Headshot Photography

Good Headshots vs. Bad Headshots

Photo of author
Written By Nate Torres

Imagine you’re scrolling through a professional networking site, looking for potential collaborators or job opportunities.

You come across two profiles with similar qualifications, but one profile has a clear, well-lit headshot, while the other has a blurry, poorly cropped image.

Which profile would you be more likely to click on?

Your headshot is often the first impression you make on potential employers, clients, or collaborators, so it’s important to make it count.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between good headshots and bad headshots, and how to make sure your headshot stands out for all the right reasons. So, let’s dive in and discover the secrets to a great headshot.

Here’s a comparison table showing the key differences between a good headshot and a bad headshot, afterward, we’ll take a look at each difference in detail.

AspectGood HeadshotBad Headshot
CompositionWell-composed with balanced framing.Poorly composed, awkward framing or angles.
LightingEven, flattering lighting that highlights facial features.Harsh, unflattering lighting, shadows on the face.
ExpressionGenuine, confident, and approachable expression.Awkward or forced expression, discomfort.
FocusSharp focus on the subject’s face.Blurry or out-of-focus subject.
BackgroundClean, unobtrusive background that doesn’t distract.Busy or cluttered background that distracts.
AttireAppropriate clothing that suits the purpose (e.g., professional attire for a job headshot).Inappropriate clothing, distractions in attire.
Hair and GroomingNeat and well-groomed hair and facial appearance.Messy hair, distracting facial imperfections.
Angle and PoseNatural, flattering pose and head angle.Unnatural, awkward pose or head angle.
EditingMinimal and tasteful retouching for blemish removal and color correction.Over-edited with noticeable airbrushing or distortion.
Background BlurControlled depth of field with background blur (bokeh).Background distractions are not blurred.
EyesClear and well-lit eyes that convey confidence and engagement.Red-eye or squinting, dull or lifeless eyes.
Facial ExpressionRelaxed and approachable facial expression.Forced or unnatural facial expression.
PostureGood posture that exudes confidence.Slouched or uncomfortable posture.
Overall ImpressionLeaves a positive and professional impression.Fails to make a positive impression or may appear unprofessional.

1. Composition of Headshot

The first difference between a good and bad headshot is the composition.

A good headshot is framed well with the subject in the center or following the rule of thirds. Good headshot photographers understand the importance of having a balance between their subject’s face and the surrounding space.

A bad headshot has poor composition and can have awkward framing. For example, part’s of the subject’s head could be cropped out or too close to the edge.

good headshot framed in the middle
good headshot framed in the middle

2. Lighting

Lighting is the second differentiator between a good headshot and a bad headshot.

A good headshot employs soft, even lighting that accentuates the subject’s facial features and minimizes harsh shadows. This type of lighting is ideal to create a pleasing, flattering look.

A bad headshot may use harsh, unflattering lighting that casts unattractive shadows on the subject’s face. This type of lighting can make the subject’s features appear uneven or even distorted.

good headshot using soft lighting
notice the soft lighting and even shadows

3. Expression

The third difference between a good and bad headshot is the subject’s expression.

A good headshot captures the subject’s genuine and confident expression. The goal is to reflect the subject’s personality, not a fake image of the person.

A bad headshot captures a forced or awkward expression that can make the subject appear uncomfortable or insincere. Not good for first impressions especially if this is a business headshot.

natural expression on a headshot
natural expression on a headshot

4. Focus

Focus is another differentiator between a good and bad headshot.

A good headshot has a sharp focus on the subject’s face. Sharp photos are essential in any niche of photography, but especially headshot photography.

A bad headshot is a headshot that is blurry or out-of-focus especially around the eyes.

a good headshot with eyes in focus
a good headshot with eyes in focus

5. Background

The fifth difference between a good and bad headshot is the background.

A good headshot has a clean and unobtrusive background that allows the viewer to focus solely on the subject.

A bad headshot will have a busy or cluttered background that detracts attention away from the subject.

a headshot with a busy background
a headshot with a busy background

6. Attire

The sixth difference is the attire of your subject.

A good headshot has a subject with attire appropriate for the headshot. For example, if the headshot is for a professional setting, then he/she should be wearing something professional for their personal brand.

A bad headshot has a subject wearing attire that is inappropriate or distracting for the intended image. For example, if the subject is wearing overly flashy clothing with lots of logos on it and it’s for a professional office headshot, it can detract from the professionalism of the shot.

7. Hair and Grooming

The seventh difference between the two has to do with hair and grooming.

A good headshot has a subject whose hair and facial appearance are well-groomed and neat, enhancing their overall look.

A bad headshot has a subject with messy hair and distracting facial imperfections that could have been addressed.

8. Angle and Pose

The eighth difference between a good and bad headshot is the angle and pose used.

A good headshot uses natural, flattering poses and head angles that help highlight the subject’s best features.

A bad headshot uses awkward poses and head angles that make the subject appear uncomfortable. This would make the subject appear tense in the image which will come across when viewed.

a flattering downward angle for headshots
a flattering downward angle for headshots

9. Editing

The ninth difference has to do with editing.

A good headshot employs minimal and tasteful edits such as blemish removal and color correction. A good headshot is not overedited making the subject look like a porcelain doll.

A bad headshot is over-edited and can lead to noticeable airbrushing or distortion, resulting in an unnatural appearance that can harm the subject’s credibility.

10. Background Blur

The tenth difference is the background blur.

A good headshot has a controlled depth of field and a pleasing background blur (bokeh) due to a shallow depth of field.

A bad headshot could have background distractions that are not blurred out, diminishing the overall quality of the headshot.

good headshot with background blur
good headshot with background blur

11. Eyes

The eleventh difference between a good and a bad headshot is the eyes.

A good headshot has the subject’s eyes clear and well-lit. This is important because it leads to a conveyed sense of confidence and engagement, helping draw the viewer into the photo.

A bad headshot has the subject’s eyes red-eyed, squinting, dull, and lifeless, making the subject appear uninterested or unprofessional.

good headshot with bright eyes
good headshot with bright eyes

12. Facial Expression

The twelfth difference between a good and bad headshot is the facial expressions used in the image.

A good headshot has a subject with a relaxed and approachable facial expression. This facial expression is best because it will bring a positive impression to the subject.

A bad headshot has a facial expression that is forced or insincere. This often stems from unnatural poses and by making the subject feel uncomfortable.

13. Posture

The thirteenth difference between a good and bad headshot is the posture of your subject.

A good headshot has a subject with good posture, making the subject appear more confident and professional.

A bad headshot has a subject with a slouched or uncomfortable posture. This can detract from the subject’s overall appearance.

good headshot with good posture
good headshot with good posture

14. Overall Impression

The fourteenth and final difference between a good and bad headshot is the overall impression.

A good headshot leaves a positive and professional impression on the viewer, making it an effective tool for job hunting, personal branding, or networking.

A bad headshot fails to create a positive impression or may even convey unprofessionalism, which is harmful for any opportunity.

By following all the tips and considerations, you will capture a headshot that is far from bad!

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

How do you know if a headshot is good?

A good headshot should be clear, well-lit, and properly cropped. It should capture your personality, showcase your professionalism, and make a strong first impression on potential clients or employers.

What not to put in a headshot?

When taking a headshot, it’s important to avoid distractions that could take away from the focus on the subject. Avoid using busy backgrounds, props, or clothing that are too flashy, as they can detract from the professional image you’re trying to present.