Money·5 min read

How to Take Your Own Professional Headshots, According to an HR Expert

accessibility, woman in business attire taking headshot
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
October 31, 2022

If you want to make a good [read: professional] impression while applying for a new job, you might want to consider professional headshots. Think: The polished pics you see of employees on a company's About Us page. And, spoiler: You don’t need to hire a pro photographer to make your LinkedIn profile stand out. We tapped Jhanee Carter, creator and founder of The HR Queen, to learn more about how to DIY your headshot. Psst...As a former Big Law HR pro and current career coach with over 150k followers on TikTok, she knows a thing or two. 

Can you tell me how to take a professional headshot?

From what you wear to your background, the small deets can have a major impact. And Carter says a good one speaks volumes to recruiters and hiring managers. “Having a great headshot will help you stand out from the competition,” she tells theSkimm. “In addition, a good picture of yourself conveys self-confidence, which is a desirable trait in hiring managers.” 

Get into portrait mode

Before prepping for your close-up, double-check to make sure your phone is in the right camera mode for professional headshots. Hint: Portrait Mode for iPhones. Because these settings create a slightly blurred background (aka a depth of field). Which is key for making your pic look like it was taken by a professional photographer.

Opt for natural lighting

Lighting is super important when it comes to photography — and headshots are no exception.“ To make your headshot look crisp on a digital screen, you need to ensure it's bright enough, the contrast is right, and the sharpness is right,” says Carter. That doesn’t mean you’ll need to tap into your savings to splurge on fancy equipment or pricey apps. Instead, position your phone between yourself and a window for good (and free) natural lighting. But make sure you’re not drowning in direct sunlight. (Think: You can’t see your entire face.)

Focus on your face

Because it should be the focus of your headshot. So skip the full-body poses and busy backgrounds. Carter says it’s best to choose a solid, clutter-free background. Think: a white wall. Shooting outside? Just look for a shady area and a white or brick wall.

Skip the selfie

Just because it’s a DIY headshot doesn’t mean it should be a selfie. Carter recommends using an inexpensive tripod to hold your phone steady. When all else fails, the self-timer on your phone can do the trick. Or tap a friend or family member to be your photographer for the day. Carter’s other advice: “Make sure the camera is eye-level and steady. Self-timers are extremely useful for avoiding feeling rushed.”

Strike a pose

Carter says to test a few poses to find what’s best for you. “To create a connection with the lens/camera, smile, look into it, and change up your posing so you have a variety of headshots to choose from,” she explains. Example: Cross your arms, turn your body slightly away from the camera, and smile for a powerful (but welcoming) pose. Another pose to play around with: a smile with one or both hands on your hips. 

Try taking a few shots with your head and shoulders in the frame. Then try a few with your head down to your waist. For some, stand at an angle, and for others, get a head-on shot.

And what about what to wear for professional headshots?

Think: You landed an interview at your dream job. Carter says a headshot can be an easy way to show recruiters what you do or want to do. “As the saying goes, ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have,’" she reminds us. Here’s a breakdown of how it’s done. 

Choose your colors wisely

Unless you’re in a creative industry, a good rule of thumb is to stick to neutral colors like brown, black, or navy. FYI, Carter says darker colors also help draw attention to your face and eyes. If you are going for a role in a more creative industry like art design or digital media, a pop of color isn’t a bad idea. 

Go minimal on accessories

Try not to overdo it on jewelry, scarves, headbands, or other accent pieces. Otherwise, you might shift the focus from your face. One or two pieces of jewelry usually work best. PS: If your glasses reflect too much light in your photos, take them off while you snap your photo. Or bring a spare pair (with no lenses).

Switch it up between shots

Carter says you should always be prepared with a few outfits you can quickly switch into if you need to. Plan to have one or two different items on hand. That way you have options to choose from when it’s time to narrow it down to the winning pic.

Anything I should avoid when taking a professional headshot?

One major don’t when it comes to headshots is going overboard with filters, according to Carter. On the flip side, don’t forget that you can touch up your photos a bit. Example: Maybe you need to make your photo brighter or sharper. Start with free editing apps like Pixlr or Snapseed. “Editing your photo is almost as important as taking it,” Carter says. But focus more on making your photo nice and bright, instead of unnatural filters. Oh, and don’t change the size of your photo when you save it. Carter says resizing can cause a grainy, low-resolution photo. Not the best impression. 


Gone are the days of going to a photographer's studio to get a nice headshot. Thanks to fancy smartphone cameras, you can snap a profesh-looking pic in the comfort of your own home for little to no cost. And these tips will help you stand out from the crowd (read: other candidates’ LinkedIn profiles).

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