Why is a headshot so important?
A headshot says so much about you and in just a few seconds.
7 seconds is all it takes to read a headshot picture, when I say read, I use the word in the manner that paintings are read, the way that we observe the world, we don’t have often have notes on a photograph. Maybe a caption as to who it is?
A headshot is a very simple image but with very complex and multi layered communication.
The second the photo is taken is only a small part of its creation, the subject has chosen to have a photograph taken, or someone has made that decision, the process then becomes a collaboration with the photographer and the subject. The choice of clothes, of backgrounds and lighting are all considered choices.
If the process is undertaken by informed subject and photographer the outcome can become a great asset to the subject. The image can inform thousands of people, many things about the subject, at its basic level, it shows what the person, looks like and hopefully in a positive manner.
The face can communicate many thousands of expressions that can be read and interpreted by the reader, based on the knowledge they have, however, the more knowledgeable the reader the more information can be understood.
Does that sound too academic, too complicated, too pretentious?
Maybe, but please bear with me.
Here is a simple headshot, the subject required a new image for his Linkedin profile it could have taken under 5 minutes to have taken it and a few minutes more of processing and delivery via email, then posted onto the platform.
Simple, there is an image of a man, but without reading what he does, and why you should connect to him, consider these factors.
1 The image quality, does the image look like it is a ‘professional’ shot or a iPhone pic shot on holiday ?
The photographic quality tells you that this was a considered portrait and implies an investment on behalf of the subject.
2 Gender, it is a primary response to view a picture and put the subject into a ‘box’. It is basic instinct, we maybe liberal and open minded about humanity, but we react to each gender in different ways, and those who are ambiguous maybe confuse our reaction, but we take note.
3 Ethnicity – without prejudice we cannot help but observe and take on board the ethnicity of the person, we take on board the type of face, hair, colour and conclude a type possibly from a location or heritage and it is certainly a major part of the initial observation .
4 Eyes, thousands of years we have learned to look into a person’s eyes, we observe the colour shape and state, the eyes can also communicate, if the subject is instructed or has knowledge, they have ‘engaged’ with the camera, and not just stared past the camera. We view the eyes as they inform possible action and reaction, fight or flight?
We have 600 muscles in and around our face, the combinations of expressions are massive, if you are Rowan Atkinson, maybe you have even more capacity to create an expression that communicates a welcome, a scowl or just boredom, we react to that expression, a smile maybe helps us feel at ease?
6 Clothes, even with a headshot, there are clothes seen, if not the absence of clothes becomes a powerful communication as it implies the image is taken in less conventional circumstances, or it is saying something that we try to interpret.
A man with a jacket, shirt and tie, will inform the reader about the person, is he a ‘professional’ solicitor, accountant or at a certain level in a company?
A man with jacket, shirt but no tie, has as much to communicate, is he more relaxed, self employed or he is just more contemporary in his attitude to business dress.
Even if the jacket is seen a little, its cloth can be informative, is it a plain fabric, or a material that has qualities you may consider expensive or high fashion, both imply another layer of information about the wearer.
A man with an open shirt, or knitwear, could be IT, creative or wanting to communicate his ‘rebellious’ trait? A check shirt, can imply a ‘country’ gentleman, a a sports t shirt can imply a fitness enthusiast, or a sports fan.
A plain white background may inform many readers that this could be an image shot for Identity ID purposes, a light grey background maybe more neutral, but a dark or black background, may help increase or decrease the impact of the face tone.
Coloured backgrounds are seen as an additional complex layer to the image, what is the colour, does it represent a brand, is the colour significant? Is the colour appropriate for the skin tone ?
8 Colour or Black & White photography- A mono tone image, can be seen to simplify the communication, however as Black & White photographs are in the minority, the image can communicate a sense of history, gravitas or a just the communication of deliberate design, and therefore image is more considered and then becomes more complex to read.
All of these signs inform the reader and in a few seconds a strong opinion of the subject is created.
Is the person in my Tribe? Do I trust him, do I like or am I neutral towards that person.
All these observations and possible conclusions are done in under those 7 seconds.
Already a great deal is understood, or at least, received by the reader.
So when you post a headshot on a social media platform, consider what the image is saying.
The headshot is the first impression and we only have one chance to make that !
Thanks to Murray Scholefield who was the subject of this complex headshot, for his patience and humour.