Headshot Photography

Good Headshots vs. Bad Headshots

March 20, 2023 by

In this guide, we’ll be discussing good vs. bad headshot photos.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What Makes a Good Headshot?

A good headshot is a picture that captures the essence of the person they are portraying.

1. Depth

It often shows a solo image with a feeling of depth and reality.

The best headshots have clean lines, sharp focus, and interesting backgrounds.

2. Natural

They are often in color, with the subject is looking at the camera with a natural expression that does not show too much emotion.

headshot photo example
natural expression

The goal of good headshots is to make the person look approachable, relatable, and professional.

3. Window to the Soul

They really draw attention to the eyes of the subject, because this is often where you see what they are thinking.

What Makes a Bad Headshot?

A bad head shot can be distracting, unflattering or have poor lighting.

Bad headshots are not always a bad reflection on the person at all.

However, there is a way that you can tell that it’s just not flattering for the subject.

1. Lack Focus

Often times bad headshots will lack focus, have too much going on in the background, and not do a good job of showing off their eyes.

In some cases, it may be because they are looking down or away from the camera—in either case this is very similar to squinting.

This might not seem like a big deal but it really takes away from the eye-catching aspect of a headshot.

bad headshot example
lacks focus

2. Over-Edited

A bad headshot is often overprocessed or over retouched.

If you can’t really tell what the person looks like, it’s probably not a good head shot because the only way people are going to remember you is through your appearance.

3. Poorly Edited

Bad headshots also have dark shadows, undefined backgrounds, and poorly chosen or executed filters.

They often lack depth and feel like pictures instead of real portraits.

If you can’t see what the person is thinking through their eyes, it’s not a good headshot photo.

How Can I Get Good Headshots?

If you want good headshots, make sure you work with a great professional photographer who really knows how to capture your essence.

They will help you pick out outfits that show off your personality, have you looking your best, and are very current with industry standards.

If you don’t know where to start, look through some magazines or catalogs that feature people.

You will notice that they have a similar feel to the headshots being used today in all kinds of industries.

Good headshots are meant to speak just as much about you as they are to speak for hiring managers.

To truly be an effective way of representing yourself, make sure you work with skilled photographers who know how to capture what makes you stand out.

If you need help finding one, contact your local photographer’s association and ask them for help or do a quick search on your favorite search engine.

What Should You Not Do in a Headshot?

When it comes to taking a headshot, there are some things you should never do.

1. Don’t Over-Smile

Do not smile too much—this will look cheesy and over-the-top in your photo.

It’s really important that you take yourself seriously when looking for professional headshots.

2. Don’t Avoid Eye Contact

Don’t avoid eye contact with the camera (unless you are specifically told to).

You should always be looking directly at the camera, so that your headshot looks real and genuine.

3. Don’t Over-Edit

Don’t over-edit it to the point where you look no where near how you look in real life —this is a big no-no and it’s often easily spotted by hiring managers.

bad headshot over edited (1)
over edited

This will not only make you look disingenuous but overall just shallow.

Use these tips for taking great headshots and you will be able to find a photographer who can help you.

Who Can Benefit From Headshots?

Anyone can benefit from having headshots, and that is why it’s such a popular service.

Most people see the value in professional photos for their LinkedIn page, social media profiles, and even business cards.

It really comes down to who your audience is—if you want people to take you seriously as an actor or actress, you will need headshots.

If you’re an architect, bartender, or work in any other industry, it’s a good idea to get your own sort of “calling card” with some nice professional photos of yourself.

Many people see the value in hiring a stylist and photographer to help them look their best for things like weddings or senior portraits.

Why not consider using that same kind of help for your business cards, LinkedIn profile, and social media pages?

What to Do If You Take a Bad Headshot?

If you take a bad photo, delete it immediately and take another one.

If you have a paying client in front of you, play it casual and keep professional.

You wouldn’t want to seem nervous in front of the client as they may question your credibility.


After all, it’s your job as the photographer to make the client feel less nervous, not the other way around!

What to Do If You Receive a Bad Headshot?

They may be able to retake the photo or they may tell you that it’s a lost cause and just not a good photo of you.

But if you don’t like any of the headshots, then it should be resolved during the photoshoot, not afterwards after the photographer has already spent time editing and retouching them (or even printing them).

Make sure to speak up if you don’t like the headshots you are receiving.

Before this even happens though, the photographer should schedule a pre-session consultation with you to discuss what kind of look you are going for in your headshots.

It can be helpful to take a look at some other headshots out on the market today.

Look on social media profiles, billboards, magazines, movies, television shows—and see what kinds of photos are being used around you.

This can help you get a feel for what looks good on headshots today. Then show the headshot photographer examples.

Headshots are very important, especially when it comes to taking your career in any direction.

It’s like getting a haircut, you don’t just walk into the barber and tell them to wing it, you usually show them a picture of a haircut you like and the photographer can accommodate this style and add their own unique flare to it based on their own personal style.

Final Remarks

We hope you enjoyed this guide on the difference between bad and good headshots.

This guide is also a part of our Headshot Resource Hub, so be sure to check that out to further explore headshot photography tips.