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Should you smile during your headshot photo?

Your headshot photo is possibly the most viewed picture of yourself that you will display publicly for business. When considering having one taken, the first question most people ask is whether to smile or not. Even if it's not for business, are there rules to follow when having your photo taken? The short answer is yes – but don't forget that some rules are there to be broken. So – should you smile or not?

So before you make an appointment for a headshot photo session, then read on to find out whether there is a golden rule of smiling in headshot photography.

Headshot Photo Factors

When considering how to pose for a good headshot and whether to smile, the first question to ask is, "What is the purpose of the photo?"

For business headshots, the answer will occasionally be a straightforward' No' to smiling. Check with your company in case there is a policy on this already.

If it is for the corporate website or brochure, they may have a standard for you to follow, including guidance on smiling.

If not, then the smiling question will depend on several factors. Consider the following:

  • Where the photo is going to be used.
  • The character you want to convey.
  • How comfortable you feel smiling.
  • The nature of your work/company (if used for this).

Professional Headshot Uses

Where your headshot is going to be used will play a significant role in determining whether you should smile or not. A social media platform is different from a corporate website. And even in the corporate world, the business headshot photograph will be different for a brochure and, a Twitter account profile.

So, part of the smile/don't smile decision is about where the photo will be used; but if it is for business use, then the profession itself is a factor.

John Bevilacqua, Jr. Attorney

A lawyer would do well to remain straight-faced (or at most, the slightest hint of a smile on the mouth, as above). On the other hand, a children's entertainer should be smiling as a minimum – if not displaying a full-on laugh.

Your Personality in your Headshot

Knowing where the photo will be used and have decided you may smile, it still doesn't mean that you necessarily should smile.

We all know the saying 'first impressions count,' and that is true even for photographs. Whatever the purpose of your headshot, for a lot of people, it is going to be the first time they see you. The photo needs to present your personality as well as your physical look. People need to feel like they know you, just from this one-shot. This is one reason why it is essential to get a professional headshot photographer on board to take the photos, as they have experience in showcasing your personality.

David Parmenter-Aeronautics

One of the keys to a great headshot is that you should look relaxed, and viewers should be able to recognize you immediately from it. So if you are a big natural smiler – then go for it. However, if you usually carry a more serious demeanor, then it's probably best to stick to that, as an unpractised attempt to smile can look false.

You probably already know whether you are comfortable in your smile, that is, whether on-camera your smiles look natural or a bit forced. A genuine smile conveys warmth, confidence, and, most importantly, trust. As humans, we make judgments on someone's trustworthiness within seconds – even from a photo (it's that first impression reaction again), and smiling can play an essential role in this.

Philip Anthony Salko, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., C.A.Q.S.M.

But it is essential that your smile is genuine, so practice before the booking.

Try out a few smiling shots during your actual photo session. If it just doesn't look natural, then don't smile. Better to be serious and genuine than to smile and look false. Your photographer will be able to guide you during the session, so listen to their advice.

The aim is to show your personality, but it won't shine through if an unreal-looking expression obscures it.

Kailey Lyford-Spine Surgeon

Opinions will vary here; however, in a survey by the Coffee Meets Bagel dating app, they found that almost 80% of people preferred photos of men who smiled with their teeth showing. The same stat came in a little lower for women at 58% – but still a significant majority.

Another point to consider alongside the teeth discussion is the lighting. You can read more about that here, but even if you are not super-confident about your teeth, talk to your photographer and try a few shots with/without showing them; depending on the lighting setup they use, you may be pleasantly surprised.

In the end, whether you show your teeth or not when you smile will come down to personal confidence; your feelings should be the deciding factor on whether you do or not in your headshot photo. In the headshot world, confident rules. If you feel confident – you will look confident. Smile or no smile. Ultimately, what you are after is a connection with the viewer of the image. If you relax and be yourself, you have the greatest chance of achieving this.

What is your view on smiling in headshot photographs?

Has your opinion changed at all after reading this article? Let us know in the comments!

As headshot photography prices can vary widely, you need to know that you will get the results you are looking for from your photo session.

Ernest Price Photography is an experienced professional headshot photographer for a fixed hourly rate including retouching and editing.