Are you familiar with Shift/Co? They’re an organization whose tagline succinctly telegraphs their mission: “Elevate business. Shift humanity.” They value business as a means to achieve meaningful global change, something we at Deutsch Photography support 100%. 

Brett and I have been talking with Shift/Co about how we can use our business to give other small businesses a leg up during these tough times — stay tuned for more news on that.

Meanwhile, Shift/Co interviewed us about our business portraiture — check it out, and let us know what you think.


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Q: Why do professional headshots matter to business owners?

Headshots are all about connecting. That’s the 5-word story, and we believe it fervently. 

But if you care to probe a little deeper, then … most successful businesses achieve success by establishing and cultivating authentic connections with their customers. Those connections are longer lasting and more compelling when customers, clients, and prospects can put a face (or faces) on a business. Why? Because then they know that humans – real humans, caring humans, not indifferent faceless entities – are at the helm. And since owners are proud of their businesses, they usually loathe to settle for snapping selfies to showcase the foundation of their brands, which they’ve born and bred with the utmost care. 

And a professional headshot is, well, professional! A good headshot photographer will capture an element of that special something-something, whether that’s a warm sense of humor, intelligence, generosity, charisma, or something else entirely. And a professional photographer will make sure the shots are lit well, cropped beautifully, and edited to show what the owners and employees look like on their best day. 

Q: Is there a type of headshot that works best for different types of businesses?

What a great question. Our initial answer is an absolute no! 

Your headshot should reflect your personal brand and the company’s brand, which will vary within the same industry. What works for a large bank may be the opposite of what an advertising exec or an entrepreneur wants to convey. But don’t shoehorn you or your business into a specific type of headshot simply because of your industry. Like, a bank or law firm “should” be plain vanilla and formal, whereas an ad agency “should” be crazy and creative. Stereotypes aren’t standouts, they’re blend-ins. The opposite of what you want to be. 

We photographed this E*TRADE executive wide to capture his environment. That allowed him to multi-purpose the photos with various crops to address different needs within the organization. 

On the other hand, EMM Wealth Management wanted traditional headshots of their employees with a consistent style reflecting the brand’s warmth, intelligence, and trustworthiness. And they also wanted more casual portraits for secondary photographs that revealed a bit more of advisors’ individual personalities. 

Q: Are there certain types of poses and/or expressions that work better than others?

I’m loving this Q&A! Triple yes, quadruple yes. In general, we think that headshots work best when the subject leans toward the camera and looks straight ahead because they connect better with the viewer. We all want to work with and do business with people we like, right? And psychologists have found that we prefer people who smile. It does not have to be a big, toothy smile; a little Mona Lisa smile works, too. Regardless, your expression should be warm, confident, and engaged.

Beyond that, there’s no definitive prescription for what works well – other than being natural, relaxed, and reflective of the person. But there are plenty of things that DON’T work well. It pains me when the subject clearly went to some length to achieve a look – great outfit, neat hair, nice jewelry, maybe a professional makeup artist – but the photographer didn’t take the time to help tame their jitters. Tension shows in photos: hunched shoulders, a pulled back head, a forced smile. Crossed arms can signal confidence, but if the posture isn’t right, this can be mistaken for coldness. A wide and open smile can indicate enthusiasm, but conversely, it can sometimes feel fake (especially if it IS fake). The old hand-on-chin shot looks dated now. Hands-on-hips can work, but then the subject should be shot at an angle to avoid appearing domineering. 

In other words, make sure you hire a headshot photographer whose gallery you like and who seems interested and attuned to who you are and what you want. And if they won’t take the time to discuss this with you ahead of time, get another photographer. 

Q: What is the best method to capture professional, yet authentic headshots?

Professional is easy(ish). Authentic is not. If you are the subject—the one hiring the photographer—think about your goals: Where are you going to use these headshots? Who are your end viewers likely to be? What do you want to convey about yourself and your business? What are you offering? Do you want to show a piece of that in the background in some way? Who are YOU? What do people, especially customers, appreciate about you? 

OK—now go look in the mirror. Think about those answers. OWN them. Have fun by yourself in front of that mirror. Note which poses and expressions feel more natural. Give your “elevator speech.” Practice. Not for long, but practice. Wait … there it is! There’s your passion. You just lit up.

As your photographer, that’s the piece we want to capture. Any competent professional photographer can light you well. But a good headshot photographer will get that spark of emotion, and land it in the photo. It might be a knowing smile that says your customers are in good hands because you know what you’re doing. It might be a glint in the eye that says you’ll pursue the best for us. It might be the wit that invites us to be in it with you for the long haul. So, please! Share your goals. Tell us about your business. Tell us about YOU. 

Because “YOU” is what you want in that headshot.

Q: At what stage should an entrepreneur invest in professional headshots? 

Geez, this feels self-serving, but we mean it from the heart and the head (and from being entrepreneurs ourselves). Get professional headshots immediately. If you are a college student going for an internship and can’t afford a seasoned pro, scour Craigslist for budding photographers whose work you admire. Show that you take pride in how you present yourself. And if you are an entrepreneur launching your business, this is your chance to project tomorrow’s satisfaction with the success you know you’re going to have. You may be a fledgling bird today, but you want your prospects to see the soaring eagle you know you can become. Regardless of what stage of your career you’re in—starting out, changing, launching, commanding, reversing – who cares? You see the trajectory, right? Don’t lean back into who you were, lean forward into who you will become.

Q: What is the difference between a business headshot and a portrait?  

Interesting. A headshot IS a portrait, a genre of a portrait. “Portrait” is a broad term that encompasses almost any photograph, drawing, painting, or engraving of a person. In photography, we think of a portrait as an image in which a person is the object of focus. That might mean head-and-shoulders (a traditional headshot). Or an environmental portrait that shows (optimally, reveals) a person in their chosen environment. 

A traditional headshot fits specific parameters—specifically, head and shoulders, eyes forward. The image can fit in a small imprint while showing off a person’s face (aka, a thumbnail). This might be a 2×3, or for LinkedIn, a 1×1. However, the times are a’changin. Portraits that show a little more go a long way in telling a story. That is why our environmental portraiture is on the rise.

Q: What are your “Go To” tips for great headshots? 

But wait, there’s more!

  • Identify your objectives. Where are you using your headshots? What do you want them to convey?
  • Know your brand. If you are not sure, then consult with trusted others – or a branding professional who can help you. Don’t rely on the photographer to figure out your brand at the session. And then choose a photographer who understands that your brand is more important than his or her brand and is flexible and imaginative enough to achieve the style you want.
  • Practice your look and your message in front of your mirror. This will help you find and center yourself and eradicate jitters.
  • Follow the general rules of headshot apparel and cosmetics unless you know (or have hired someone who knows) how to break the rules. At which point, have at it! 
  • Relax and have fun!

For more examples of headshots and business portraits, check out our galleries here.

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