How to take the best selfie for a work photo or headshot

Looking for a post-pandemic professional change? You need a good headshot, and these five tips can help you get a better one from home.

Image: fizkes, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The COVID-19 pandemic is finally beginning to abate, and let’s face it—most of us haven’t tried very hard to keep up appearances. We’ve lived in pajamas, gone unshaven and have left uncut hair in messy buns for over a year, and now it’s time to face the music: It’s time to look professional again.

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One way to get back in practice is with a new headshot to grace resumes, social media profiles and other professional places. In an ideal world, a trip to a professional photographer would be the way to do it, but that’s not feasible for everyone.

SEE: COVID vaccination policy (TechRepublic Premium)

To get some good advice on taking the idea at-home headshot I spoke with award-winning Louisville, Kentucky-based headshot and portrait photographer Ben Marcum, who has a lot of good advice for those unable to make it to a photographer’s studio. 

Don’t take it yourself

If you’re not going to a studio or seeing a professional photographer, there’s one tip you should definitely make use of to avoid your headshot looking like a spur-of-the-moment Instagram selfie: Don’t take it yourself. 

Try to get a friend to help (which will be easier now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available), and if you can’t get someone at the very least be sure to use a tripod, which can help you find the right height and distance along with keeping the camera steady.

Use the right light

Ring lights have become the de facto king of at-home photography, but Marcum doesn’t necessarily recommend them. “Ring lights were designed for dental photography. They’re really bright,” Marcum said. Outside of a studio, where a photographer is going to be able to determine the best light for your look, Marcum said that natural light will always be best. 

Getting natural light to look right can be tricky, Marcum said, so be sure you take test photos until you get it right. “Find a nice big window, preferably on a cloudy day so the light isn’t too hard. If you can’t do that, use a south-facing window and cover it with a white window sheer to take the edge off.” 

Be sure you’re looking straight into the light, too, which can help reduce shadows and eliminate lines and wrinkles. If you do decide to use daylight, be sure there aren’t any other light sources in the shot so they don’t overpower your main light source. 

When natural lighting isn’t an option a ring light can still work just fine, Marcum said, but be careful what type you buy: It should have a mount for your smartphone or camera in the center of the ring so the light is evenly distributed, like this one from Amazon.

Know your angles

While you need to face directly into your light source, that doesn’t mean standing squared off to the camera: You need to find your good side, and luckily there’s a trick to doing so: Think about where you part your hair. 

“Nine times out of 10 people naturally part their hair on their good side,” Marcum said. Putting the part-side of the face toward the camera makes the face appear more open, which Marcum said is an important part of taking a good headshot. 

Height is an important part of a well-composed headshot too, and there’s one golden rule never to break: Don’t take the picture from below your eye line. Marcum said he generally takes headshots at eye level with subjects staring straight into the lens, but the physical construction of smartphone cameras can change that strategy, he said.

“Smartphone lenses have a wider angle, which means they have a slight warping that you can take advantage of. Position the phone above eye level and tilt the phone slightly, and that warping can help you shed a few pounds,” Marcum said. Just be sure you edit the photo after you take it to eliminate the tilt. 

Don’t fake a smile

A big part of Marcum’s strategy is getting natural smiles out of subjects because “fake smiles always look fake,” he said. 

When taking a home headshot it’s better to go without a smile than a fake one, Marcum suggests, but also said that there’s a reliable way to get a good look without forcing a grin: What he calls “the Clooney maneuver.”

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team’s mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“Squint just a little bit and raise the corner of your mouth in a slight smirk,” Marcum suggests. If you want to see it in action, just Google “George Clooney smirk” and you’ll find plenty of examples of it in action. 

Stick out your chin! 

This one might sound weird, but there’s a really good reason to stick out your chin when taking a headshot, or a photo of any kind, really: It’s easy for the camera to make your chin disappear into your neck.

To avoid that problem, Marcum recommends you “make like a turtle.” Don’t just stick your chin out, but rather move your whole head forward to force the camera to pick up your jawline. 

Ideally, Marcum said, you’d see a professional like him to get a good headshot, and your mileage is going to vary when doing it at home. “You’re going to get what you pay for out of a headshot, and a good photographer does more than just take the picture.” Helping you look natural, getting a good angle and teasing out a smile are part of the professional’s job just as much as touch-ups in Lightroom afterward. 

Follow these tips and you may be able to capture a bit of that professional headshot magic.

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