The Key to Successful Headshots: it’s not what you think.

Between the explosion of the “selfie” era and the launch of photo-obsessed platforms like Instagram and Facebook, the need for picture-perfect photographs has become a hot topic. And while clients have always searched for the perfect headshot of themselves to proudly display on the company website, this search for perfection has unleashed a darker side most clients are unwilling to talk about: self-bullying. 

In many years of practicing professional photography and working specifically in the world of corporate headshots, a world of impatience, high anxiety and limited time, we have encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are simply too critical of themselves and their appearance. From projecting little confidence while sitting in pose to complaining about certain facial features and/or body parts, almost every one of our corporate clients has shown signs of self-bullying. Phrases like “I hate [insert body part]. It’s too big, or too small, or it’s crooked,” and “Can you make me look skinnier in the photo?” and “Ugh, I have acne!” have filled the photoshoot more often than not. Our response is always the same: “Would you talk to your best friend like that?” 

In an effort to counter these self-bullying claims, we have tried to figured out a formula to boost self-esteem, eliminate hyper-critical comments and empower clients to feel confident, all while having only a few minutes with each of them for their headshot. 

1. Boost Self-Esteem Within Minutes

In the corporate world of headshots, you may only have a few minutes with each person on the day of the shoot to create an image they will like. From the photographer’s standpoint, it is feasible, but only if everyone is on time and ready to go during their time slot. But from the client’s standpoint, this is where it all quickly falls apart. The pressure on each individual to look their “best” for a 5-minute photo shoot is insurmountable. As they sit, hoping you can capture their personality, their smarts, their wits and their best features, they become increasingly critical of themselves. 

One thing we have learned over the years to help combat this self-bullying is a technique that we call our stagger method. It’s a simple and effective trick to help set clients at ease and boost their self-confidence. While we are capturing the current individual, allow time for the next person in line to walk in. 

What happens then is the person waiting sees the photos come up on the screen of the laptop. That is when the waiting person sees the photo and then shares oohs and ahhs and other validation, like “fantastic photo of you!” or “wow!!”. Watching the photos pop up gives the watchers the opportunity to compliment the sitter, therefore making them more comfortable, while also letting them know exactly what to expect for their own session, which makes them more comfortable too! It’s a win-win.

2.  Eliminate Hyper-Critical Comments

The American standard of beauty – whatever that means – has slowly crept into the minds of millions of individuals, creating an unattainable image of what all men and women should aspire to look like. This has caused a high level of unhappiness with what we see in the mirror. The awful truth is that perfection does not exist! Yet many of our clients set their sights on it, feeling like failures when unable to attain such an impossible goal. As photographers, we approach this notion of perfectionism with a high dose of optimism and reality. 

We dish out true and authentic compliments.

Most people respond to compliments. It’s human nature. Complimenting a client on their outfit, shoes, makeup choice, hairstyle, colors they are wearing, and smile is a great way to set a positive mood for the photo shoot. This is a quick way to boost confidence in clients, which will then be projected in their photos. 

Remember, taking corporate headshots doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build rapport and comfort; therefore, we need to find a way to prove to our clients that we want them to be as happy as we are with the photos, and with themselves. We often hear complaints about teeth, double chins, and/or acne. As photographers, we all know that these are not features people should be self-critical about and these features, in fact, reveal individuality. 

We help our clients overcome their fear of a bad photo by showing them what can be achieved with better lighting options, the use of different lenses and through a bit of touch-up with Photoshop®. We also allow clients to see their photo before leaving the room to eliminate the prolonged anxiety associated with the waiting period before the release of the finished photos. 

3. Make Limited Time Your Advantage

We all know it takes more than 5 minutes to be comfortable in a new human interaction. We are often more comfortable surrounded by people that we know than surrounded by complete strangers. While there are some people who have the ability to walk into a room, light it up and make everyone feel at ease, most often, this is not the case. Clients tend to walk into the photo shoot area with high levels of anxiety. New environments, especially those with a focus on what we look like, can create a tense feeling for them.

Get to work building rapport and establishing a basic comfort level. (Remember: we have approximately 5 minutes with each client so we need to make the most of every second of it!) Here are few tips and tricks for setting the client at ease.

  1. We smile. A lot: A smile is a positive invitation for open communication. 
  2. We talk about food: Let’s be serious. If we can talk about our favorite foods and the best dish we’ve had in our lives, it instantly puts the room at ease and, for the client, it evokes a moment of pure bliss. Asking about food builds rapport and helps us ease the tension and anxiety the client feels after initially walking in. 
  3. We talk about travel: Who doesn’t love to talk about their latest vacations? We certainly do, and we have found this to be a common like among various clients. Getting clients to talk about the things they love doing and reminiscing about a recent fun trip lightens up the client’s mood, creates a boost of positive energy and allows the client to relax.

Working with clients to take headshots is an opportunity we love, but it is much more enjoyable for us and our clients when they learn to ignore their inner bullies. While we would prefer to take more time with each client to fully develop a relationship and to increase the client’s comfort level, the hustle and bustle of the corporate world does not allow it. Our time with each client is limited, but that doesn’t mean we have to conform to a one-size-fits- all style of professional corporate headshot photography. We want our clients to exude happiness, but most importantly, we want to stop self-bullying. Using the three-methods described above has given us the opportunity to do so. The next time you are doing a corporate headshot session, why not see if they work for you?

About the author:

Erb/Dufault Photography focuses on advertising; editorial, commercial portraiture and product work with a specialization in food, restaurant and hospitality clients. 

Scott and Donna of Erb/Dufault Photography can be found at, or on Instagram.

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