Camera technology has admittedly come very far in the last decade. Smartphones can take better quality photos than even some point-and-shoot cameras have been able to in the recent past. With this advancement, candid photos from professional events, personal outings, and self-proclaimed "iPhone Photographers" have become more and more popular for LinkedIn profiles and resumes. The result of these pictures being used to represent you is that they are very often poorly framed, not lit correctly, and don't show a true representation of the image you should be portraying in the professional world.
Across the US, work environments are becoming remarkably more casual. From locally owned businesses to larger chains, even some of the corporate jobs have loosened their grip on everything from work hours to dress code. Along with those changes, professional interactions have toned down quite a bit as well. Conversations are a lot less strict and employers can seem much more informal in their daily actions and even interviews. So should you treat your professional image with the same casual attitude?
Now I'm not taking a "holier than thou" approach to this by any means, even as a photographer. I've got plenty of shots of me, even candids, that I occasionally use for marketing collateral in the big game of selling myself as a professional. Are they able to be clearly defined as "headshots"? No. But they can get the job done in certain situations. That's not what we're talking about here though. Your Twitter likely doesn't call for the most professionally taken photo in the universe, just like your bio doesn't require targeted SEO keywords to describe you. For things like LinkedIn and your resume, however, it's definitely better to have something deliberate to give any future clients, colleagues, or employers the best possible image you can portray. I've rambled enough, so let's get to the meat and potatoes.
What is a headshot?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of the word is painfully vague, listed simply as "a photograph of a person's head". Fascinating, right? In the photography community and the business community as a whole, there's a common idea of what a headshot looks like though. They usually have a neutral background with subtle accent lighting for contrast from the subject, the subject posed with their body facing at an angle either left or right, looking into the camera with the most convincing smile they have. It may sound boring, but the end result does very well to convey the ideals of a "businessperson".
For those not in the industry or with no friends in the industry, I'll go over what a "candid" photo is as well. There are many definitions that differ depending on who you ask. The most common one is something along the lines of "capturing the subject when they're not actively aware of the picture being taken, generally in a social setting (although that part of the definition is still debatable depending on who you ask).
One of the biggest things that people tend to get confused about is the difference between a headshot and a professional portrait. I'm definitely not knocking portraits, because they're a great marketing asset depending on what you're using them for. I also think that portraits can be a great substitute for a headshot if you don't have one. Generally speaking, portraits tend to be a bit more casual in dress and the subject's pose. The composition of a portrait is very similar to that of a headshot, the only real differences being the amount of the subject in frame and the way the background is lit. The latter difference is a very important detail as to why you should NOT just crop your professional portrait to use as a headshot. There is a noticeable difference in the way the lighting of the scene interacts with what's in frame, and it pains me (and I'm sure many other photographers) to see portraits cropped into makeshift headshots.
A "portrait" photo
AKA not a professional headshot. Great for Facebook, not so much for resumés.
Perfect for LinkedIn, Resumes, etc.
Another thing that isn't considered as often about the headshot is that the end result lies in the hands of the photographer you choose. Some photographers will likely want to add a bit of their own personal style to the edit, which can leave your image feeling a little more "moody" than you may have wanted it. It's important to really look at a photographer's portfolio before you select one, and make it abundantly clear that this is a business headshot that requires the most professional look possible.
Overall, a headshot is a vital part of your personal marketing strategy. It lets anyone who sees it know you're a professional who takes your career and business relationships seriously.