Most of the headshots I do end up being used on social media profiles, in addition to Meet The Team style pages on websites. This can present challenge. Profile images on LinkedIn, Twitter etc. are both square and quite small, especially when viewed on mobile devices, so we need to maximize the available space as best that we can.
A traditional headshot consists of a photograph of the subjects head and shoulders. If you’re not using a photograph in your profile images that is composed in this way then nobody can see you! Look at these two examples of the same client. The headshots were specifically created for profile images, the environmental portraits for blogs and other promotional use. It’s important to not get them mixed up.
However we can take this a step further and there are well established rules of composition that back me up. You may have heard of the Rule Of Thirds. The idea being that the image is split into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, creating nine equal blocks. The most important elements of the image are then placed on a ‘third’. A significant amount of extensive research has been undertaken over the course of history leading to an acceptance that the human brain determines that images composed in this manner are more visually appealing.
The most important element of human expression are the eyes. Eyes being the window to the soul and all that. Somebody’s eyes are the first thing we are drawn to when we look at them, either in person or in their photograph. Therefore, to show their importance to the viewer, we place the eyes on a third. However in order to do this we have to lose a section of the top of the image or we add space to the bottom of the frame, which goes against maximizing the space available. It would add space in the image that doesn’t serve any purpose and in the small spaces we have to work in, we don’t have that luxury.
To be the most engaging and the most natural, the eyes are best placed on (or close to) the top horizontal third. In order to achieve this we need to crop out the top of the subjects hairline. How much we do this depends on the individual person. The aim is to get those eyes on the third as close as we can whilst still being able to see their hairstyle. You’re not going to be very happy with me if you get your hair done the day before your shoot and then I crop it all out! Your hairstyle is also part of your personality and we obviously want to see that.
Our brains do something interesting when we see an image which is cropped in this way. It doesn’t notice! I’ve sat down with potential clients going through my portfolio on many occasions only bringing this up towards the end of the meeting, only to be told “I didn’t notice!” Our brains figure it out. It works out that if there’s some hair that we can see, it’s pretty likely that there’s going to be more hair above the top of the frame that we can’t. In other words, we don’t need to see it. Interestingly, once I realized this and starting to use it as my preferred crop I started to notice it being used elsewhere. Next time you watch an interview on TV, you know the stereotypical two guys on chairs in a hotel room, notice how often the close camera is cropped in this way. It happens all the time.
Although this method is my preferred way of cropping, on occasions there are specific client requests to compose with space at the top of the frame, which is why I shoot with it and crop afterwards. This means that I am able to supply each option that can be best matched to where it’s going to be used.
This is another example of there being a lot more to a ‘simple’ headshot photograph than you might initially think. Stop getting a friend or colleague to take a snapshot on your phone! Your profile photograph is the most personal element of your personal branding that you have and it literally pays to take it seriously so get an established headshot professional to help you.
Post by- John Ridgeway
Ridgeway Portrait Design Business & Corporate Sevices
Visual Branding expert, Branding with Personalized Marketing Photography, helps savvy entrepreneur leverage their photos to attract permium clients and cash to their growing business.
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