One unfortunate side effect of the proliferation of digital cameras is that many people assume one photograph is as good as another – and this is especially true of the “head shot”.

A larger person takes a bad selfie
Just. No.

The stock head and shoulders picture is a key tool in any PR pro’s armoury. When you want to get your client quoted, nine times out of ten an editor will ask for the head shot to go alongside it. So, one of the first things we need for a client who plans on having a public profile is a good pic.

The problem arises when it is assumed that nipping outside with the office digital camera (or, worse, reaching for the iPhone) will be just as good as getting a professional photographer to do the job. This happens all the time.

I can’t speak for all PRs, but we don’t suggest spending our clients’ money lightly, though there are some things which are clearly an investment. After all, you don’t want your public image to let you down. It’s a key part of your personal brand and, by association, that of your business.

All photographs are not alike. Simple though the head shot may seem, it’s not just a straightforward close-up of your head and shoulders, it’s an art form in its own right. The professional photographer is doing far more than just framing you nicely and getting it in focus. They’re considering lighting, setting, the angle that suits the individual best, the background and the depth of field (and if you don’t know what that last one is, my point is made!).

Put side-by-side a quick snap taken with a standard compact camera, by someone who just about knows where the shutter is, with an image produced with care and attention by a pro and you will see the difference immediately.

I have a confession to make here. My own headshot is about nine years out of date. I keep meaning to get it re-done [Update: this has, indeed, now been done!], but it has stood the test of time because it was done by one of the UK’s most talented and respected PR photographers. It didn’t take him an age and it didn’t require a studio, lights or even one of those cheesy mottled backdrops, because he knew his business. It’s not his fault that age and the creep of grey hair has brought that particular image to the end of its useful life…

So, unless you have a really talented amateur with decent photographic kit available to you, listen closely when your publicity advisor tells you they need a pro to take a new head shot. They’re thinking of your reputation and your image. It’s an investment in you and your business and could be the difference between getting those column inches and not.

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