How to Take A Great Professional Headshot with Your Phone

Posted on 01-02-2021

You may assume that if you DIY your headshot that the quality will be inferior, but today’s new smartphone models make it easier than ever to take a great professional headshot with your phone. 

By following these simple tips and enlisting the help of a family member, friend, or co-worker, you can easily take a professional headshot allowing you to put your best foot forward.  (You could also consider shooting in self-timer mode with a cell phone tripod, but we typically find that getting feedback as you go from someone you trust is the best way to take a professional headshot.)

Master your technology set-up:

First, make sure your phone is set to HDR (High Dynamic Range) for better quality images that pop. HDR blends the best parts of three separate exposures into a single photo. With iPhones 4S or higher, the Auto HDR feature can be turned on in your camera settings. Newer Android phones include HDR, but it may be called Rich Tone. If your Android does not have HDR, you’ll need to add an Android camera app.

Do not zoom in manually. Using the zoom feature will yield a lower resolution photo. Instead, use the portrait setting if your phone has it or if not, have the photographer move closer to you. Tapping the screen will keep the focus locked on your face.  You can always crop your photo tighter while you’re editing it (see below for best practices for cropping your headshot).

Pick the right location and lighting

Select a simple background. Pick a background that will not have a tree, street sign or light post sticking out of your head. Make sure there are no cars or other people in your shot as well. Ideal backdrops are solid colored concrete walls or a clear blue sky. Simple textures also can be nice backgrounds too.

Choose flattering lighting (ideally outside). Natural light is best. Office lighting is not ideal for portraits because most fluorescent bulbs create a green cast and shadows that are not flattering.  Most offices are too dark which will produce grainy images without a flash. (You’ll want to avoid using a flash because it causes red-eye and can wash out your face.)

For outside photoshoots, position the sun behind you. Step outside and look for a location in an area that is not in direct sunlight. Stand with the sun behind you to avoid squinting your eyes and shadows on your face. 

If taking photos inside, use a ring light to optimize the lighting.  While natural outdoor lighting is usually best, you may be limited due to weather or time of day, (early morning or late afternoon has the best lighting). A great solution is to use a ring light that will allow you to simulate daytime lighting and fill in undesirable shadows on your face. Here are three tips for using this type of light to get the best results:

  • Place the light to one side of your face.
  • Make sure the light is slightly above your eye level.
  • Use a simple whiteboard on your lap to reflect the light back onto your face.

Pose like a professional:

Stand up straight with your shoulders back and chin lifted toward the camera.

Then turn your upper body slightly at a diagonal while keeping your head turned toward the camera. This posture creates a nice angled body image and avoids the wide squared-off look. You can keep your hands down at your side or take a few with your arms folded across your chest. If you feel more comfortable, place one hand in your pocket.

Your back should be straight, but leaning forward toward your phone will have a slimming effect and help you avoid a double chin. Avoid facing the camera head on because this pose makes your shoulders appear wide and your head small. 

Keep your shoulders relaxed. You may not realize it until you see yourself in the mirror, but if you are tense it will show with your shoulders appearing too high and touching the bottom of your ears. Take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly to lower your shoulders. It can also be helpful to practice where you will place your hands, which can affect your shoulders.

Make adjustments to your pose as needed. Because not everyone has the same shaped face, you might need to make adjustments like these:

  • For double chins – raise your light higher to cast a darker shadow and definition under your chin. You can also lower your reflector.
  • For round faces – aim for a slightly higher angle when placing your phone. Turn your head to get a ¾ view and get another person to hold your reflector on the side of your face for a slimming effect.
  • For deep-set eyes – Lower your light to eye level to fill in your eye sockets to avoid a sinister look.

Professional Headshot Posing Do’s and Don’t’s


Dress for success:

It should go without saying, but men should wear a freshly cleaned suit and women should wear a career suit or dress.

Avoid bold colors and patterns for shirts and blouses; the pixels in high resolution images can make stripes and patterns appear distorted. Darker colors will draw more attention to your face. Women should stay away from wearing big hoop earrings or chunky necklaces because they can be distracting.

Women should apply make-up a little heavier than usual. Pictures are not three dimensional so makeup will create depth and definition in your face. If you don’t tend to wear any makeup, at the very least choose a neutral cheek and lip color, and mascara for your photo session.

Don’t rush the process when you take a professional headshot:

Have the person helping you take at least a dozen pictures and allocate at least 30 minutes to get the right setting and expression. Undoubtedly, you will be making adjustments as you go, so take your time.

Editing makes all the difference to making your headshot look professional:

Once you’re done shooting and feel you have several shots to work with that look good, you’ll want to use a photo editing app to elevate your photo to professional standards.

Choose the best three images to work with and use your phone’s built-in editing features to adjust your picture’s cropping, lighting and color balance. 

Under the exposure section, adjust the highlights and shadows, and contrast until you have a sharp image without your face looking too washed out. If your pictures were shot on a cloudy day, you can increase the color saturation to give your images the boost they need.

The best headshots are in a vertical format that are cropped close to reveal just the head and shoulders. Crop your pictures as tight as you can, just below the shoulders leaving a little extra space above your head.  If you’re planning to use your photo on social media you’ll need to crop your photo as a square, since many social sites require square profile photos. 

Other editing features you may want to play with:

  • Exposure – Adjusting the overall exposure may be needed if your pictures seem too light or too dark.
  • White balance – Here you can fix the color that your light may have cast. Some images may appear too yellow or too blue. Your whites should a neutral white.
  • Highlights – If your shirt or blouse is white, it might appear too washed out looking. Use the highlight tool to tone down these bright areas in the picture.
  • Contrast – Your pictures should not be overly contrasted, but should have a nice definition in the darker tones in your hair and clothing.
  • Shadows – If you still have shadows on your face, lighten them, especially under your eyes or on the side of your nose.
  • Curves – Using the histogram, you can play around with adjusting the levels of your contrast and exposure on your face.
  • Filters – Avoid the temptation to use filters; alterations to your photo’s color tone or saturation are not professional.
  • Vignette – Photo editing apps will have a tool to either darken or lighten the borders of your image, creating an oval-shaped light over the center of the photo. If you feel like your images could use some darkening on the edges, set the vignette to a low setting that has blurred edges to the center lighted area. The main thing is to avoid a “spotlight” effect on your face that is obvious.
  • Healing brush – Take advantage of the healing or spot tool to make unwanted blemishes or other facial imperfections disappear.
  • Skin smoothing – Who wouldn’t benefit from a smoother complexion? Just be sure you look natural.
  • Clarity – If your images appear to be not as crisp, you can make the focus a little sharper. Keep in mind, this will not fix blurry images.

It can be daunting to take a professional headshot, but following the best practices outlined in this guide can make it a lot easier. 

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