One of the things I’m asked a lot when I photograph corporates is “Do you want me to smile?” This is the wrong question! The question is: ‘Do I want to be smiling in my headshot?’ Or, more accurately: ‘What expression is right for my professional image?’
This is definitely something you want to be thinking about before having your portrait session. The answer very much depends both on your professional role, and your personality. I find there’s a sort of continuum of approach-ability that goes from not smiling at all – pretty unapproachable – to extremely smiley – highly approachable.
Actually, it’s rare that being at either extremes will be right for a professional image. If you’re very important – for example a CEO – then that kind of non-approach-ability can convey dignity (there is definitely some trade-off between smileyness and dignity). Likewise if being a little intimidating is no bad thing for your professional reputation – for example, if you’re a litigator – then fully non-smiling might be something you want to consider. For most professionals, though, you will come across as cold and unapproachable, so some openness – somewhat of a smile – is desirable.
However, at the other end of the scale, if you wear your biggest grin, this will often undermine the sense of professionalism that your image conveys. You might find people don’t get a sense of your competency and intelligence. So, somewhere in the middle, you want to find a smile that conveys a level of competence and professionalism, but also friendliness and approachability.
Don’t worry – nobody finds this particularly easy or instinctive! That’s why having a little practise in front of the mirror before your portrait session can be a really good idea. Just figuring out whether you want a closed or open-mouthed smile will help. It can feel very contrived, but if you’ve got the facial expression sorted out, then you can focus on the photographer’s instructions during your session, and not be battling to find that expression spontaneously. At the same time, of course you don’t want to look fake! It can help to think of something that provokes a genuine smile or feeling of warmth in your heart (I always think of my cat!) to ensure the smile is in the eyes.
Remember: ultimately what you want is for people to look at your image, and know that they want to work with you!
Written by: Anna Berry