6-Step Guide To A Job-Winning Headshot

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Hyperbole aside, a good professional photo has a major impact on how a hiring manager views you.

Some 92 percent of employers turn to social media for recruitment, according to Mediabistro. Given that humans are largely visual learners, what do you think recruiters are drawn to that leaves a lasting impression when they navigate away from your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter profile?

A seemingly small thing like an appealing photograph can give you an advantage over other candidates and humanize your application. Like constructing a stand-out resume, getting a good photo takes some effort.

AOL Jobs recommends paying a professional to take your headshot. If you have a few friends who also want their photos taken, you could find a photographer who will give you a group rate. But if you just can't afford to shell out the cash -- individual sessions can start at $200 on the low end -- you can still get a decent shot that won't turn off employers.

I sought out the expertise of pro Amy Fletcher, founder of A.E. Fletcher Photography, whose body of work features a wide range of faces from executives at Johnson & Johnson to public figures like Lady Gaga and Bill Clinton. The Brooklyn-based photographer shared with me six valuable photo-taking tips that you can use whether you're shooting with a DSLR, a point-and-shoot or an iPhone.

1. Do not use backlighting.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
When you stand with your back to your light source you end up underexposed, while the background, in this example a window overlooking New York City, will be overexposed.

Instead, use the window as your light source, not your backdrop. Stand facing the window. This will give you soft flattering light on your face. If you're outside, find a way to face the light source – the sun – while standing in the shade.

2. Never stand under a harsh ceiling light.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
Harsh ceiling light causes deep shadows to appear on your face, and could give your face a yellow tint. Avoid this by standing near a window or by a soft ambient light that is closer to eye level.

3. Do not stand too close to a wall or background object.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
You want the photo to be about you, not the things behind you. Find a backdrop that will take up the whole frame of the photo if you stand at least ten feet away. A park or a beach are good places to try. As you get farther away from your background, you will be able to achieve a shallow depth of field – or, to get a shot where the subject is in focus and the background is blurry.

DSLRs are the best at accomplishing shallow focus. If you're using a smartphone, try to put as much distance between you and the backdrop as possible, and put the focus on your face. There are some tricks to do this on a point-and-shoot as well. You will need to experiment.

4. Avoid neutral tones.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
Add contrast to your photo by wearing a blazer and a colorful top. This can be in the form of a tie for men or accessories for women. Avoid crazy patterns; keep it simple and classic.

And for men in particular: "We always recommend that no matter how casual they want the photo to be that they should have a blazer on," Fletcher said.

5. Don't shoot in direct sunlight.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
Sunlight is the best light source, but don't stand directly in its path. It will cause your face to look blown out in the photo. Face the light source from the cover of some shade.

6. Don't be afraid to smile.

A.E. Fletcher Photography
Check your teeth for spinach or bread – the latter is a surprising headshot-killer, says Fletcher – and put those facial muscles to work. If smiling makes you uncomfortable, she recommends doing a wide range of smiles and other pleasant expressions.

"I like the smirk. It's a little bit of a sneaky smile," she said. "I tell people to think of a funny secret that they can't tell anyone." Fletcher also suggests to have two friends at your photoshoot: one to take the photo and the other to stand behind the photographer and tell jokes.

A smiling photo is often the best one, but any expression that makes you look approachable will do just fine.

Most social networks require a square image. Crop below the collar bone or tie knot to achieve the best look. A very close crop of the face creates a jarring look; showing your shoulders will lend the photo much more personality. If you really need to shave off some space, take it off the top of your head (stopping above the hairline!), leaving the collar bone-line in tact.


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