We’ve all done it… “Oh, I need a photo to put on (facebook, linkedin, website, etc). Here’s one… I’ll just crop it and I’m good to go.”

I’m not pointing any fingers here… Honestly, I am a professional photographer so I should know better, and yet I just uploaded this random shot my second-shooter took during a light test at a wedding, because I couldn’t think of any other pictures that might possibly be reasonable to put on Linkedin.  Sometimes we just take the path of least resistance no matter the peril.

Bad choice for a profile picture / headshot

Profile Pictures Are Your First Impression!

I mean, come on – do I look like a trusted professional in that shot?  (sigh)  You do not have to answer that…

Now that that is out in the open, let’s talk about what a headshot really does for you, and then I promise to go out and get myself a real one for goodness’ sake.

I recently did headshots for Benjamin Ybarra, a lawyer who I’ve worked with in the past. Earlier this year, he obtained a part-time position at the Oregon Law Center. He then opened his own practice so he could spend the rest of his time helping clients in a variety of legal areas. Because this is a small business, he can provide clients with ample personal attention and the best value in legal services.

I’ve met him in person a couple of times, and am connected with him on Linkedin. I have nothing but good, professional reviews of him and his work. I have to say, though, even with a prior in-person relationship his Linkedin profile photo made me nervous.

Example of a poor choice for a head shot.

Example of a poor choice for a headshot.

So let’s break this down a little bit.  What is the first thing that you notice about this head shot?  It’s predominantly a kind of strange yellowish tan color.  The background is on the same plane and in the same amount of focus and the same color as the subject, which makes it confusing to the viewer – where do you focus your attention?  Why, on the dark jacket of course!  Not to mention that when you do find his face in this image you can not see his eyes and it looks like he has no chin.  Hmm…

How old do you think Mr. Ybarra is after looking at this photo?  Do you trust him?  Do you have the gut feeling that he is likely to be helpful, and listen to your problems when you hire him?  A lawyer’s headshot should not be goofy or casual, but if I had only this image to go on I might not call Mr. Ybarra. I just don’t know from this image if I can trust him.  The complete lack of emotion and definition in this image gives the impression that he is hiding something.

Now, we all know you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, but don’t you do it anyway?

Don't judge a book by it's cover, Treasure island on bikes

Just as Robert Louis Stevenson imagined it. A pirate with a wooden leg riding a bike across the high seas.

Having met Mr. Ybarra in person, I knew these intuitions were not true but that doesn’t change the fact that I was absolutely thrilled when he asked me to re-do his headshot for his new website!  I felt like I had a real chance to change his image for the better.

When we arrived at the library, he showed me a case full of tan books that he wanted to have as the backdrop for his headshot.  We were heading down a dangerous path here… one where the subject and background were he same color and you couldn’t really tell where one started and the other stopped.  Sound familiar?

Thankfully I have quite a lot of tricks up my sleeve.  I put a pale blue gel on my light so that the books, lit with ambient light, would come out warmer than they were in real life.  I used my trusty 100mm portrait lens to throw the background out of focus while maintaining very sharp focus on the subject.  Notice how you can see his eyes this time around!  And last but not least, I intentionally put him at an angle to the background to give the image even more depth.

Example of a good choice for a headshot

Example of a good choice for a headshot

This image looks far more like the man I have worked with in the past.  Professional, serious, intelligent, and trustworthy.  I know this image will be a great asset to him in his new practice.  For more information about Mr. Ybarra, please visit his brand new website:


Now who am I going to get to take one for me….


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