Headshot Tips for Freelancers

By Bethany Johnson, Contributor, on May 16, 2018

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I’d love to tell you that no one judges a freelancer’s professional capabilities based on their outward appearances, but that’s not entirely true. When engaging with prospective freelance clients, your business profile picture has the power to win them over — or turn them away.

The same way you Google their headquarters, peruse their corporate “About” page and see how they’re postured on social, they’re sizing you up, too. The good news? Your photo can convey the message you want to send. To get some real-life practical advice, I asked a few fellow freelancers for their best headshot tips. Here’s what they had to say.

Set the Tone With the Perfect Setting

So, should you hire a professional, or DIY your own photo shoot? Here’s the simple answer: If you can achieve the below suggestions on your own, do it. If, however, you don’t have the eye or the equipment to mimic a high-quality shoot, hire someone.

Freelance luxury makeup artist Stephanie Ferguson says natural light and a neutral background can make or break the final product. “Natural is best when it comes to most things, but definitely lighting!” she says. “Colors are truer, and it allows for natural filter, as well. Your photographer’s job will be much easier.” Here’s a look at her own freelance headshot:

As for a neutral background? “This doesn’t necessarily mean a white or gray wall or backdrop. It can be outside in front of an aged wood wall, concrete or neutral brick,” says Ferguson. “Just avoid busy, bright backgrounds or greenery.”

The bright simplicity Ferguson describes conveys a capable, helpful warmth. But if you want to avoid distracting backgrounds, you may prefer a more simplistic look, where you’re the sole focus of the picture. Take, for example, freelance ambassador Nik’s Sumeiko’s business profile. It’s a strikingly well-lit, front-facing photo, and he’s confidently looking directly into the camera.

When asked for headshot tips that can achieve the same confident look, Sumeiko explains one trick: Take your cues from your prospects. “Look like your customers so they feel you’re one of them — confident, open and successful,” he says. If you’re targeting a well-funded startup, for example, check out the company’s “About” page to assess the leadership team’s style.

What Should I Wear? And What Do I Do With My Hands?

Relax. Yes, your attire and body language can send a message. But there are a few easy ways to ensure your picture conveys the right impression.

Your headshot’s setting isn’t the only thing that should reflect the type of client you want to land — your outfit should, too. My own freelance business portrait has me in an ensemble you’d find in a traditional office or a trendy startup. That’s because I target both enterprise-level and ground-floor ventures.

My pose is an open, hands-down posture. It works because I’m leaning into the frame — not rigidly vertical. The extra space is perfect for a logo or contributor graphic, a visual tactic that puts emphasis back on my work, output and value.

“It isn’t all about you … but it’s not all about them, either,” says freelance creative Allison Winstead. “Go for the intersection where you’re representing an authentic version of yourself at a place where your audience can relate to you. Pull too far to one side or the other, and it becomes an ineffective photo.”

Illustrated by her photo above, Winstead describes how to relate to an audience through your photo: “My clients are women in mid-life taking back their dreams and building profitable businesses, so a fierce demeanor and feeling awesome works for my business,” she says. “It represents both me and my audience, and our journey together.”

Work With Your Photographer to Convey Who You Really Are

“We’ve all been posing for pictures since we were kids, but you should be open to doing everything differently for your business portraits,” says freelance copywriter Jen Myers. “Good headshots are very different from the ‘say cheese!‘ kind of photos you’d take with friends or family. Listen to your photographer’s pointers, get ready to be outside your comfort zone and don’t forget to have fun!”

Freelancer Misha Hettie agrees, and even has a business profile that playfully embodies this advice. “Break the monotony!” she urges other freelancers. “When your viewer is scrolling through just about any site, what’s the one thing that’s missing? Color. A bright background or even a striking hat or statement necklace will catch their eye and help you stand out visually.”

Whether you’ve hired your spouse, next door neighbor, a fellow freelancer or a pro, prioritize creating a rapport with that person. “Don’t hate your photographer!” presses Kylie Travers, a freelance business strategist. “If you’re in a foul mood or not connecting with them and expecting miracles when you give them nothing to work with, your photos will come across to clients as someone no one wants to work with,” she says.

Freelancers and their prospective clients both want to project their best image online. And all parties check each other out before advancing the professional relationship. To put your best foot forward and make the right first impression, invest the time and energy in a business profile picture that stands out.

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