I got into a bit of an online discussion the other day with a friend in Boston. He told me that “head shots are you at your most fake.” He argued “…head shots suck. The reason why people don’t have them is because we despise them with extreme prejudice, because we’re uncomfortable with posed shots. I, personally, feel super douchey and always send one I know the requesting party will hate. They then usually find something on the Web and use that, which is what they should have done in the first place.”

Now, my friend and I are both communicators, but in slightly different niches of that field. So while I respect his opinion, I have to disagree, and I thought I’d tell you why.

I think almost everybody would benefit from a well made headshot they could have in their back pocket. Why? For the same reason we have updated, cleanly laid-out, and spell-checked resumes. For the same reason that if we’re doing an interview with a radio station and we muff a sentence, we ask to do it again.

When you are putting yourself out to an audience — by writing an op-ed piece, a blog post, speaking at a conference, or anything else that you can imagine, don’t you want to put the best version of yourself out there visually? I think a good photo opens you up to the audience in question, allowing them to warm to your face before they hear you, read your words, or decide to come to your session.

Here are some thoughts from others that I respect, both behind the camera and in front of the camera:

Justin Van LeeuwenJustin Van Leeuwen, Ottawa-based photographer:

Lots of people don’t like having their image taken, my job is to catch them in a sincere moment that is also flattering and that they’ll display to the world. My best images are made when we all forget the camera is there, when we’re talking and having a great time but happen to be making images too. When I show them the back of my LCD or my iPad and they say “wow” that’s when I know we got it.

Gini DietrichGini Dietrich, President, Arment Dietrich, Chicago:

I had them done because I needed high-res ones for media and other business opportunities. I had them redone when the book came out last year and you’ll notice they’re not traditional at all. One is of me hanging off a street light à la Laverne and Shirley. They show my personality and are professional enough to get by.


Bonnie FindleyBonnie Findley, Ottawa photographer:

These days I often capture subjects during an interview process. I think the intention of a photographer is everything. A professional wants to capture someone in their best light. Be that through lighting, a sincere moment or gesture that communicates who that person is, not just what they look like. We have mirrors to do that. Pro photographers reflect something more.

Christopher Barger, Senior Vice President, Global Programs at Voce Communications, Detroit

Of course I use headshots. It’s the only way to ensure that the target is effectively terminated when I’m playing Call of Duty. Wait, what?

Ummm, we’ll get back to Christopher.

Mélanie Provencher Mélanie Provencher, Ottawa-based photographer:

The difference between a pro and an amateur is that there is a conversation that takes place before the picture is taken as to what the intention is. And then a pro takes the necessary measures to make the image look like what the client wants. Sometimes it looks ‘fake’ or for better use of words, ‘planned’. But under certain circumstances that it what the client wants.

When a client says ‘man I look good’. That’s usually a good sign. A pro knows how to put their client at ease, guide them in their posture, and harness the light to make their client or subject looks their best.

Okay, Christopher’s gonna try again:

Christopher Barger…I’m a PR person and former speechwriter for IBM executives; I spent the first few years of my career arranging for and distributing headshots. I don’t find them fake, I kind of think they’re just an integral part of the publicity process.

You want something where they look relaxed, comfortable, being themselves. No artificial props, but something like what Gini did with the Simon and Garfunkel “hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’?” shot can work well. As long as the subject still looks relaxed — if it’s the person awkwardly playing in a fountain or saying “how did Laverne and Shirley do it again?” during the shoot and it’s obvious that they’re trying to stage spontaneity, it won’t work.

I think they are needed and can help to cement little bits and pieces of a person’s image in people’s heads. Look at [Scott] Monty’s for Ford — the bow tie he wears has become part of his personal stamp. Gini’s lamppost. Things that show a little bit of the person’s personality or uniqueness can help to cement the brand they’re already carving out.

Laura Byrne PaquetLaura Byrne Paquet, author and freelance writer, Ottawa:

I needed a decent one to send to magazines that asked for them for their contributor pages. I used to send fuzzy holiday snaps and then end up embarrassed when everyone else on the page had a nice one! I was initially a little wary of Dale [Hogan, the photographer]‘s suggestion that I have his wife do my hair and makeup before the shoot. He persuaded me and I’m glad he did. My hair had never looked that good EVER–not even in our wedding photos.

As for good vs. bad, I think the photographer taking the time to put the subject at ease makes a huge difference. We spent the whole afternoon in Dale’s studio, and it shows. I normally hate having my photo taken, but by the time the shot I liked best was taken, I was having a blast.

I’ve consciously used the same headshot in all my social media pages for several years, in the hope that it will help people remember me. I actually have a horrible, horrible memory for faces–I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat next to someone at an annual conference, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Laura,” only to discover that I’ve travelled with them/spoken on a panel with them/interviewed them/sang karaoke with them at last year’s conference/etc. So having a consistent photo of someone pop up in multiple places really helps me when I meet them in the “real world.

My only worry with my headshot is that I’ll eventually have to stop using it and get a new one done. I once sat next to a famous writer at a conference and didn’t recognize her, even though a huge photo of her was displayed at the entrance to the banquet room (she was the keynote speaker). She saw me blink and burst out laughing. “Yeah, I don’t look anything like my publicity photo anymore,” she said. “It was taken 15 years ago, but I like it!”

And now it’s your turn. Point me to great or heinous headshots. Tell me what you think. And thanks to these busy folks for answering my questions.

Pass on the flacklife:
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