The perfect professional portrait is worth $1,000 and maybe even a job

Look confident but not arrogant. Insured but accessible. Smart instead of sexy, unless you can pull off both, and only if it’s subtle sexy.

Achieving your professional headshot seems harder and more efficient than ever in an age of record job changes and first on-screen impressions. The buttoned-up, made-up looks that once dominated business directories and professional profiles now seem stifling in the age of working from anywhere.

Selfies are free, but some people who seek this photo for their LinkedIn profile pay $1,000 or more for portraits. Their quests fuel a cottage industry of portrait photographers who offer facial expression coaching and promise to help even the most insecure subjects feel good.

“I’m not a photographer per se,” says Peter Hurley, who charges $1,500 for a portrait session and $300 for each image kept by his clients. “I consider myself a facial transmission strategist.”

His favorite is telling people to “squincher,” which means he lifts the lower eyelids – just a little – in a modified squint. Photographers hoping to emulate his techniques can pay $1,800 for one of his weekend workshops.

Paul Alesse reviews his portraits with photographer Peter Hurley.


Scott Rosenthal (2)

Mr Hurley started taking headshots about 20 years ago, having learned the basics of photography while modeling to fund his quest for an Olympic sailing spot. (He didn’t do the five-ring regatta, but he had a hell of a six-pack.)

Her first clients were other models and actors. Now, shooting in studios in New York and Los Angeles, he estimates 90% are businessmen tired of their bland yearbook-style profile pictures and willing to shell out to stand out.

In some ways, the importance of a good headshot is measurable. LinkedIn, which gets more traffic when profiles are more engaging, reports that bios with headlines get 21 times more views than those without, and users get nine times more connection requests when they include photos of themselves.

Headshots don’t help everyone equally, says executive recruiter Martha Heller. She notes that executives at a company trying to fill a key position may have predetermined notions of what the ideal candidate should look like. Historically, they’ve often pictured a white male, though clients are increasingly looking for people who will diversify the upper ranks, she says.


What are your top tips for taking the perfect headshot? Join the conversation below.

Either way, a candidate’s chances of receiving an offer can be diminished by a photo that doesn’t match the image in the boss’s mind.

Catalant, an online marketplace for freelance consultants, says freelancers have portraits in their profiles are hired more often, but some companies filter names and photos because race and gender markers can play into unconscious biases and disadvantage some candidates.

Pat Petitti, CEO of Catalant


Aram Boghosyan (2)

Catalant CEO Pat Petitti recently sat down for a new photo of himself – in a hoodie. The look sparked a debate with its marketing director, Vinda Souza. She urged him to wear something more formal, so he posed in both a blazer and a sweatshirt. When the evidence came in, Ms Souza admitted he looked better in an outfit that made him comfortable, rather than stiff.

She doubts a woman could get away with the same, saying that “when a guy dresses down, he’s approachable; when a woman dresses, she is sloppy. Overdressing can also send the wrong message, she says, adding that for women, “it’s a pretty narrow line to have to walk.”

Men and women who have spent a lot of money and hours to achieve a striking portrait say it is worth it. The effort can involve wardrobe, hair and makeup consultations spread over several days, as well as casual chats over coffee to build a rapport with the photographer, all before the camera clicks. for the first time.

When it’s over, there are (hopefully) a few frames that portray the best version of the person they contain.

Dan Dowling


Sky S.Carlisle

Headshot enthusiasts insist that the goal is authenticity, not vanity. This could mean an unconventional outfit or backdrop, natural hair, exposed tattoos, or even a few untouched up wrinkles.

Brittany McCoy


The Kam-Era Photography and Visual Healing Studio

Dan Dowling, content manager for a health tech company, asked a photographer to shoot him at his favorite rock climbing spot in New Mexico. He told himself that the joy he felt there would show through in a picture.

Brittany McCoy, a grant proposal writer in Mississippi, started her own consulting firm this year and commissioned a portrait that showcases her self-proclaimed “big curly hair.” Ms McCoy, who is black, has straightened her hair for past headaches.

Eugina Jordan says she wanted to look good for her age, 52, but not too airbrushed when refreshing her photo this summer. She had been fired from her job as a marketing manager at a telecommunications company and believed that potential employers would judge her, in part, on her picture. She therefore aimed to project a balance between experience and vigor.

“I have a great resume,” she says, “but the portrait is the first impression: ‘Do I want this lady to go to events and talk about the company or talk to the media?'”

Ms Jordan says her photographer, Alissa Randall, “captured the essence of me”. She credits her new photo with helping her land another high-profile role that allows her to work from home in Massachusetts.

Eugine Jordan


Alissa Randall

Ms. Randall, based in New Jersey, has some tips. She never tells anyone to smile. She shoots with a slight upward angle, which she says helps her subjects look powerful. She sometimes uses tape to make the clothes hang perfectly.

Also, she says, “I have a very strong empathy and I can connect with people.”

A session with Ms. Randall, including hair and makeup and some sitter pictures, costs around $1,000.

Florida-based photographer David Roth charges $245 for a shooting session and $240 per image, which means clients who keep a few photos are pushing four figures. Despite the expense, Roth says he’s been so busy keeping up with the demand for portraits that he’s stopped doing wedding and family portraits.

He describes his shoots as therapeutic for some people who are critical of their own appearance. Its mission, he says, is to produce “scroll-stopping images,” photos that will make a hiring manager stop and dwell on someone’s profile when browsing candidates.

“I tell my clients, ‘I want you to get five extra seconds if we’re lucky,'” he says.

Write to Callum Borchers at [email protected]

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