Female headshot photography Bristol business owner

Do you smile in a headshot? In my experience as a headshot photographer the quick answer is yes, you do smile in a headshot. However, it’s not that straightforward and it may be appropriate to have a different expression.

So if you’re thinking about booking a headshot photo session, keep reading to see whether you should be smiling in your headshot (or not)!

On balance most people enjoy looking at photos of others when they’re smiling. However, we see smiling faces all the time, so we’re pretty good at telling the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one.

This brings us back to one of the most important elements in a headshot – and that’s approachability.

A quick Google and we’ll find synonyms for approachability include – friendliness, sociability and openness. These all communicate a sense of warmth and we typically choose to work with people we think we’ll get on well with. But there are some exceptions, so let’s dig a bit deeper.

Preparing for your headshot photo session

There are four elements to consider when you’re preparing for your headshot session.

  1. How you want to come across?
  2. Where you plan to use your headshot?
  3. How you feel about smiling?
  4. Are there any cultural or corporate considerations?

Let’s take a look at these in a bit more detail.

How do you want to come across?

As part of the planning process I ask all my clients to tell me a little about their personality and what they want their photographs to say about them. Most people will use phrases like confident, warm, skilled, professional and welcoming, although it does vary by profession.

Clients working in the well-being and coaching professions tend to use words that describe caring, supportive and empathetic traits. It’s important their clients feel safe and secure as the working relationship often involves sharing personal details and requires considerable honesty and openness.

On the other hand, clients from traditional professional sectors such as legal, IT, accountancy and engineering tend to focus more on their professional skills rather than their interpersonal skills.

Interestingly, once we start to explore what their clients are looking for, the second group reveals a greater interest in the warmth and empathy traits. When considering the question do you smile in a headshot, the easiest way to convey some of these particular traits is by smiling!

It’s important to remember that while we may want to communicate status and experience, your clients also need to feel they can build a connection and work with you.

Where you plan to use your headshot photo

Often I capture a variety of expressions in a headshot session. This allows my clients to choose different expressions for different situations.

A barrister for example is doing an important job. They’re giving their client legal advice to help them navigate through a complex situation. It’s likely that a barrister will retain a degree of authority in their headshot as they’re in a high-profile position in the law profession. So the images on their website are likely to reflect their position in society.

However, they may want to use a slightly warmer image on their social media profile that allows their clients to get to know them a little better. The more relaxed images may be supported with copy that talks about interests outside of work or other projects they’ve been involved with. It may not be a full-blown smile, but a more relaxed headshot would be completely appropriate.

How do you feel about smiling?

Some people are born with big expressive smiles, they smile all the time, that’s the way they are. Others are more reserved and may only smile when they’re with close friends and feel completely relaxed.

Your headshot photo should be a good reflection of your personality, so if you’re a natural smiler, don’t hold back. Likewise, if you’re slightly more reserved, forcing a big smile probably won’t feel comfortable and isn’t the best route.

We shouldn’t forget, the most important characteristics of a great headshot are communicating confidence and approachability in a relaxed manner.

A professional headshot photographer will spend time with you and will help you relax so you’re able to show the warm and approachable side of your personality.

You’ll also find that as you relax into a headshot session, smiling and having fun feels more natural. It’s why I try and encourage my clients to have a slightly longer headshot session. It takes time to relax and build a rapport, which often results in a richer and more varied set of headshots.

Are there any corporate or cultural considerations?

Often I’m asked to capture a set of headshots for a business. The company may already have a corporate style and the client may want to replicate existing headshots on a website.

This could be a corporate style or alternatively a more light hearted and colourful style. There’s no right or wrong approach here – it’s all about creating headshots that fit with the culture of the business.

I recently photographed some headshots for a Bristol based IT company and the brief was to keep the photos looking natural. They wanted to use different locations throughout the office along with a feeling of individuality for each headshot. They didn’t want a cookie-cutter approach where everyone looked the same.

So understanding the brief and whether there’s an overarching theme is an important part of the planning process.

If you’d like to find out more, I’ve written a series of headshot photography FAQs. Clients often ask me these questions, so I hope you find them helpful.  

If you prefer a chat instead, or you’d like to plan a headshot session you can book a complimentary consultation call here.

Learn more about headshot photography and the other services I offer including business storytelling photography, personal branding photography and corporate event photography.