On a budget? 7 tips to DIY a professional headshot

7 tips to DIY a professional headshot

We’ve all been there.

When the bottomline doesn’t allow the expense of hiring a professional photographer to take a great headshot, DIY instead with these 7 tips!
When the bottomline doesn’t allow the expense of hiring a professional photographer to take a great headshot, DIY instead with these 7 tips!
When the bottomline doesn’t allow the expense of hiring a professional photographer to take a great headshot, DIY instead with these 7 tips!

When starting a business there are so many demands vying for our financial considerations. There’s the necessary government documentation, multiple social media ads and of course, one’s own website. After all, running a legitimate business requires getting all our ducks in a row.

Oftentimes, the bottomline doesn’t allow the expense of hiring a professional to take a great headshot. While I am a personal branding and headshot photographer, even I have to admit I couldn’t always cover the expense of a professional. So what’s a girl to do?

Here are my top 7 tips to DIY a professional headshot

I hope these headshot ideas will help you DIY the perfect headshot!

1. Choose your camera

First things first, we all have cell phones. Resist the urge to grab it! Depending on the resolution you need for your headshots, your phone may not be able to produce the quality of images you need. A low resolution image for social media is one thing, but a high resolution image for a book cover is another. If you can’t go with a pro, get help from a friend with a good camera and some basic know how.

2. Hair styling savvy

Hair styling savvy for a DIY headshot!

Hair styling savvy for a DIY headshot! Courtesy: Zoe Martin

Let’s talk about you.

You want to look good. To make sure that happens in a professional way, we’ll start from the top. 

Wearing your hair in a bun or ponytail isn’t ideal for a headshot. In fact, it’s my least favorite updo for headshots. If your hair is often styled that way, be sure to turn your head slightly to the side when being photographed to capture the best image.

In the image here, had her head not been tilted it would have given the illusion of just a round head.

If financial constraints make it difficult to have your hair professionally styled at a salon, be sure to use the right hair products to keep your hair smooth and in place. Photographers have editing capabilities that can retouch those fly-aways, but I prefer to do as much as I can pre-PhotoShop.  

Every photographer is different, but most don’t charge for slight retouching.  If it’s something like changing the color of a tie, then yes, we’d probably charge an extra fee.

3. Natural know how

Makeup for a DIY headshot! Courtesy: Zoe Martin

Now we’re on to make-up. Keeping with our low cost/free headshot attempt, a makeup artist might not be an option for you. Another professional headshot tip – while you may not wear heavy makeup regularly, it is important to ensure that your skin tone is smooth and even.

That said, a natural look is always appropriate for a headshot so don’t overdo it.

Consider a concealer, even if you don’t normally wear one. Accentuate the cheekbones with blush. Be particular about eye and lip liner. Remove any little imperfections mascara can sometimes leave. A magnifying mirror will be your best friend when you’re proofing your final look.

Notice the image in this DIY headshot here – no concealer was used, so her under eye area looks dark. Also, though she is wearing blush, a little more would have added definition to her cheekbones.  

4. Wardrobe basics

Keep it low key- unless your brand is colorful, wear solid neutrals. Black, white, gray, or navy are classics. Don’t let your jewelry steal the show. The purpose of the headshot is to see your face rather than draw attention to your fashion style.

How (else) can you stand out professionally?

Pro tips on Personal Development.

5. Background choice

Zoes Photography_background for headshot

Backgrounds should be ‘non-distracting.’ Courtesy: Zoe Martin

Now it’s time for the location. Generally a headshot is done against a solid background. Choose a wall that is a neutral tone. Avoid placing yourself too close to the wall. Driver’s licenses work that way, but not ideal for a headshot. Take a good step away rather than being against it.

This image (taken by me) uses a textured background which has been intentionally blurred, so it doesn’t detract from the person in the shot.

Be sure that the direction you are facing is well lit. The best way to do this is to be in front of an open window so the sunshine lights your face. Using an overhead light is not ideal, as it could cast shadows causing “raccoon eyes,” giving a yellow hue to your image. 


Posing for a DIY headshot

Courtesy: Zoe Martin

6. Posing properly

When considering headshot ideas, your pose matters a lot.

With your body turned 45 degrees from the one taking your portrait, turn your shoulders the same direction as your feet. Place your hands on your upper thighs,one higher than the other. Put your elbows at your side, but not pinned against your body and position your feet shifting your weight to the leg farthest from the camera. Looking directly at the camera lens, extend your neck (it sounds odd and may feel awkward, but trust me on this one) towards the lens and drop your chin just a bit.

This may take some practice in front of a mirror, but you’ll see how different the results are and you’ll feel comfortable this way.

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7. Expression is key

Hopefully your choice “photographer” is a cheerful or spunky person because this is where the image is in their hands. It’s their job to get a great expression from you. Have them tell you something funny or ask you to recall your first crush. This is sure to get at least a grin from you. They’ll need to click away to capture just the right portrait. This picture below brings out the subject’s warmth and personality.

Expressions on a DIY headshot!

Your expressions convey a lot about you! Courtesy: Zoe Martin

The Final Product – how to take a professional headshot?

Ideally a headshot is cropped from the sternum to slightly above the top of the head in a vertical position. If your image is not that close in, there are several online apps that can help you crop it to the desired fit.

This might all seem  a lot to consider If you’re unable to invest in a photographer that takes great headshots, I hope this helps you. Honestly, if you can afford to hire someone, I’d choose a professional headshot photographer over the cost of one appointment at a salon. Photographers are experienced in consulting, expression, lighting, and making it all come together.

Even though you might think that now may not be the time to purchase quality headshots, they need to be taken every few years. We all know those LinkedIn profiles where you work with that person who no longer looks like the image they have posted. Try to keep your portrait current.

Aaron Patzer, the Founder of Mint wisely pointed out “people do make judgments of trust on appearance – in the real world and online!”

Zoe Martin is the owner of Zoe Martin Photography, a studio that niches to business professionals seeking to make a connection with their ideal clients through Personal Branding Photography.  She thrives on building relationships and helping her clients achieve their goals.  She supports her local community by giving back through volunteering.

Get in touch through her website.

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  1. Kristi Porter 6 years ago

    Great tips! I may have to try it out soon!

  2. Erin Hollon 6 years ago

    Love these simple tips! So clear and doable that anyone should be able to create a headshot easily using this advice!

  3. Sharon 6 years ago

    These are great tips!! I DIyed my headshots recently and couldn’t be happier with how they turned out!

  4. Marie 6 years ago

    Awesome tips here. I always feel so awkward getting my picture taken, and you’ve given me some good pointers on things I always seem to hate about my pictures.

  5. Terri 6 years ago

    I just got a free headshot when I went to the blogher conference. Had I not, I definitely would have followed this tips. I totally agree with the hair bit. I normally wear my hair in a bun, but for my headshot I changed the style recognizing that bun doesn’t photograph well.

  6. Marcie 6 years ago

    These are great tips! I always feel so awkward doing headshots because of how I have to pose!

  7. Anna 6 years ago

    Thank you for the advice! I agree, no one wants racoon eyes haha!

  8. Kris 6 years ago

    So true. The makeup and hair is important but also the background is so nice.

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