually since I have done this, I can for once make a recommendation for someone rather than asking for one!

  3. Not Emily Post :

    So I know I am a terrible person but I haven’t written a thank you note for a present DH & I got back in January/February. It’s literally been on my to-do list every single day and I just haven’t done it. Do I mention this in the note? Kind of like, “Sorry this is a bit late but loved the gift” or do I just not say anything?

    • Try “our sincerest apologies for not thanking you earlier for your lovely gift. We’ve been enjoying it…blah blah”.

    • Senior Attorney :

      My motto is “never apologize, never explain.” I would just dive in and make sure it’s a very good thank you note indeed. (ETA: Okay, I’d mention it briefly and in passing.) Do it today. Right now. And come back and report in when it’s done.

      Here, I’ll help:

      Dear Aunt Mildred,

      A belated but heartfelt thank you for the fabulous tea cosy you were kind enough to give John and me for our anniversary back in February. We have used it every single day since it arrived, and have never had such piping hot tea, nor such a fashionable breakfast table! We think of you every time we use it, and I remember our fabulous tea parties with my dolls when I visited you as a little girl.

      Thanks again, and I hope you will be able to visit some day soon and see it in action!


      Not Emily

  4. I’m not sure I’d go with “smart.” I’d say that the model pictured here is trying to remember where she left her shirt!

  5. Diana Barry :

    My tips for headshot:

    – no white shirts
    – no print shirts
    – wear a blazer, but not black, maybe grey or navy
    – wear a necklace that is not too blingy/statement/out there, but do wear something
    – blush
    – eye makeup in a neutral
    – lipstick in a neutral, but more than you think you need.

    Smile and test your smile in the mirror. I tend to show my gums if I am smiling too much so I have to rein it in a bit – others may have to smile more than normal. But definitely smile! Otherwise (and I have heard specific comments on this, not for my photo but for others’) you come across as b*tch-face and not friendly/easy to work with.

    Make sure to double check whether you will be doing a headshot or full body shot. If the latter, wear a suit (assuming conservative industry) and shoes that match your suit and are not trendy.

    • The color of your clothing is actually pretty important, as Diana hints at — headshots are usually taken in color, but they may be re-purposed in black & white later (think brochures & printouts for recruting; all depends on how high up in the corporate food chain you are). Black & white clothing will look really stark when it’s converted from color.

      Also, the pics may also be resized smaller (esp. online), so detail can be lost. Be careful about prints, jewelery, anything busy. I wear glasses 100% of the time, but I switch to a very lightweight wire frame for any headshot-like photos bec. my everyday frames (think hipster glasses) can look heavy/busy & hide my eyes in small photos.

    • Amelia Pond :

      I learned this lesson the hard way. Our Law Review photos are in black and white and I wore a grey suit with a high necked cream top. I am so pale that in a side long glance you could believe I am not wearing anything under my blazer. Next time I am going to wear a darker top underneath.

    • Those are great tips. Just had a headshot made for a conference and (a) it came out great and (b) I followed all of those tips! I did have a printed shell under my blazer but it was a very subtle print on white, which looked really nice under a deep green blazer. I also wore quite a lot of makeup (including neutral lipliner and gloss rather than lipstick) because photos can really wash me out, and that’s more and more the case as I get older. The makeup really needs to be defined. I was not aware that the photo would be converted to black and white for the conference, but it was, and it still looks good.

      Headshots are at least manageable. It’s the full-length group shots that can be more problematic, especially if you’re a petite size, as I am. The shorter you are, the more likely that you’ll be standing or seated in the front, which means you have to look good from head to toe. If there’s a chance you’ll be sitting, your pant or skirt hem will have to be a little longer than usual to look right when you’re sitting down. And your shoes will need to be polished!

  6. I would say rule number one, which the model is clearly violating, is wear a shirt.

    That’s professionalism 101. ;)

  7. TJ: how does JCrew compare to Theory sizing?

    • Moon Moon :

      Not really comparable at all. JCrew size 6 is approximately a Theory size 10 if you look at the sizing charts.

    • All I know is that Theory me, no matter how much I wish it did. I am curvy, and it just doesn’t work on me at all. Sigh.

    • pilates princess :

      Theory fit me better than J. Crew, at least in pants. But I would agree with sizing two sizes up for Theory.

    • Diana Barry :

      For suits – I wear an 8 in both for jackets, but sometimes a 10 in Theory. J Crew I wear a 6 in pants and Theory I wear an 8 – the J Crew 6 is a little bigger than the Theory 8.

      For tops, I wear an 8 or M in Theory. J Crew is all over the place – depends on the piece, I go from S to M and 6 to 10.

      • This is very helpful. Theory fits me with some alterations. I need to size up on the pants to make sure they fit my hips and then I get the waist taken in.

    • Charlotte York :

      I size up one size in Theory pants from my JCrew size and two sizes in dresses (which then require a tailor to take in the bottom half).

    • Need to Improve :

      J. Crew 2 = Theory 4

  8. IDoNotLiketheConeofShame :

    I have shoulder length dark brown hair, but in corporate headshots the hair tends to blend in if I wear a black or dark blazer. So go for some contrast, and in my opinion, solid colors tend to work better in photographs. Avoid pale grey or pale blue, as that’s what most headshot photographers use for backgrounds.

    In my industry, I can get away without a blazer. So I went to Nordstroms and tried on a bunch of jewel toned sweaters with flattering necklines – I ended up with teal, with an interesting (but not clunky) necklace.

    For me, it works better to wear more makeup in photos than I usually do – it doesn’t show up in the photos that much.

    Also, for ideas, check out female news anchors – check out what they are wearing.

  9. This is solid advice. I recently had professional headshots taken and I wore a low button blazer with a non-flashy statement necklace. I am a corporate professional who doesn’t like frumpy suits so I still looked professional while not hiding in a bulky blazer. Great post!


  10. Also, no matter what your photog tells you, PLEASE don’t tilt your head beckoningly…it always looks terrible. Just….don’t. It’s not fetch. It’s not.

    • Charlotte York :

      Actually a slight head tilt helps. No one’s face is 100% symmetrical and a slight tilt or turn can help someone look better/more symmetrical. I agree that it shouldn’t be taken to the point of a beckoning type head tilt!

  11. I heard somewhere that a closed-lip smile conveys a more trustworthy tone than a toothy smile. See every politician’s headshot. Thoughts?

  12. I always invest the time/money in getting my hair blown out, makeup done, etc. It makes me feel more confident (not just on picture day) knowing that when people look me up they see me at my very best.

    Oh and don’t let the photographer force you into a professional pose. The photographer my firm uses always tries to unnaturally position my hair so that it doesn’t look as feminine but even he hates the way those pictures turn out. A certain amount of femininity looks better even in professional pictures, at least for me.

  13. I’ll repeat- dont wear white! If the pictures are retouched, it may end up looking gray or dingy. Lining your water line with white eyeliner looks weird to me in person, but always makes people look bright and awake in photos.

    I do think good lighting makes a difference, and a photog who is on your side.

  14. Watch out for makeup (esp foundation and lipstick) with high levels of SPF in them. One of the components (zinc oxide, I think) makes you look very pale in flash photographs. In my headshot, I’m wearing berry colored Sugar lip balm. Usually, it’s a great natural color with a just a little raspberry tone, but in my headshot it’s so pale I look like I’m battling hypothermia.

  15. Well, looking hot would surely be profitable, specially if you plan to defend rapists :p But seriously, I personnally don’t give much importance to what my lawyer or whatever looks like, I think it is safe enough to say that the most important is not looking particularily bad.

  16. I for this advice from the Oprah Winfrey show. Always breath in and then exhale when the photo is being taken. It relaxes your face muscles and creates a more genuine smile.
    Personally I like photos when the photographer is a little higher than where you are standing and sitting. Makes you look a little thinner in photos which are just two dimensional.
    I’ve also heard to make a mental note of sticking your chin out to help with a two dimensional photo.

  17. Shopping challenged :

    Any place I’ve worked has had someone in the dept who stops by with a camera, not necessarily announced ahead of time. There is always a tricky balance between getting a good shot and not wanting to come off as a princess for demanding too much effort for your pic.

  18. housecounsel :

    Since we are on the subject, can anyone recommend a good photographer for this purpose in Chicago?

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