10 Steps to Capture the Perfect Professional Headshot

Pictures can be worth a thousand words—and that includes the photo you use to market yourself in your real estate business.

The perfect headshot can project likability, trustworthiness and competence to prospects before you even meet them. “With more people finding one another online, your photo is typically your first impression,” says Jess Kornacki, owner of Art of Her, a photography studio serving the Dallas and Denver areas. Kornacki knows the pressure to have an engaging headshot for your business. So, she developed an online course, “Camera-Ready and Confident,” which offers tips for preparing to take your headshot. “Your marketing can be so much more powerful when your face is on it,” she says.

But how do you get the right image?

Your photo can be more than the traditional close-up portrait. You may even want an entire portfolio of personal branding images that capture you in a lifestyle setting associated with your business and clientele. “The photos may show you in action and include a picture of you in a space,” Kornacki says. “It’s a way to provide more relevance and connection to your business.” For example, you might want to be photographed in a model home or along a cityscape that reflects your target market.

If you’re going to invest in new images for your business, put in some extra thought before stepping foot in front of the lens. Kornacki shares several tips.

  1. Find a photographer with specific skills. A professional photographer isn’t just armed with a state-of-the-art camera; he or she should know how to use flattering lighting and capture your best angles, Kornacki says. Find a pro who specializes in business photography, not family or wedding photos, which channel different skill sets. Kornacki says a Google search could drum up local suggestions. But she favors searching Instagram hashtags, such as “#dallasheadshotphotographer,” which will return visual results and allow you to sort through portfolios of work.
  2. Pick a setting. If you prefer a traditional studio backdrop, a white background is more modern than black, Kornacki says. Even more cutting-edge is a setting where the background is blurred slightly to keep the focus on you, she adds. Think outside a studio box, too: Consider photos in a model home, office space, or neighborhood or in front of a cityscape.
  3. Consider wardrobe options. Most photographers will recommend bringing three to four outfits so you have more photos to choose from. How dressy should you get? “Don’t wear something overly professional in your portraits if that’s not your brand,” Kornacki recommends. “Wear an outfit that you’d wear to meet your ideal clients.” Men who choose to wear a full suit can remove the tie and unbutton the top button of their shirt for a more casual look. Women can dress up their look with a blazer or choose a blouse or fitted dress for a more casual look.
  4. Go neutral. Stick with solid colors and avoid busy patterns or prints when selecting your wardrobe, Kornacki says. Keep jewelry simple. “If your clients are focused on your clothing or your jewelry instead of your face, they won’t be connecting with you,” she says. However, you might break from a neutral color palette if there are certain hues that fit your brand or accentuate your facial features.
  5. Prepare for your close-up. Watch for bloodshot or red eyes. Kornacki recommends using eye drops on the day of the shoot to reduce any redness and make your eyes appear bigger. Also, watch for hair flyaways; Kornacki likes to use a clear eyebrow gel, which also can be used to keep down any distracting hairs. Women may prefer to have their hair and makeup professionally done on the day of the shoot, but keep in mind that “wearing over-the-top makeup in your photo can take away from your credibility, especially if you don’t normally look that way,” Kornacki says.
  6. Don’t go overboard on touchups. Your headshot should look like you, but finding a photographer who is competent in retouching also is important, Kornacki says. “Photos can sometimes capture things harsher than they really are, and you want your pictures to be flattering or you’ll never use them,” she says. A professional photographer may be able to soften wrinkles, remove distracting flyaway hairs or fix minor blemishes. But avoid “doctoring” images to the point that you don’t resemble yourself.
  7. Lean in on your good side. You may have a “better” side when capturing photos of your face. Not sure which one is yours? Test it out in a mirror. “There is evidence that people do have a better side and that even parting your hair in a different way can change the perception of the photos,” she says. A common gripe is the appearance of a double chin in photos. Kornacki shares her favorite trick to remove this common nuisance: “Push your head slightly forward and down. It not only makes you look more confident, but also defines your jawline to help make you look more attractive,” she says.
  8. Strike a pose. “It can feel awkward to step in front of a camera,” Kornacki says. “A good photographer should be able to pull natural expressions out of you and make you feel at ease.” Let your photographer coach you on poses, but make sure your arms aren’t pressed too tight against your body. “People won’t feel attracted to your business if you have a standoffish pose,” she says. “Don’t be slouching. Pose with a straight back. It signals confidence and competence. And poses where you lean slightly toward the camera can help you appear more approachable. Every pose should communicate success.”
  9. Don’t forget to smile. “When you smile, you appear friendly, approachable and competent—all important characteristics for real estate agents,” she says. Avoid a serious expression. “You want to look like a friend and someone others can feel comfortable reaching out to,” she adds. Practice your smile in the mirror. Kornacki’s suggestion: Try a silent fake laugh. “This will help your smile seem more authentic,” she says. Another tip: Avoid a “tired” smile, which can happen after smiling too long. Take occasional pauses between snapshots to keep your smile more genuine.
  10. Keep your headshot updated. “If people start saying they don’t know the headshot is you, or they think it’s your child in the picture, it’s time to update it,” Kornacki says. “It’ll take away the trust factor when you meet them on a Zoom call or in person. They fell in love with the person they saw in the photo, and you look completely different.” Kornacki recommends an updated headshot whenever your hair and weight changes or any time your appearance has changed significantly. Also, if you rely heavily on images in your content marketing, you may need to update your photos more frequently—like every year or two. “Always make sure your portrait is a reflection of who you are,” she says. “A professional headshot is a photo that builds connection to your business from the start.”