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Smiling vs. Serious: Should you Smile in a Headshot or Not!?

"Should I smile for my headshot session?" is a question that often arises when booking a professional headshot. Austen Hunter, a renowned expert headshot photographer, is here to provide insights on this topic. With extensive experience capturing thousands of headshots, Austen knows the nuances of creating the perfect image. In this article, you'll discover the reasons for and against smiling in your headshot, and by the end, you'll have a clear understanding of what works best for you. Read on to uncover the secrets of crafting a headshot that speaks volumes about your personality and professional image.

Short Summary:

  • A professional headshot is vital in the digital age as it serves as the first point of contact with potential clients, employers, or colleagues, and helps convey your personal brand and professionalism.

  • Whether to smile in your headshot is a personal decision that should consider factors like your industry, personal brand, and the purpose of the headshot. Smiling can project warmth and approachability, but may not always be the right choice depending on your profession or the message you wish to convey.

  • To capture a genuinely natural and authentic smile in your headshot, practice beforehand, relax your face muscles during the session, visualize someone you care about, or even make yourself laugh.

  • An experienced headshot photographer can provide valuable guidance in making the right choices for your headshot, ensuring that it communicates your personality and professionalism effectively.

Table of Contents:

Why Professional Headshots are Important

Since most first impressions happen online in the modern age, a professional headshot is more important than ever. A high-quality headshot is a powerful tool that sets you apart from the competition and showcases your personal brand. Here are some key reasons why investing in a professional headshot is essential:

  • First impressions count: These days, your headshot is often the first point of contact with potential clients, employers, or colleagues. A professional headshot ensures that you make a strong, positive first impression that reflects your competence and credibility.

  • Personal branding: Your headshot, including the headshot background, is an essential element of your personal brand, helping you to convey your unique personality, expertise, and professionalism. A skilled headshot photographer can capture your essence and create an image that resonates with your target audience.

  • Consistency across platforms: With the proliferation of social media and online professional networks, it's vital to have a consistent image across all platforms. A professional headshot ensures that you present a unified and polished appearance, no matter where your image appears.

  • Confidence booster: A great headshot not only impresses others, but it also boosts your self-confidence. When you see yourself in a high-quality, expertly-crafted image, you'll feel more self-assured and ready to tackle new challenges and opportunities.

  • Adaptability: A professional headshot can be adapted to various purposes, from LinkedIn profiles and business cards to speaking engagements and press releases. Investing in a professional headshot ensures that you have a go-to image for any occasion.

A professional headshot is an invaluable asset that can elevate your personal brand, enhance your online presence, and create a lasting impression on those who encounter your image. By investing in a high-quality headshot, you are making a strategic decision to present the best version of yourself to the world.

The Debate: To Smile or Not to Smile

Some people love to smile. Other people would rather feel physical pain than bare their smile to the camera. Research suggests that smiling in your headshot was associated with greater degrees of competence and sociability, but there are sometimes good reasons not to smile in your photo. While there's no hard set rules for smiling in your headshot picture, there's a few pros and cons to smiling that you'll want to be aware of when preparing for your headshot session.

Pros of Smiling in a Headshot

  • A smile demonstrates warmth, trust, and approachability, which is good for someone wanting to create a favorable first impression.

  • Smiling creates the impression that you're easy to work with, which is exactly what you'd want to convey to potential business partners or employers.

  • A genuine smile allows the viewer to connect with you on a deeper level, which will help you stay memorable in the viewer's mind.

  • Believe it or not, a simple smile can make you appear younger, too! This is great if you want to shave some years off of your appearance.

Cons of Smiling in a Headshot

  • A smile can make your face look wider, which may result in an image that's less than flattering. Certain lighting styles can help reduce this affect, though.

  • If your smile isn't genuine, you risk looking insincere and potentially untrustworthy to your viewer. If you're going to smile, it's best to commit to it and offer a genuine, authentic smile.

  • Your teeth will be visible, so if you're insecure about them, it may be noticeable in the shot. But teeth can always be straightened or whitened in post-production.

  • Not smiling can convey an impression of seriousness or aloofness, however, this may be a positive depending your industry. Not every headshot requires smiling, but it's important to know which circumstance or setting calls for it.

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What to Consider When Smiling in a Headshot

Now that we understand the pros and cons for smiling in a headshot, we need to talk about the other factors to consider. Whether you should smile for your headshot is also going to depend on your industry, personal brand, and the overall purpose of the headshot.

Industry and Profession

The industry or profession you work in is going to influence whether a smile is appropriate for your headshot. It's common to see subjects smiling in Doctor Headshots or Realtor headshots, because these occupations are very interpersonal and depend on building trust with their patients or clients. In contrast, a Lawyer's headshot is much less likely to feature a smile, because these occupations rely on maintaining an image of strength, knowledgeability, and protection for their clients. A big part of a lawyer's duties involves "fighting for their client", so it makes sense. Make sure you research your industry and headshot type before committing to smile in your headshot!

Personal Brand and Image

Your choice to smile can also depend on your image or the personal brand you want to create. Though your industry is a good reference point for smiling, the ultimate choice will be determined by what you feel is best for your brand. A good example of this would be actor headshots, where both smiling or serious looks can be preferred, depending on the type of characters that actor plays. When considering whether to smile or not, keep in mind the personal brand and image you're trying to create.

Audience and Purpose of the Headshot

Lastly, your audience and purpose matters when determining a smile in your headshot. If you're trying to take a new profile picture for your LinkedIn, a smile is a wise choice, since you'll want to appear warm and approachable to any hiring managers or potential business partners viewing your profile. Conversely, if you're the CEO of a large corporation, a more muted, closed mouth smile may be a better choice for your headshot. If you're unsure, you can always go for both and get a smiling and non-smiling shot, and decide which is more appropriate later.

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How to Genuinely Smile in a Headshot

So you've decided to smile in your headshot. The challenge lies in capturing a genuinely natural and authentic smile. For first-timers, posing for a headshot and smiling at the camera can feel quite unnatural. Thankfully, there are some helpful tips to make the process feel more comfortable and natural:

Techniques for Creating a Genuine Smile

If you want your smile to look natural, follow these tips:

  1. Practice your smile in the mirror before the session.

  2. During the headshot session, remember to relax your face muscles every few minutes.

  3. Visualize a someone you care about: as you smile into the camera, picture someone you care about smiling back at you.

  4. When all else fails, make yourself laugh! Laughing into the camera can appear like a beautiful, genuine smile. If you can't laugh on command, start faking laughing and don't stop until the absurdity of your situation makes you laugh for real.

Remember, if you're going to smile in your headshot, make sure you express an authentic smile. Humans are naturally really good and reading subtle body language (even if most of this happens subconsciously), and a fake smile will be noticed and be off-putting to the viewer.


Final Thoughts on Smiling in your Headshot

In conclusion, whether to smile or not in your headshot is a personal decision that depends on factors such as your industry, personal brand, and the headshot's intended purpose. It's essential to consider these aspects during your headshot session, and when in doubt, consult with a professional photographer for guidance.


A seasoned headshot photographer, like Austen Hunter, has the expertise and experience to help you make the right choices for your headshot, ensuring you leave a lasting and powerful impression. Don't hesitate to invest in a high-quality headshot that captures your personality and communicates your professionalism. Book your headshot session with Austen today and take the first step towards a remarkable new first impression.

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Austen Hunter Photography is a Pensacola, Florida photographer who specializes in senior picture photography, beach photography, fashion photography, graduation photography, military portrait photography and headshot photography in a bold, graphic style, from Destin and 30A Florida, to Pensacola to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Alabama. Austen Hunter has been published internationally and is known for his bold, graphic, and clean photographic style. He uses a variety of both natural light and off-camera flash to capture images. Unforgettable Moments Start Here - Book with Austen today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Austen Hunter Photography is a photographer based in Pensacola, Florida who specializes in family beach photography, military portrait photography and professional headshot in a bold and clean style. Austen Hunter has been locally recognized and internationally published . He uses a variety of both natural light and off-camera flash to capture images. People usually book Austen for outdoor portrait sessions or sessions conducted at his home studio.

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Chelsea, Headshot Client

"Wonderful experience! Wanted an updated headshot and Austen and Sarah were amazing. The studio was clean and incredibly nice, Sarah even provided blotting pads to help with shininess I had during photo shoot. 10/10 recommend to anyone wanting to get a photo taken! Thank you again!"

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Tammy, Headshot Client

"We are so glad that we found Austen. He did a wonderful job providing us with quality headshot photographs. He made us feel comfortable and gave us good suggestions for posing. We look forward to working with him again in the future!"

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Daryl, Beach Client

"Austen and his team were amazing! They were able to capture exactly what we wanted for our engagement pictures and also provided us a tent to change clothes. I would highly recommend him and I would definitely use him again."

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