There’s nothing that keeps a person away from a photo studio better than a past photo that didn’t turn out so well. Such was the case with our friend, Jon. His partner was a past client of ours for his (dare we say awesome) professional headshots, and every month like clockwork they would have some iteration of this conversation:
“You need a headshot!”
“I have a headshot.”
“Where is it? You don’t have it on LinkedIn or anywhere!”
“Well I don’t like it.”
He finally dragged him to our studio to take an updated headshot and Jon showed us the photo he had taken in the past:
“I don’t like this photo for two main reasons,” he said, “it was taken from below, which makes me look like a towering, tall giant, and I feel like it looks like I have about a thousand extra chins. It’s just not flattering.”
One of our favorite things to do is to beat old headshots with better ones. And the best way to do that is to identify what it is about the old photos that aren’t up to snuff, and then do the opposite. For Jon, that meant two things: 1. Don’t take the photo from below (easy), and 2. Make sure you can see his jawline in the photo (also easy). Then we did what we always do: coach our subject into several different poses, smiles, and angles so there are plenty of options to choose from.
Here’s the result:
We crafted the lighting to form some strategic shadows that did a better job of hugging the features of his face to form some shape, without making it look like he’s hiding behind any shadows. We also posed him into more relaxed poses, to get rid of that “welcome to the DMV” straight-forward effect of the old photo, which helped bring out more of his personality.
If you’ve got an old headshot you don’t like, don’t let it scare you into running away from all professional photographers! Book a headshot session with a photographer who has a strong portfolio of natural-looking headshots you like, and bring your crummy photo to the session. Talk to the photographer about what you don’t like about it, what you’re looking for in a new headshot, and work together to take new photos you can be proud of.
To continue with our Q&A series, we recently chatted with Hanna Stotland, a highly sought-after admissions counselor and founder of her own consulting business, on how to earn an A+ on the grad school headshot. Hanna has been an admission trendsetter since 1997, when she was admitted to Harvard College with a G.E.D. After graduating with a Harvard law degree and practicing for many years, she followed her passion and became a full-time career and educational counselor in 2008. She is based in Chicago, but works with client families nationwide. Read her full story here.
Q: What kind of role does a headshot play in the admissions process?
Headshots may be required in the admissions process to medical school and MBA programs. Law schools and most other grad program applications do not require headshots and more importantly, do not want headshots. An important tip to remember when applying for grad school and crafting your application is to follow the rules. Admissions departments want to know that their applicants are creative, but still able to color within the lines.
Q: Why do Med/MBA programs want a headshot?
There are a few reasons med school and MBA programs require a headshot and they are as follows:
Some programs (all MD/DO programs) require in-person interviews. They want to be able to recognize you when you walk into the interview room and ensure your headshot and you are a match.
Admissions use headshots as part of their “gatekeeping” process. They look at headshots to ensure applicants fit the part. Part of their job is to determine if applicants can follow rules and will be hirable after graduation.
In addition, admissions counselors are recruiters. They view headshots as a way to get to know their applicants and recruit them into their program more effectively.
Q: You mentioned “fitting the part;” What headshot tips do you give to your grad school clients to ensure they make a good impression?
There is a certain level of inherent human bias that happens when admissions departments review headshots. This is just human nature, and we are all guilty of it. However, you can combat this by taking your headshot as seriously as you would all other parts of the application. My tips include:
If you can afford it, invest in a professional headshot. It will signal to admissions that you mean business and are serious about your application.
As I already mentioned “coloring within the lines,” you must do this with your headshot. That means selecting a wardrobe that matches the program you are applying for. For example, the business and medical fields are both very regimented. So dress the part by selecting pieces that make you look polished, put together and planned. You want your headshot to say, “I will one day be highly employable.”
It is also not a bad idea to take a few different headshot looks that can be used for different purposes and/or organizations. For example, have a headshot taken with a business professional look, a business casual look and a headshot that shows your personality/creative side. I am involved with singing and performing, so when I had my headshot taken I did a business professional shot and a performance shot. They each will be used for different purposes, but both communicate that I “fit the part” for the role I am executing.
Q: What do you advise clients not to wear for their headshots?
The things I tell my clients NOT to wear include: athletic wear, anything with writing on it even if it is your alma mater, t-shirts, or sweats,. Basically, anything you would wear to work out in or clean out your garage in is off-limits. I also encourage my clients to research the culture of the colleges/universities that they are applying to make sure their headshot and clothing choices fit that particular institution
Q: Can you share any funny admissions headshots stories with us?
Let’s just say that your job is to stand out for the right reasons. The right reasons will be your qualifications, not your hilarious headshot.
Q: Do you have any last pieces of advice you’d like to share with us?
Think about the admissions and application process as a sales pitch where you are the product. You want to communicate that you are going to make an institution proud when you graduate. Of course, this can be done through your essays, grades, and undergraduate work, but the headshot is an important piece of the packet that should not be overlooked.
If you’re ready to book your headshot session for school applications, do it here!
In another way to help answer the question, “should I add a hair and makeup artist to my headshot session?” we’ve put together some comparison images. Our hair and makeup artists are trained specifically in makeup for photography, and this will demonstrate how professional makeup looks on camera when compared to how we apply our everyday makeup. Pro makeup for photography is designed to look natural, while enhancing our natural features and pulling focus away from blemishes and irregularities in our skin tone.
In these photos we had two brave volunteers (thank you again, ladies!) start with no makeup, then makeup they applied themselves as they usually do and placed their hair how they normally wear it every day; and then finally, a professional makeup artist applied their makeup and styled their hair for camera. There was no retouching done on these images:
This weekend I took some family portraits on the Kinzie Street bridge for holiday greeting cards. That bridge has seen a lot of photo action over the years with such a great view of the city and such awesome-looking steel beams with rivets the size of sugarplums. And to take advantage of the architecture I brought along my fish-eye lens. Photos that look like big round Christmas ornaments, anyone? Yes!
My awesome family subjects brought along about 18 feet of garland with ornaments to incorporate as props. The hours of attaching all those ornaments by hand paid off- the holiday cheer just oozes off those branches and the reds and silvers pop right out of the images.
I considered dressing in bright orange so passersby would think we worked for the city and were decorating the bridge… so they wouldn’t call the cops. Instead, we just went in there like a SWAT team. Of ninjas. We set up, took some photos, packed up, and were out of there within half an hour, which has to be a new record for holiday photos. It was also still only about 40 degrees out and pretty windy so getting back into warm cars and drinking hot chocolate was also a great motivation for the morning…
I can’t just plop someone in front of my camera and expect a natural smile. If I did that, I would be a jerk of a photographer… or just really lazy. And I spend a lot of time and energy making sure I’m neither lazy nor a jerk.
One of my favorite parts of a headshot photo session is just laughing, joking, and chatting away while snapping photos. I’ve found that this loosens people up, helps them forget that there’s a camera in the room, and gets better shots. Three cheers for laughing your way to a perfect headshot! Hip hip, horray!