Should you smile in a professional headshot?

Should you smile in a professional headshot?

Expression is so important in your headshot, and knowing exactly how your expression should look can be tough.

But that’s where your photographer comes in! A professional headshot photographer will help coach you with expression throughout your photoshoot.

That still doesn’t help with the question – so let me expand below.

Your expression should represent you:

Ultimately, your headshot shows who you are as a person.

It makes a first impression.

It gives other people an idea of what it is like to work with you, either as a client, colleague or employer.

The first thing to ask yourself is:

“Am I a smiley person?”

The answer to this question can help you make a quick decision. All of the people in these photographs have the same profession. I asked all of them what sort of expression they thought would be best for them. Some insisted they smiled, others insisted they didn’t. 

There are a few more things to consider beyond this question, so lets look at those below.

Melbourne barrister headshot of man smiling to camera wearing a suit and tie.
Melbourne barrister headshot of woman smiling to camera wearing a button up blue jacket and glasses.
Melbourne barrister headshot of man with a serious expression, suit and glasses.
Melbourne barrister headshot of woman smiling confidently to camera wearing formal barrister robes.
Melbourne barrister headshot of man smiling to camera wearing a suit and tie.

All of these people are barristers, and were all asked if they wanted to smile, be serious, or a bit in between.

Woman smiles to camera seated in an armchair on a pink background

Pros and cons for smiling in your headshot:

  • You look friendly.
  • People can connect with you.
  • You seem likeable and trustworthy.
  • Your headshot can spark joy.
  • Others can see themselves comfortable in your presence.
  • Not everyone likes the way they smile.
  • Smiling can distort other features (commonly, people squint when they smile, which isn’t always a bad thing).
  • Some professions are quite serious – too much of a smile can take away from the serious nature of your work.

When you might not want to smile in your headshot.

If you work in a serious profession, you might need to consider what is most common and respected within your industry.

Think about your key clientelle, and who they want to be hiring. Do they want someone smiling, or someone a bit more serious?

Some clients have noted that their work is quite sombre, and smiling wouldn’t be right. I’ve had lawyers whose clients are dealing with horrific things – and they’ve said that smiling isn’t right for them.

On another note, I’ve had younger people who want to be a little more serious in their headshots so that they look more experienced, and not too ‘young’. 

Lastly, some employers have specific styles in mind, and might specify if they need a serious shot.

Actor headshot of woman wearing a colourful patterned scarf, light blue denim jacket, with her hair up.
A linkedin headshot of melbourne barrister wearing glasses and a black top. She smiles to camera.
A melbourne actress smiles to camera while looking over her shoulder in a studio actor headshot.
A melbourne professional smiles to camera wearing a green tshirt for a linkedin headshot. It was taken on a green background in a melbourne portrait studio.

Not every smile has to be BIG.

There are lots of variations you can put into your smile. Smiling doesn’t have to be BIG or nothing.

Sometimes you may want to smile, but without a big, teethy grin.
Other times, you may want to be laughing.

Finding a middle ground is important, as long as you’re happy and it reflects your personality and profession.

Remember, your headshot is about YOU.

The expression you choose for your final headshot should feel ‘right’. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should look.

Photographers can help and coach you, and that is a huge benefit to hiring a professional. Don’t let anyone tell you that your natural smile is ‘too big’ or not right. 

The amount of clients I’ve photographed who have been told in the past to stop smiling by a photographer is staggering.

If you want to smile, go for it!

Published by

Julia Nance

Julia Nance is a headshot and portrait photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. Her vibrant creativity is inspired by her experiences. From photographing whales underwater to travelling in Europe. With a vast background in a range of photographic areas, it is Julia’s natural ability to connect with her subjects that ultimately drew her to the art of portraiture. Corporate Headshots | Personal Branding | Actor Headshots | LinkedIn Headshots |
Professional corporate headshot of woman smiling softly to camera on a grey background.
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