How to take a great LinkedIn headshot


re you a business professional who is active on social media? Are you thinking about or have recently been applying for a new job? Do you want to stand out from the crowd but don’t know how? Well perhaps it’s not what you’re saying that you need to change, maybe it’s how you look.  

Between 60 – 70% of all communication is non-verbal but in an online world your photo may convey more to your potential audience than whatever you say. So when you look at the images you’re posting of yourself on networking websites or that you send with your CV do they really show you off in the best way? If not, why? Isn’t it time you did something about it? Can you afford not to?


So let’s get a couple of things straight before we start. I am not going to be telling you that you can produce this...

or this...

within this article. They’re taken with professional lighting, cameras and have been created with 10 years of photography experience. What I am going to do is tell you how you can make minor changes to what you’re probably already doing, in order to help you achieve an image which says ‘I care about how I present myself’ to a prospective client or employer.

We’ll be taking LinkedInas the intended destination for our image as this will dictate some of the factors we’ll have to consider. We’ll also be using a smartphone to take the picture. Sure, if you’ve got a DSLR and external lighting, feel free to use it.But to get the results we’re looking for here, you should be able to do it all with just your phone.

This may require some low-cost purchases. I’m talking about a bit of white and other coloured card, possibly some thin white fabric… £20 max! At the end of the day, if that’s all you’re spending then it’s not a lot to produce a pretty decent image. Consider this next to what you might otherwise spend on a pro.

What makes a good photo?

First, let’s look at some bad examples. The following are all images of me[1] that I’m using to demonstrate why you wouldn’t want to use something similar for your own picture. How many things can you spot that are wrong with these?I’ve highlighted one issue for each to start you off. 

My silly face 12 times


Clearly these images aren’t employer-ready but the important takeaway is that you should now be able to critique some of your own imagery more successfully.

At this point, why not try to take a selfie and see if you can improve just by using what we’ve learnt so far?

What are we aiming for?

The starting image that you should be aiming for throughout this article is something like this.

The subject is:

  • well lit
  • clearly identifiable
  • the only subject in the image
  • is not wearing a hat or dark glasses
  • has a professional expression on their faces

Once we’ve perfected this part I’ll then offer you some ideas to explore so you can get more creative with what you can do that will set you out from the crowd.

Step 1: All about you

The first step is to understand what it is you want your image to say. This may seem rather daft,but it’s a fundamental decision that must be taken. The messages you images will send will be based on what you’re wearing, your facial expression, your posture and even the colours of your clothing and the background.


For this I’d recommend wearing whatever it is you’d be wearing for the job you do. Whatever it is, think about the people who you want to attract and what their opinions of you wearing your chosen outfit might be.

When you’re ready,check yourself over in a mirror, else if you are working with a friend, get them to do it for you.

Facial Expressions

Depending on the look you’re going for you may not need to smile. However, for most of us who want to appear likeable smiling could be a better plan. Try to keep it more‘Saturday night TV smiles’ rather than ‘comedy club belly laughter’ – you could otherwise be overdoing it.

Try a ‘serious face’. It may be that for your industry, a confident dour look may demonstrate authority. But ask yourself, ‘is this what your potential employers or clients will be looking for?


The example image above is very neutral. No crossed arms, it’s not straight on and it’s not gender stereotyped. It’s neutral and safe. Try other examples, see what works for you but ‘read the image’ and see if it’s right for you and your industry.


There’s lots to the science of colours. By which I mean, different colours often give different emotional responses to seeing them. In nature, red is usually a sign of danger,a pairing of black and yellow is aggressive. Yellow is, blue is, grey is, black is… Also be aware that sometimes there are differences in what colours mean between one culture and the next. For instance, in the UK you’d be safe to assume yellow is a happy, positive, creative colour. In China, yellow is associated with adult movies[2] or in Russia, yellow is colloquially related to insane asylums.

In business, this is equally so. White is for cleanliness and hygiene, black is authoritative and powerful, also a pin-stripe suit is associated with those working in finance, a chequered shirt could be associated with agriculture, a brown jacket with elbow pads could be associated with academia. I’m not saying you should play up to the stereotypes but be aware of them and what picking the wrong colours could do to the messages you’re sending your audience.

Step 2: Setting up your scene

It may be that we’re still constrained by lockdown restrictions, but we now need to find somewhere that you can take the photo with the right lighting but also has a decent background.

What’s a ‘decent background’? As we saw in our first exercise, an image is made up of a number of parts but one of the most important is ensuring the background is right.

For our desired image we’re looking for a plain background. This helps to keep the viewer’s attention on the subject rather than diverting their attention towards whatever else is in the scene. 

Look for a plain surface near to a large window - if possible, one away from direct sunlight. If you’ve not got one, try making a simple background by using white or coloured card at 90 degrees to the window. If you want to try coloured card, try to use neutral colours. Avoiding bright pinks, yellows and anything else too prominent as they will be distracting. Also consider how they’ll look next to the clothing you intend to wear.

Whatever your background choice, it will need to be around a metre square / at least A2 paper sized so that it is as tall as your head and shoulders with some space around the sides.

Lastly, you’d going to need to support your camera. Ask a relative or friend to take the photo but if there’re none available, you may need to support the camera in some other way. It’ll need to be at least eye level, if not slightly above to get the best view point. Don’t do a selfie, they were never cool…ever.

Step 3: Lighting

This is, by the far the most important stage for getting a good image.

Our lighting sets the tone for our image and allows us to highlight or hide parts as we want.With that, we’re going to be using window light. I won’t bore you with the science behind it but do take note of the following:

If it’s a clear-blue sky day,you’ll need to cover your window with a very thin white material to soften the light[3]. If it’s an overcast day or you’ve got a non-south facing window, you won’t needto.

The optimal position for the sunlight is where it shines through the window but doesn’t cast shadows on your background or your face.You may find that you have to time your shot for a particular point of the day in order to get it right. If so, do it!

Our last step is a piece of white card. This is going to be used to ‘fill in’ some shadows. Position this opposite and parallel to the window, perhaps by resting it on a shelf or by getting a second volunteer to hold it for you.  Through experimentation you’ll find a sweet spot where the light from the window bounces off the cardand fills in some of the shadow on your face. You’ll need to check between photos to see the difference. Move it closer and further away to vary the strength of the bounced lighting.

Step 4: Taking your shots

Position yourself in your scene. Don’t stand right next to the background – you’ll create a shadow. Stand about a metre away if you can.

Camera Settings

If you’re using a smartphone for this, try to set the following settings:

  • Single shot image (not burst or live)
  • Shoot a square image (1:1 aspect ratio)
  • Turn flash off
  • If you can set the ‘f’ value feel free to experiment.

Get shooting!

Try with different poses. You’ll soon work out those which you like and those you don’t. At the end of the day, it’s your photo and you’ll know what you like. Some tips wouldbe to:

  • look towards the window rather than away from it
  • shoot at eye level or slightly above
  • shoot the picture so the eyes are approximately 1/3 of the way from the top of the frame
  • focus your camera on the eyes

Get creative

Other creative ideas you might like to try include:

  • use different colour card for your background
  • shine a coloured light on your background. Takecare not to shine it on yourself at the same time.
  • Use a table lamp and shine it at your back to create a ‘rim light’ – good for darker backgrounds when wearing a darker top.
  • introduce a fan to your scene to give a bit of motion to longer hair
  • try an aperture of f/2.8 or smaller to have a blurred background
  • if you struggle with having lots of chins… I know I do, try holding another piece of card below you and out of shot to reflect more light from underneath.  

Step 5: Editing

So you’ve now, hopefully got a pile of images to choose from. The next step is to edit your image to make it profile-ready. Some things to note:

  • Unless you have been very clever with your setup or have made the rest of your face too bright, you won’t get a perfectly white background…this is ok.
  • If you’re going to add a colour filter, do your basic adjustments to make the image the right brightness before applying the filter.
  • Try not to add too much of any one setting in your phone’s editing options.
  • If you want a black and white image, don’t use the filter, reduce the saturation – it’ll give you a lot more control.  


So there you have it.

If all’s gone well then you should be revelling in the success of creating your awesome LinkedIn headshot. Make sure you go and upload it, or, if you want to have another go,you’ve now got the tools to be able to repeat, change and edit a new image.Fancy a change, try some of my other suggestions. You can get a long way withsome minor adjustments to what we’ve done above.

If you’ve had a goat this, tag your pictures on Instagram and Facebook with #altoppingphotography and show us what you’ve been able to create; I’d love to see them.

[1] For the purpose of demonstrating this point I have scoured my image library for relevant shots. By day I’m an adventure photographer and so most of the images you’ll see are in an outdoor setting and so the environment is not relevant to most other professions, however, the fault of the picture is still relevant to our discussion.

[2] The science of the colour yellow.

[3] This is where the thin fabric comes in handy. I’ve previously purchased a few meters of curtain veil before for this exact use. It’s not expensive and you can get it from most home stores that sell material.

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Portrait image of Lake District photographer, Al Topping Photos & Film
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