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Ask HN: Have you paid for the photos/headshots you use in professional setting?
32 points by lambdadmitry 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments
And if so, why?

We tried to do it ourselves (two of my small company, including me, have an art college background - I studied photography for a year) and the results weren't great. They were obviously taken by non-professionals, and gave the staff section of our site an ad-hoc feel. Having said that, I prefer that kind of feel to photos that are so "professional" that they're mind-numbingly boring. There's a fine balance to be struck between stuff that's too slick and stuff that's amateurish - getting images that feel professional while still having a soul is very tricky, and generally involves finding a photographer that you click with (sorry, not sorry).

Getting headshot images that feel professional (in the sense of being well-lit with a decent background/setting and otherwise good technical execution) is actually a doddle. Especially these days, what with there being a plethora of resources available - good tutorials, cheap equipment, the equivalent of free film, and immediate feedback. There's no need for necromancy involving light meters, and no need to read the tea leaves of a Polaroid to guess at what the "real" picture will look like after it's souped. You don't need to do anything moody, dramatic or otherwise risky. As picture-taking goes, it's about as low as you can go on the technical difficulty scale.

The hard part is getting "a person who happens to be in a picture" rather than "a picture that happens to have a person in it". That's psychology, not photography, and it's a completely separate skill. You can get the book learning from successful headshot types (notably Peter Hurley, but there are certainly others), but that's sort of like knowing the theory of standup comedy. You've got to actually work with people to figure out how to make them seem like they're looking through the camera rather than at it. And you've got to care enough to keep your subject from figuring out that you're doing any of that.

I do some hobbyist photography, and I have kept myself to photographing nature and architecture because I have never been very good at posing / the psychology aspect as you describe it. Recently I have become more interested in doing more people photos, but I'm not sure how to go about learning it. Other than practice, are there any resources you might be able to suggest?

First, make an honest assessment of whether or not you (a) are a "people person", or (b) can fake it for long enough for your subjects to really believe you are one. I'm not going to kid you: if you're a severe introvert who can't at least pretend to be open in a convincing way, then the majority of the work you'd need to do to get into the game is actually on your own comfort and skills in the social setting.

If you're up to the game, or at least think you could be, then starting with a YouTube search for "Peter Hurley headshot" and watching the excerpts from "The Art Behind the Headshot" (they'll be at the Fstoppers channel) is a great place to start. Hurley's a salesman with an ego, and his clientelle are mostly actors looking for a different sort of headshot than the typical corporate client, but don't let any of that get in the way - the interaction tricks, etc., are still the same. Posing should seem like little offhand comments in the rest of the patter; the idea is to get rid of the obvious, gigantic and scary camera thing, and reminding the subject that the photo is important is going to kill that. Expect a low "keeper" rate, especially early on. (If you allow time for school pictures, you're going to get school pictures.) Once you've watched Hurley, you'll be able to judge others. Joe McNally's humble approach - like he's been given the privilege of taking the photo, no matter who's in front of the camera - also works well. Find someone who reminds you of who you'd like to be, and can be, behind the camera. But it's about reading the people and working with them as people that makes all of the difference.

Thank you. I will follow your advice and lookup these resources!

Random tidbit: for some reason, LinkedIn displays your own profile image to yourself at a lower resolution than other profile images. I think it's related to the fact that your own profile image opens editing tools when clicked.

(It took me hours to realize -- after digging through their HTML -- that the reason my own pic looked so blurry once uploaded was because of this. Logged out, it looks fine.)

Yes, I have done so twice. The first time, I had a professional photographer take photos of my team and I so that our "about us" page would have a consistent look. The second time, my local Chamber of Commerce provided the services of a professional during a networking event. I use these photos over something I took with my phone or cropped from some other photo because they look a lot more professional.

If you are developing a service related to professional headshots, I would appreciate you contacting me at mcculley@stackframe.com as I am developing something related to that industry.

I haven't yet.

I'm considering it because of the popularity of LinkedIn but in the Anglo-American culture and thus most multinational companies - it is frowned upon to attach a photo to your CV.

This is interesting in terms of the ubiquity of LinkedIn - the lack of a photo on a CV is obviously to do with reducing bias. For example, if a recruiter doesn't know how attractive someone is, that won't influence their decision, and rightly so. But now that everyone's on LinkedIn it's easy to track down someone's photo if you want to. I often do this with clients who approach us through email because I like to have a face in mind when I speak to them on the phone, but it's easy for recruiters to misuse.

I attended a tech resume workshop recently and the recruiters there said they would absolutely discard resumes with photos (and other overly personal info) on them due to bias, and were instructed to do so by their employers. Interesting, but understandable.

I do wonder how that reconciles with all the social media around though considering the main way recruiters reach out to me is LinkedIn.

The guidance is absolutely right, but the morals of a sizeable minority of recruiters that I've met have been "flexible" to say the least.

Yeah at my last job where I used to get CVs I was always told to bin CVs that had photos/age etc. on them.

In my country (Spain) you must attach a photo to the CV to get into consideration.

I've been told in Germany you must attach a specific type.of photo, and you must gomtona professional photographer for it

I paid for professional headshots to use in professional settings. It was partly about LinkedIn and other social media, and partly about conferences and press.

Why? Because it's an effective way to tell your story better.

It says you're confident, because you know that you're awesome enough to deserve a professional shoot.

The specifics of whatever photos you end up using will carry some message. For example being shot in front of books carries an obvious message.

It's good to have a photo specifically designed for professional contexts, rather than one awkwardly repurposed from a social context.

I second this, the lady I went to took around 80 different pictures, and she was telling me how to stand (where to place my feet, shoulders, turn my head, smile - even though the photo was chest-up the placement of the feet were important) and was very encouraging with "Smile! Oh wow, that's great!". Later on we reduced it to several photos by sorting out the ones I wouldn't like at all and going "Photo A or photo B?" through the ones we had left.

A stiff passport photo would've been boring...

I did, and use it in the company slack, email, salesforce, etc.

Like it or not, others respond to our image. Using a professional photo is a great way to influence that response.

I have a friend who studies photography. I paid them a bit of cash to snap a few semi-professional photos outdoors, and do a few post-processing touch-ups. I make use of these on my CV etc.

Much better than I would have been able to do myself / with an amateur friend's help. Not as high quality as studio photos, but also not nearly as expensive, and good enough for my purposes.

I don't use photos online anywhere. When silly tools/platform require the use of some kind of profile picture, I draw a stick figure or something similarly silly. It might not look terribly professional, but my face is entirely irrelevant in a professional context.

Except for somebody looking for you...

I have a name. They can look for that.

Yes, about ten years ago when founding a startups because we thought it might be useful for press releases and similar publications.

It probably wasn't the best way to spend our limited resources at the time. However, the pictures weren't particularly expensive either and I still use one for profile pictures and similar use cases, mostly because otherwise there aren't that many decent headshots of myself. Well, there's this one but I suppose it'd not be particularly suitable for a professional setting: https://bjoernkw.com/images/top-hat.jpg

So, in hindsight I'd say I got my money's worth for those shots.

I spoke at OSCON once. As part of the speaker package they did professional headshots. It was a great perk. I've used those extensively since - lots of other conferences ask for a headshot on their speaker list. I also use it on Linkedin.

Yes - the guy who did our wedding photos was great and I was just starting my own startup and knew I wanted headshots. I was happy to pay him for an hour of taking photos and knew I'd get something usable out of it.

Yes. I had a professional photo made for my passport instead of the usual instant photo where you look flash burned, have a big nose, and a shadow behind you that looks like a mullet.

There is a substantial difference in the way people handle identification with good photos. It feels like people think, "oh, of course, this is you." I liken it to my photo having taken a shower - it makes a much better impression.

People usually hate their identification photos. Having a quality photo is a nice conversation starter.

I did it for my personal website hosted at https://www.milanmotavar.com/.

I think it came out well.

No, it's not the kind of image I want to project. I randomly use a crop of a normal photo or a drawing of me that my daughter made when she was like 3 or 4.

I'm a developer, so no...

A headshot would be of exactly zero value to me. I have no photo on linkedin or any social media. In fact, zero photos of me online.

Current work asked me to upload a photo for the company skype / whatever. I told them no. It's completely pointless.

If a company wanted a photo for me to apply for the job, I wouldn't apply.

Judge me on my history / technical skills / personal skills etc at the interview. My face is irrelevant.

You're greatly limiting your career potential with this mindset. Soft skills matter too. If you want to advance in your career you need people to pull you up, you'll never get the necessary contacts with this kind of attitude.

Is being able to smile for a camera a "soft skill?"

Would you also like to be referred to by your employee number instead of your name?

I agree with your point about job interviews, but in your job, a photo is far from pointless. It helps people you only work with remotely to stay empathetic, and not reduce you to a faceless attributeless character (which is the image placholder photos transport), among other things.

I'm not trying to be mean, but are you aware that you do, in fact, have a face and people can see it in the real world? Not to mention that you also get judged by your appearance, because that's what humans do.

It seems to me that you haven't accepted this fact of life.

As a remote worker, people with this attitude make it much harder to do my job - a photo helps build trust and trust makes good teams. Presumably you don't go into the office wearing a mask to hide your identity?

I'm also mostly a remote worker.

Honestly, I try to go into the office as little as possible.

I don't need a photo to help me trust someone though, I judge my colleagues on their work, I couldn't care less what they look like.

You seem a charm to work with.

No, one time I took the team (~10 persons) to a nearby park on a nice day, and took photos with blurry green background. Otherwise, I just order people to stand in front of the white wall with best lighting I can find in the office, smile, and done.

I use a low-end DSLR that I take the time to manually adjust.

Results are good enough that I won't bother finding a professional to do better.

Good enough is the enemy of great.

Have not. For me, there are events where the internal media team (responsible for announcements and for ads) handles taking these.

I've heard from those who have that it was worth the money. The only caution is that for some reason people still use those 70s olan mills background which connote a sort of tone deafness or cluelessness of the subject.

What is, these days, an appropriate background?

No, but my current job provided one as part of onboarding, which I think is a great idea. When my nieces and nephews enter the work force, I'm planning on paying for professional headshots for each of them.

No. Then again I'm not awful at photography myself and nor are the people who snapped pics for me (the ones that aren't selfies). Fwiw I'm an academic though I do interact with business.

No, but I will do it in the future. It's handy for Tinder as well :)

Because nothing communicates "I can be fun and exciting" as a stiff headshot.

Multitasking :-)

was considering this recently and came across something interesting. This photo studio in berlin charges different prices depending on where you plan to use it. Also curious whether that is common practice?

35 euro: for private use in applications, social networks eg Xing, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.

80 euro: You acquire the full rights of use to use your portrait commercially eg for websites, brochures, business cards, publications in books or magazines, all without time and space restriction.

I've seen that too from some studios. Legally the photog is the copyright owner (they created the work), and you're purchasing a license from them, and I suppose in this case there are 2 levels of licenses.

I guess one could try bargaining with them - because without you hiring them, there'd be no license to sell to you. But I guess successful ones can just turn you away.

Yes, because it’s usually pretty inexpensive (I think I paid $35) relative to having a perfectly lit, clean background picture when one is needed at the last minute

Nope, though I'm using a photo from an (unpaid) photoshoot from a startup accelerator, made by a semi-pro photographer.

Of cause. I consider it a relevant part of my professional identity just similar to dressing appropriately to the occasion.

I am currently re-using the picture from my work permit, it looked professional enough for me.

oh how much I dislike this latest trend in tech-hip employee headshots where they blast insane amounts of light on one's face - that, in combination with the fake smile on all those pics, gives such an eerie effect..

Smiling says "I'm an idiot" in Japan, so be careful if you're going for a headshot that can be used internationally.

Yes. It's cheap and well worth it, you can use them for quite a while.

A previous employer paid for mine. I had considered paying for my own.

I paid for my Christmas photos and that’s what I use on LinkedIn.

Ditto. After the family pics, I told the photographer I want one of myself for professional use and she did a great job with it.

Kind of. I use a good headshot from my wedding.

Yes, and it's been worth it every time.

yep. I went to a pro with a lot of experience because i wanted a professional image for linkedin.

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