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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

How to Take a Professional Headshot by Yourself

Getty Images
Getty Images

As you build your professional career, there are likely to be a number of situations where a photo would be helpful. For example, it could feature on a portfolio website or help your LinkedIn profile or resume stand out. In those situations—situations where it’s important to look professional—a casual snap or selfie won’t do. Instead, you’ll want a professional headshot.

The good news? You don’t need to hire a professional photographer to take one. In fact, you can achieve great results using a camera phone—yes, the one you probably carry with you every day.

“You won't need an exceptional camera,” says Rachel Boehm, a professional photographer who offers portraits and professional branding services. “Most modern smartphones should be capable of capturing a decent image, so long as the lighting and setup is taken care of.”

Ready to learn? Let’s take a look at how to take professional headshots—no fancy equipment required!

How to take a professional headshot: DIY style

When it comes down to it, taking your own professional headshot is a step-by-step process; there are certain things you need to consider to ensure that you get the right shot.

1. Find a good natural light

“No photo will look good without good lighting,” says Boehm. So, your first mission? Find that perfect spot—whether it's in your home or any place that appeals to you—to capture an outstanding professional headshot.

“The best lighting to use for DIY headshots is natural indirect lighting,” says CA-based professional photographer Christopher Todd—or, in other words, an indoor space that gets great natural light.

Todd recommends “finding a location inside near a big window”—a location where the sun is shining, but not directly in your face. “Avoid using over the head lighting, or other artificial lighting as this will create harsh shadows on your face,” he says.

If you opt to take your headshot outside, it’s important to stand in the shade, and not directly in the sun. “Be sure to find a fully shaded area,” says Todd. “Stand near the edge of the open shade facing the light. Avoid uneven or partially shaded areas.” This helps ensure a more flattering photo—no squinting or awkward shadows on your face.

2. Choose a neutral background

The background you choose for your headshot is also important. Since the goal is to make your face the focal point of your shot, try to keep the background as minimal as possible.

“Think of the background as a blank canvas,” says Todd. “Avoid any furniture, bookshelves, or photos on the wall, as they can distract from the main focus—which is your face.”

You also want to keep the color scheme simple. “A solid color as a background would be ideal to ensure you're not distracting your audience with a busy backdrop,” says Boehm. “White, gray, or beige are all suitable choices,” says Todd.

3. Strike the right pose

You want your professional headshot to capture you in the best light possible (and look great, of course!). And the way you pose for the photo plays a big part in how you present yourself.

“Photographing yourself straight-on can leave you with unflattering angles, ‘double chins,’ or an uninteresting, boring portrait,” says Boehm. Instead, try angling your body.

“The best pose for taking a headshot is to have your body turned slightly angled away from the camera—but your head facing the camera straight on,” says Boehm. Experiment with a few different positions until you find your most flattering one.

“Posture is also very important,” says Boehm. Make sure to stand up straight, and avoid slouching or hunching your shoulders forward.

“If you find it hard to relax for the camera—which many people do—you could try to lean against a wall, doorframe or tabletop,” says Boehm. “The trick here is to only lean very slightly to relax the body; otherwise, you'll end up hunching your upper body, which won't give a good final product.”

4. Make the most out of your phone

As mentioned, you don’t need a professional camera to snap a professional headshot; your smartphone will work just fine. That being said, if you want to get the perfect headshot on your phone, there are certain things you’ll want to keep in mind, including:

  • Turn off the phone’s flash. When it comes to snapping headshots, flash is not your friend. “Disable any flash on the camera or phone,” says Todd. “Use only natural light.”
  • Use portrait mode. “If your phone has a portrait mode, that's ideal for headshots,” says Boehm. “It will mimic the blurred background of a DSLR camera which puts the subject—you—into focus and reduces distractions in the background.”
  • Don’t zoom. You might be tempted to zoom in to get a better shot of your face. But “manually zooming will give you a poorer quality of image, so avoid zooming in on your phone,” says Boehm. “Instead, move yourself to or further from your camera to get the right distance.”
  • Use the rear camera. Your professional headshot isn’t a selfie—and so you don’t want to use the selfie side of your camera. “Use the rear cameras rather than the selfie one, as it tends to be higher quality,” says Boehm.
  • Avoid filters. Because we’re so used to using filters on social media, it can be tempting to put on a filter on a headshot. But if you want your headshot to look as professional as possible, you’ll want to resist that temptation; not only are filtered headshots not the norm, but they can make the photo feel unnatural and overly stylized. “When editing your photos, stay away from unnatural looking filters,” says Todd.

5. Enlist the help of a friend…

If you’re trying to manage being the photographer and the subject, it can be hard to stay on top of everything. That’s why you might want to consider asking for help. “I recommend asking a friend, partner, co-worker or neighbor to take your photo,” says Todd.

Having someone else capture your headshot lets you focus on striking the perfect pose and getting that natural smile just right. Meanwhile, your “photographer” takes care of the rest, ensuring you shine in every shot.

6. …or use a tripod or stand

If you don’t have a friend or family member that can take the photo, not to worry! You can still capture a great photo on your own with the help of a tripod or stand.

A tripod or stand will stabilize the phone, minimizing any blurriness. You’ll also want to “get familiar with the timer,” says Todd—as your phone’s timer will allow you to secure your phone to the tripod or stand and then give you time to get back in the frame and pose.

Bonus tips for getting the best professional headshot

Looking for some extra tips for nailing that perfect professional headshot? Here are some things to keep in mind:

Choose the right wardrobe

Knowing what to wear for a professional headshot is also important; the right clothing can act as a compliment to the photo, while the wrong clothing choices can be a complete distraction.

Because you’re using your headshot for professional purposes, you’ll want your wardrobe to be similarly professional—and reflect the industry you work in/are trying to break into. For example, if you’re going after a job in finance, you’ll want to wear more traditional corporate attire in your headshot. On the other hand, if you work in a more creative industry, you might choose an outfit that would feel more appropriate in a creative workplace (while still coming across as polished, professional, and put together).

Color is another thing you’ll want to think about. “I recommend neutral colors in your clothing,” says Boehm—think creams, white, black, beige, and/or brown.

If neutral doesn’t feel true to you or your personal style, you can go with color; just make sure to choose “something that will not blend or clash with your backdrop color,” says Boehm. (For example, if you have a blue background, you don’t want to choose a completely blue outfit; it would make it hard to differentiate between the background and the clothing.)

In addition, Todd recommends avoiding any wardrobe elements that could be visually distracting in your final photo—like logos on clothing, big jewelry, or overly formal attire.

Take multiple photos

In a perfect world, you’d capture the perfect professional headshot on the first take. But let's be honest; in reality, it doesn't happen that way. The more photos you take, the more options you have—and the more likely you are to find a headshot that feels both professional and true to you and your personality.

Experiment with different poses. Move the camera and take photos from different angles. Change your outfit or swap backgrounds. Give yourself plenty of variety.

You can also set your “phone to burst mode to capture more than one photograph,” says Boehm. That way, you’re getting multiple versions of each photo—which, again, increases your chance of getting the perfect shot.


For many people, smiling at a camera feels awkward. However, a confident smile can play a major role in taking a headshot that not only looks professional, but also helps you hit your professional goals.

“If you can, make sure to smile big and be confident; these photos are showing off your personality and can help professionals to better connect with you for future business opportunities,” says Boehm.

“Smiles get more attention and increase the perception that you’re someone that is easy to talk to and trustworthy,” says Todd—which can go a long way in helping you score an interview or further your career.

If you’re not a smiley person—or you just can’t get over the awkwardness of smiling for a camera—that’s ok! It’s better to do what feels good for you than to force yourself into a pose or expression that feels unnatural.

“If you feel awkward smiling in photos—or feel that it doesn't look natural—then go with something that feels comfortable,” says Boehm. “A relaxed headshot usually gets better results than a 'forced' pose that isn't comfortable for you.”