8 tips for taking a winning headshot

Whether we like to admit it or not, image really does matter, especially in the legal profession. Your personal image on Avvo has a major influence on whether or not potential clients feel compelled to connect with you. It all begins with your profile photo, or headshot.

Having a professional, high-quality photo strongly increases the odds that potential clients will view your profile. That’s not just our opinion, it’s a fact: Avvo profiles with headshots get 17 times more contacts than those without.

But just having a headshot isn’t enough. That photo needs to instantly convey trust, professionalism and approachability—all the things potential clients look for in an attorney. According to veteran photographer John Cassidy (a.k.a. The Headshot Guy), “One-tenth of a second is all it takes [for a potential client] to assess your profile photo and decide whether to trust you and work with you.”

Does creating a quality headshot need to be a big-budget, Hollywood-style production? Not at all. While we don’t recommend doing it yourself—a moderately experienced photographer will be better able to adjust factors like shutter speed and lighting—you can do it relatively quickly and inexpensively by understanding best practices and clearly communicating your goals and needs to the photographer.

Part of understanding best practices includes knowing what not to do.

Here are 8 common mistakes regarding profile headshots, and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Not having a headshot at all. “Being anonymous in your online profiles is the single biggest blunder,” says photographer Cassidy. “People want to see the real you.” Whether it’s fair or not, consumers might look at your anonymous profile and assume you have something to hide. Don’t fret about how photogenic you are or aren’t; your potential clients are just looking for an added measure of comfort and familiarity.

Mistake #2: Using something other than an actual photo. That funny caricature of you, drawn by the sketch artist in the park? It’s fine to hang it on a wall in your office, but it definitely should not be scanned and used as your profile image. You don’t need cartoons or illustrations to convey personality; you can accomplish that in a headshot while maintaining the level of professionalism associated with your position.

Mistake #3: Getting lost in the crowd. It’s best that your profile photo is of you alone. As much as you’d like to show off your spouse, your children, or your pets, this is not the place to do it. (That is, of course, unless the whole crew is planning to show up for the initial client consultation.) Also, avoid cluttering your photo with a superimposed logo of your firm—there are other places to promote the firm name.

Mistake #4: Dressing for the weekend, not 9 to 5. As The Wall Street Journal put it in an article about professional headshots, “The way you are dressed should reflect the norms of the profession that you’re in.” So unless your business card says “Beach Attorney,” it’s best that you show up for your photo shoot dressed in generally accepted business attire. Always keep your audience in mind: How would they expect you to be dressed at an initial meeting?

Mistake #5: Appearing annoyed or stand-offish. Your headshot is an opportunity for you to balance your professionalism with your personality, values and communication style. The energy you bring to the photo should be positive, not negative—the look on your face should be the same look you’d give to new clients at the door. Above all, smile. It doesn’t need to be a broad, teeth-baring grin, just one that projects warmth, confidence and approachability.

Mistake #6: Appearing slouchy or tired. We know you work long hours. But have an extra cup of coffee before your photo session if you must, so your eyes are open, bright and alert. And at the risk of sounding like your old schoolteacher, posture does matter—be sure to sit up straight and put your shoulders back a bit. This all contributes to the image of a competent, poised professional.

Mistake #7: Showing all of you—or not enough. A full-body photo doesn’t capture your face in enough detail; an extreme close-up captures too much. In general, the top of the photo should crop just above the top of your head. With the bottom of the photo, you’ve got a little more leeway: it can crop just below the bottom your chin, below your tie knot, or at your shoulders.

Mistake #8: Being uncomfortable during the photo shoot. Finally, whether you go with a professional photographer or a friend who’s a bit of a shutterbug, make sure you’re comfortable around that person. If you’re anxious during the shoot, it will definitely come across in the image. Do your homework ahead of time and find out who the photographer is and how he or she likes to work. When you’re at ease with the person behind the camera, you’ll appear more relaxed and confident in front of it.