The Epic LinkedIn Headshot
You almost have to change jobs every 3-4 years to build a career these days. The time of working for one company for life has been gone for decades, and to be honest, that sounds incredibly boring anyway. Today the ideal scenario is to learn as much as possible from a company, and once that learning slows down you should leverage what you have learned into a higher paying salary at a different company, rinse, repeat. Finding opportunities in the workforce isn’t easy, but one of the easiest ways to get noticed by recruiters, with the least amount of effort is to spend some time creating a great LinkedIn profile, and then continuously improve it. Today you have to have an entrepreneur mindset; you have to build your brand and sale it. I get contacted regularly by recruiters on LinkedIn simply because I took the time to make a good impression. The very first thing a recruiter sees when they go to your LinkedIn page is your photo, so that’s what I want to help you with today.
Why Your Photo Matters
Like I said, the first thing someone sees when they make it to your LinkedIn page is your photo… it is literally the very first impression you have on them. This would “not” be the appropriate time to post that awesome pic of you at the nightclub with your girlfriends doing duck-face. Your Linked-In picture shouldn’t be good…. it should be epic… it should capture you as a human being who is interesting and approachable. I see so many corporate photos of men sitting on a stool in front of some terrible pseudo-cloud background with a blank expression. Why would I hire that guy? I want to see someone I could have a beer with, someone who looks intelligent, approachable, and maybe even has a sense of humor. I basically want to see the guy from the Dos Equis commercial. You could of course reach out to a local photographer and pay them $200 to make your epic head-shot. But if you’re a control freak like me… that doesn’t sound good enough…. I have been an avid photographer for nearly 20 years and I will share a few tips on how you can make an epic DIY head-shot on the cheap.
Way more important than what camera or lens you might be using is the lighting; light is the stuff you are are trying to photograph after all. If you can get the lighting right it won’t really matter what camera you use, especially when you consider how low of a resolution LinkedIn will actually display at. To begin you will want to be in an evenly lit room. You will also need light coming from multiple directions, at least one on the left and right at a 45-degree angle or so, the key here is it has to be diffuse light. Bare light bulbs will give a very harsh look and create strong shadows. So if you have a couple of lamps with white shades and bright bulbs, that could work. I have even seen people rig up a light with a white T-Shirt in front of a bulb to diffuse the light. Personally, I just forked out $50 and got the Julius Photography Studio from Amazon. This works great and you can use the third light to put directly in front of you on the floor to remove shadows from the face, or behind you to light up the background.
Do expect to play around with the lighting height and distance for several minutes until it looks just right. Typically you’ll create the photos showing a bit more of the shadows for men than women. The beauty of using lights instead of flashes is that you can see what it will look like as you move things around without having to take multiple photos. You may even want to put a large mirror on the opposing wall so you can see how you look in real time more easily. If you buy your own lights you can use them over and over and for both photos and videos… now that’s practical.
The tripod is the cheapest way to make your photos sharper. It really doesn’t matter how many megapixels your camera has, if you aren’t using a tripod you probably aren’t using all of them. The good news is you don’t need an expensive tripod. Expensive tripods are needed for heavy video equipment, or rugged outdoor use by landscape photographers. You just need something that can survive the confines of your air conditioned home. A 60-Inch Tripod will allow you to get enough height so that you can shoot just under eye level. Which is ideal because your head being slightly higher than the camera projects authority and confidence.
Distance to Subject
Now here’s a tip that people rarely think about, but should. You want to make sure that the camera is 8 feet or more away from the subject to prevent perspective distortion. As the camera gets closer to the subject the face begins to look distorted. This is due to some parts of the face being so much closer to the lens than the others, it’s physics and stuff, trust me. This is why selfies usually look so awful. Because they are taken at arm’s length the nose looks larger and the chin looks weaker. People try to compensate for this by holding the camera way over their heads and shooting downward, which also looks kind of dumb. The way to avoid all of this is to stick the camera on a tripod and get it several feet away from your face. Suddenly you will look more attractive and less Pinocchio-ish.
Your ideal focus is simple… It should be on the eyes. Many cameras and smartphones have face detect so it will automatically lock on to your eyes as you step in front of the camera. If your camera doesn’t have face detect don’t worry. Most cameras and smartphones have a way to lock the focus or go into manual focus mode. So all you need to do is put something where your face will be and focus on it, and then lock the focus and it will stay there. If your camera has manual focus you can do the same thing manually and the focus will stay there too. You may want to put a piece of tape on the floor so you will know exactly where to stand or sit to be in focus.
Your background can be any color you want. Ideally you will get it right in camera so you don’t have to fuss with changing it after the fact; especially if you aren’t familiar with photo editing software. The easiest way to do this is simply find a sheet in the color you want. Typically people go with white, gray, or black, sometimes Blue. To do this all you have to do is find a sheet in the color you want, and throw it in the dryer for a few minutes along with something damp and all the wrinkles will be out in 10 minutes. Then simply push pin it to the wall behind you. The more distance you can get between the wall that is behind you and yourself the better. More distance means the background will be more out of focus, which is good, and it also means you’re less likely to cast a shadow on the wall from the lights.
If you have a DSLR (and know how to use it) then of course use that. Ideally you will have something with a zoom because you will want the camera to be at least 8 feet away, yet you are really only wanting to capture your head and shoulders in the frame. (actually a little more so you will have some wiggle room for cropping)
Before smartphones there was this thing called a Point-and-Shoot. This would actually be perfect because they usually had at least a 3X optical zoom. Meaning you could be the 8+ feet away and zoom in for the tighter shot. My all time favorite point and shoot was the Canon PowerShot G9 which my wife bought for me as a Christmas present many years ago. You can pick these up for less than $100 now and they take wonderful pictures in good light with much more resolution than you will need.
Another option is to use your smartphone’s camera. Most modern smartphones, especially Samsung and iPhones, have excellent cameras. The only issue you run into is that they use a wide angle lens, and because you are now 8 feet away, you are capturing the entire body. This isn’t a deal breaker though. Because you are putting your smartphone on a tripod (Inexpensive adapter to use your smartphone on a tripod) you should be able to crop the photo to just your head and shoulders and not lose much in terms of image quality.
If you want a better quality solution you could get the MOMENT Telephoto lens adapter. I have this lens and it looks fantastic on my Samsung, and they also make it with iPhone adapters. This will give you a 2x optical zoom on your smartphone making that headshot or video easier to achieve without the perspective distortion we discussed earlier. I wouldn’t buy it just to take a headshot, but it’s worth looking into if you are going to be doing other photography projects with your smartphone or utilizing video in some way in the future. Below I have created a video to show just how much of a difference the moment lens makes.
Pretty self explanatory. You can’t push the button, but nearly every phone on Earth has a 3 and 10 second timer. If you have a fancy DSLR you may even have a remote control for your camera.
Now this one is a little tricky. While there are ways to clean up the skin and remove blemishes, if you don’t know what you’re doing you probably shouldn’t. If you are familiar with Photoshop and the cloning and healing tools then you can do these corrections yourself without issue. Otherwise I would recommend spending a very small amount of money somewhere like FIVERR.COM and have a pro do it for you.
Last but not least is to portray the person you want to be seen as. Portrait / Portray / See the connection? You probably want to be portrayed as likable, intelligent, interesting… whatever it is see if you can market yourself that way in your photo. Nobody is going to see the 100 goofy pictures you took, they are only going to see the one epic photo you actually posted that you thought best represented who you are. Smile… don’t look posed… catch yourself in the moment, looking authentic, confident, and happy, You can view my current LinkedIn profile here; feel free to connect with me and show me how great your picture turned out after using these tips.
If you would like to see how the placement of multiple lights affects your photo and how to pose, Photographers Tony Northrup, and Chelsea Northrup have put together a great explanation in these videos.