Projecting the Right Image: 5 Tips For Having a Great Professional Portrait Taken

Whether you need a headshot to serve as your Twitter avatar or to accompany your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, blog or official work bio, having a great portrait is more important than ever for today’s savvy professional. Here are five key tips to get that picture-perfect photo:

1. Do Your Homework!

Select a professional photographer who specializes in portraiture. To be sure that they’re the right fit for the portrait you‘re seeking, check out their photography samples online or visit their studio in person. When discussing your photo needs with your photographer, determine how long the portrait session will be, how many clothing changes will be included and whether it will be a studio or location setting. Also let them know if the portrait will be used primarily online, in print or both (this will help them decide which type of photo package you will need).

2. Provide Direction

Don’t be afraid to tell the photographer what you want. If you have examples of the types of shots or poses you’d like for your portrait, bring them with you for reference. Additionally, prior starting to your photo session, provide your photographer with answers to the following questions:

  • Will your portraits be casual, formal or both?
  • Do you prefer smiling or more serious shots?
  • Would you like mostly close-ups, full body shots or both?
  • Do you feel you photograph better from one side versus the other?

3. Dress for Success

When selecting outfits for your photo session, pick clothing that won’t quickly date the photograph. Likewise, remember to take the following fashion cues:

  • Unless you’re going for artsy shot, avoid busy prints.
  • For more formal shots, stick with solid, neutral colors and subtle prints.
  • To minimize body size, go with darker colors.
  • If you have a fuller face, a scoop or v neck line often works best.
  • To create a classic look that really accentuates your face, wear a dark turtleneck.

No matter what you choose to wear, make sure that it’s totally comfortable and flattering.

4. Do It With Style

Along with making the right clothing choices, your hair, make-up, glasses, and jewelry also play a major role:

  • Hair: get your hair cut and/or permed at least a week before your portrait session. This will give your hairstyle a chance to set and look natural. Avoid making a drastic hairstyle change right before your session. Instead, stick with what looks good on you and reflects your current style.
  • Make-Up: keep your make-up natural and not overly-done. Don’t forget to bring your make-up along with you for touch-ups.
  • Glasses: If you normally wear glasses, also wear them in your photographs. To avoid lens glare and reflections, ask your optician to temporarily remove the lenses, or see if you can borrow a pair of empty frames that are similar to your own for your portrait session.
  • Jewelry: Unless you’re shooting for a highly-styled portrait, keep jewelry to a minimum. Wrist watches, drop earrings, and bangle bracelets should be avoided. Wearing too much jewelry or jewelry that is too ornate can divert the attention away from your face.

5. Relax!

Even if you don’t feel that you’re very photogenic and you’re convinced that “you just don’t take good photos,” don’t allow those thoughts to cause you to appear tense or stiff in your photos. To combat that, stay relaxed and focus on positive thoughts during your session so that your genuine personality can shine through.

By following these simple tips, you will come away with a portrait that makes a great first impression and truly enhances your personal brand.

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Matilda is a hard-working art director with a flair for marketing communications, promotion design, branding, and social media. You couldn't find cooler creative chick on the planet. And she also just happens to believe that no matter what you do for a living, you should ALWAYS WorkAwesome.


  1. Bim on the 5th December

    Thanks very helpful .. .thank you. I have been thinking about doing some portrait photography recently… I’m hoping to learn how to do it before I go out buying lenses. Cheers.

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      Thanks! I’m glad you found the info helpful.

  2. Travel Photography on the 5th December

    A good portrait may decide even a subcription for your site. People who looks cool makes other people follow them. People with weird looking usually are less considered. Sad but true.

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      I totally agree! The right photo can definitely impact the number of followers, fans, friends and contacts you obtain via the various social media channels. That’s why it’s key to take quality photos that reflect your personal brand, while also being appealing to your audience.

  3. Caitlin on the 5th December

    I recommend most of the same clothing tips to my photo clients and here are a few more:
    1.Collared shirts also look great on anyone.
    2. No crew collared shirts or sleeveless – no matter how casual the shot. They just don’t photograph well.
    3. I also recommend avoiding just about ANY print, formal or not.

    …but turtlenecks? Leave those for your ski trip. They don’t look professional and often make a person look like they have a floating head.

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      Thanks so much for your feedback!

      As for turtlenecks, I think it really boils to personal choice and the look that you’re trying to achieve. But, I’ve actually come across many attractive, professional-looking portraits with the subject wearing turtlenecks. I think as long as the right lighting and backdrops are used, being photographed in a turtleneck can be very effective.

  4. Evolving on the 6th December

    I like the end: “RELAX” We can not do well if too many stress. We need relax not for a momment, but all momment. Photograph is a take a momment, i think. Thanks for great tips

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      Very true. Being relaxed is the key to success in many areas — including taking a great photo. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Vunky on the 7th December

    Don’t forget to give the photographer some room to do his work. Too much control will block creativity. If you liked his previous work, you can bet on it that those models did not come marching in with a full list of demands and tips.

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      Thanks for your feedback!

      I didn’t mean to imply that you should control every aspect of the portrait session. But, when it comes to portraits, there’s nothing worse than getting back the proofs and realizing that they don’t match your expectations. I believe by sharing those expectations up front you can work WITH your photographer to get photos that you’ll be happy with in the end.

  6. Marlene on the 9th December

    Thanks for the tips. I definitely need to get some new photos done and will keep this info in mind.

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      I’m glad you found this info helpful. Good luck with your new portraits!

  7. Gary Ashton on the 9th December

    I have always told my team that having a good potrait is something that they shouln’t skimp on. The realtors business card is something that will be used for at least 2-3 years so spending the extra to get a professional potrait taken is realtively cheap when you look at the life of the picture 🙂

    Gary 🙂
    RE/MAX Realtor

    • Matilda Jackson on the 14th December

      You’re absolutely right! A good portrait is a very worthwhile expense that should be viewed as part of your overall promotional budget. Along with the rest of your marketing efforts, a great headshot can help to convey your professionalism and personality. Thanks for your feedback!

  8. Justin on the 16th December

    If you are thinking of taking portraits at Christmas have a look at these tips:

  9. manish chiniwalar on the 19th June

    Great article! Also adding, some ppl overexpress… Just keep it simple. No too much style and expression.

  10. Josh Malone on the 1st December

    Great post. This is kind of like the old wives tale “If you want to make a million your have to dress like a millionaire”. Of course this is not always the case, but it never hurts to look more professional than you are.

  11. Rebecca Sell on the 22nd September

    Thank you! I have a shoot tomorrow so all very useful stuff!

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