If you take a scroll through your LinkedIn feed, you may notice that many people in your network have professionally-taken profile pictures. More and more, career-oriented individuals are turning to experts to help them curate their image and make for a good first impression, whether to give them a boost as a job candidate, to increase their networking opportunities, or to simply appear professional and aligned with their personal brand.
People pay hundreds of dollars to professional photographers to get a great headshot and improve their LinkedIn pages. But is it really worth it? Do recruiters actually care? And, how much work goes into getting the photo, and who are the people who have made a career out of it? We spoke to three headshot photographers across the US to get their insights on this fascinating trend.
The business behind the camera
“Our statement is to ‘make a good first impression’,” says Arpi Pap, who runs Headshots NYC in the Big Apple and has been working in the field for more than 20 years. Pap says that most of his team’s clients are people “looking to update their image or brand,” as well as people getting their headshots taken for professional reasons. “The mix is very varied,” he says, with some clients also turning to his headshot photography services for things like email signatures, real estate signs, award announcements, or even social media.
Likewise, Utah-based photographer Laurence Boswell, who has been in photography for nearly a decade and started his headshot services business in 2020, says that clients come to him requesting headshots for a variety of reasons. “I often get individuals that come to my studio because they need one good headshot for a LinkedIn profile or resume or an application for graduate school—something that’s on a professional level,” he says. “But I also shoot for corporations or companies who have me go in and take several headshots of employees to showcase either on their website or in their email signatures.”
Scott Hester, a California-based photographer who has been working in the headshot niche for about two years running his independent business Studio J Photography, also does many “onsite headshot sessions” for companies, heading into their offices to take several photos in one afternoon. Hester says 80%of his clients are professionals who need photos for LinkedIn or company profiles (the other 20%are actors and models).
Taking the best headshot
Pap says that emphasizing the experience is key to taking good headshots. “We always make sure our clients are in their comfort zone, that we understand them and can read their vibe, and then we say the right words and use encouragement to make the experience great,” he says. “Feeling welcome” and offering “a genuine smile after a long daily grind” can make all the difference, Pap adds. He always starts off a session by having the client settle in and engage in some small talk. “Then we ease into relaxing poses and move quickly into the job, and before you know it your session is done,” he says. Pap’s clients do indeed leave him rave reviews: “I really felt comfortable with him and trusted him,” said Andy Jeon, who added that Pap was “clear and concise” as well as “a great talker.”
Boswell maintains a similar sentiment to Pap: “I get to know each individual a little bit as I prepare to take their headshot, and get a sense of what looks best for them,” he says. “I even show them what they look like on the back of my camera so that they’re happy with the finished product.” Boswell states how important it is to make a client comfortable as soon as they meet: “We chat a little bit before we take a few shots,” he explains. “I just like to make sure that people are feeling good in front of the camera.” Boswell reiterates that making people feel comfortable is crucial because that’s what makes their genuine smiles come out. “Otherwise, it can look cringey if someone is half-smiling or not fully loosened up,” he explains. Boswell’s clients certainly agree. Mitchell H., for instance, said in a review that Boswell “has a talent for making people feel comfortable in their own skin,” which translates well to the camera.
Hester says that much more must go into a headshot-taking session than simply smiling and clicking. “There’s a lot of coaching that I give the subject because everyone looks different,” he explains. “It’s my job to try and find the best you when you’re standing in front of my camera.” Like Pap and Boswell, Hester takes the beginning of a session to “sit down and just have a conversation” about anything. “Then I explain that ‘if you’re not relaxed, and I’m not relaxed, this process doesn’t work,” he says.
The technical side of headshot photography
Hester, whose tagline on his website states “everyone deserves a great headshot,” utilizes a variety of backdrops when he does headshot photography, mostly turning to seamless paper in tones of gray or other neutral colors. “Neutral backdrops allow me to manipulate them in the post-production process,” he explains. “This is great because some people look good with a light background, and some people look good with a dark background.” Hester adds that in a similar vein, he has his clients come in with a wardrobe change just in case he feels like might appear more professional in a different color or style. “Most people say they don’t know what to wear, so I tell them ‘bring it all!’”
Pap and Boswell likewise use backdrop and lighting setups that they can take on the go for companies that have them come into their office to take employee snapshots. “It’s really important to have the right lighting and right settings,” Boswell says of his experience. “I generally use a couple of softboxes and a plain backdrop. I make sure there are no weird shadows behind my subjects or on their faces, and that their eyes are lit properly.”
Is it worth it to get a professional headshot?
Hester maintains that a good headshot is crucial. “It’s extremely important for that first impression,” he says. “You, as the person who is potentially looking for a job or using a headshot for another professional purpose, want to come off as being dedicated, down to the photo. A solid image—a great headshot—just shows that you’re dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s in your job search.”
Indeed, a profile picture is often the first impression one gives off to hiring managers, recruiters, colleagues, and other professionals they may interact with. “I 100% fully believe that your headshot on any social media site, including LinkedIn, is the first impression that someone is going to get of you,” says Boswell. “So it’s super important to showcase your professionality and your seriousness, especially if you’re an entrepreneur or owner of a company. If you’re looking at someone’s profile, the first thing you’ll see is their name and their picture—and if it’s done with a cell phone, or in their kitchen or somewhere random, it will look unprofessional. I would not take that person as seriously as one who spent the money and time to get a professional photo taken of themselves.”
On a similar note, Hester, who was a longtime news and magazine photographer before opening his studio, says: “That selfie on your LinkedIn page is not cutting it. It’s really kind of shocking the number of people who have really bad headshots on their LinkedIn pages.” Having a sub-par photo could potentially cost you a job, with 71% of recruiters admitting to having rejected a candidate because of their LinkedIn profile picture—even if they’re fully qualified for the job—according to research conducted by Passport-Photo.online.
Job candidates or other career-oriented individuals who want to get a professional headshot taken for their LinkedIn page and other reasons should conduct some basic research to find the right photographer or studio for them. Most photographers list the prices of their services on their websites. California-based Hester, for instance, charges $159 for a standard headshot session, which includes up to five corrected images. Utah-based Boswell offers multiple packages on his website, including $100 for one headshot in a session that is 15 minutes long; $350 for five headshots in a session that is one hour long and may include outfit changes; and, for companies with more than five employees, $100 per head for the first 40 employees and $85 per head after that. And in New York, Pap—who runs one of the most popular headshot studios in the city—likewise offers different packages for $99, $129, and $219 depending on where the shoot takes place and the number of photos and outfits.
The future of headshot photography
Hester adds that as it seems like many companies are laying employees off as of late, there might be a rise in headshot photo sessions due to declining employment numbers. “It will be interesting to see how that goes, with a lot of people potentially looking for jobs over the next few months,” he says.
And Boswell has noticed an uptick in professional headshot services in recent months, which might be why he’s also noticed more and more people taking their online images more seriously. “I’ve noticed people taking the job interviewing process more seriously, and using LinkedIn in a more serious way,” he says. “And it’s helpful that people are getting their headshots taken at a higher rate, because now it’s becoming a more common thing to do.”
So if you’re looking to improve your personal brand or update your LinkedIn profile for the eyes of recruiters, you might consider turning to professional photography services for a new headshot. It might be what ends up setting you apart from other candidates in the running for your dream job. Say cheese!
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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