Why is it so hard to get a website headshot?

headshot for your website tips

SPOILER ALERT: You're going to see lots of old photos of me in this post!

Today's blog post is inspired by a post by a birth doula over in the Doula Toolbox Community on Facebook (check it out!). I've just joined the group to offer occasional tips & tricks to group members on website design and development. So this doula's comment went something like this:

"I've got this whole site built and the only thing keeping me from launching is that I don't have a good photo of myself to share that I feel good about."

The only thing y'all!  The only thing.

I have another client whose site launched at least five years ago. She never did get around to sending me a good photo of herself, instead offering up a tiny old headshot that was blurry. She promised she'd take care of it after the site launch.  You guessed it... the photo is still there!

Okay. So there's all different kinds of ways that I can speak to this. We could talk about the importance of a professional photo, or how to create your own photo shoot at home and make the most of it using your phone or a good DSLR camera, or what to wear, or what backgrounds are good, or how to make your double chin magically go away...

However, where I want to start is that whole notion of a photo of me that's good enough. This doula went on to describe how she actually had taken a bunch of photos, and didn't feel like any of them were good enough, but acknowledged that part of that may be her own internal filter about what "good enough" means because maybe she's just not comfortable putting a photo out there. It is all just SO LOADED - there is A LOT here to explore.

MY PERSONAL PHOTO HISTORY

I'm going to start by sharing with you all a bit of my own personal experience. So when I first needed a photo of myself to share on my business page, I really didn't have a single photo that felt good. The reality was that I'd been a mother to two young children for many years and there just weren't any "good photos" of me out there, or at least photos that I perceived as "good". I had also gained 40 pounds postpartum. I know ... that's kind of the reverse direction that we're supposed to go. A blend of postpartum depression, medications I had to take for milk production and some thyroid issues caused me to have some pretty significant weight gain postpartum. And I just felt miserable. I didn't feel like myself. I didn't feel like I wanted photos of myself out there.

And so I avoided and, um, avoided and avoided and basically didn't have a single photo of me on the website.

Here I am in 2005 managing my childbirth ed & doula practice with a massive phone, paper and pen. And 2 littles in my lap... Looking back on this photo now I think I'm look pretty awesome given my likely state of sleep deprivation.
Here I am in 2005 managing my childbirth ed & doula practice with a massive phone, paper and pen. And 2 littles in my lap... Looking back on this photo now I think I'm look pretty awesome given my likely state of sleep deprivation.

So a bunch of years later - maybe 2009? - my moms' group met for Mothers Day. My friend Nancy who was a photographer gifted us with our very own photo shoot, recognizing that we were all perhaps somewhat lacking on photos of just us... (Nancy is now a gifted felt artist - check her out!)  Whew. I was SO daunted by this because it meant I had this opportunity to be just me in front of the camera, and I wasn't sure I was comfortable with what I would see.

So what did I do? Well, I sat on her gift certificates for a year. I know... silly me.

That was the year I was turning 40 and it kind of served as a kick in the pants to start getting in shape -  I lost a bunch of weight. I felt way better in my body, and finally for my 40th birthday, I agreed to do the photo shoot with her. I was so pleased by the results. I used the photos from this shoot for years - and years.

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These photos are so old i don't even have the originals anymore - they are long gone. Just these tiny cropped versions remain - I didn't yet understand the value of high resolution...

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It was a good 5 years later when my next photo was taken - this time by my brother Matt, who is an amazing musician (check out this cover of Georgia!), educator, and band leader. It was entirely unplanned, which probably helped. No time to think or avoid the camera altogether.  We were at a family party and he had a good DSLR camera and we went out the back yard. I just felt really good that day - full of love for my family & my life. He stood up on the patio and looked down at me with a camera and he took like 10 photos, not very many.

Note: My brother is like 6'5". So him standing upon the patio above me meant he was towering over me. Turns out that makes for a rather flattering angle!

The result is seen below.  I used this for another five years, because once again I simply couldn't bring myself to try again, and didn't believe I could get anything better.  Sigh...

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Just five years later...

And then, something shifted again. I looked at that photo and it just didn't feel like me anymore. I felt like I had grown older and the past few years had been full of personal growth and change. Now when I looked at that photo, it didn't feel like an accurate representation of me anymore.

This time I bit the bullet and there was a photographer at my new coworking space (check out Belu Photography!) who was offering this fantastic deal for a headshot where we could come in and do a quick & easy 20 minute photo shoot with her in the conference room. All I had to do was show up and I got one fantastic photo out of it. And that, my friends, is where this lovely photo came from.

To be clear, I was still mildly terrified walking into that room. But she was kind, and patient, and showed me a crazy and super awkward way to tuck my chin and jut it forward simultaneously that gave me some lovely bone definition.

Sarah Juliusson The Website Doula

This photo is a far better reflection of who I am today.  It feels like it reflects my personality. I can see the growth I've experienced in the past five years. I'm thrilled with it. Not only did she capture my personality, but she was also able to do some fine tuning to even out my skin and erase stray hairs!  I'm really hoping it doesn't take me another five years until the next one!

WHY IS THIS SO HARD????

So why is it so hard to invest in paying for a professional photographer? Or even just go out in the back yard with a loved one for an impromptu photo shoot? I don't think it's entirely about money or time.

And I KNOW I'm not the only one, because I have variations on this conversation with web design clients over and over again. While you could simply fill your website with stock photos, the fact is having an awesome photo of you is absolutely key to building a positive connection with your audience.

Amy Porterfield of Online Marketing Made Easy did a great podcast about this whole topic fessing up to why she hated live video for years. {Hint: It was her weight.}

HINT: My weight was my biggest factor as well... I found it really really difficult to look at photos of myself, and the photos never seemed to match how I felt inside. Having one of those photos be visible online was even harder. I've finally lost those 40 lbs I gained postpartum with my now 17 year old son. It took me Years, but I'm finally there.  And yet the weight loss hasn't really helped. It was an easy excuse, I see that now. The bottom line is I simply wasn't comfortable in my own skin. I've gotten way, way better, but it's still - hard.

Alongside the weight factor I think part of it is that my approach to my personal appearance is very, let's say, natural. The struggle especially comes up every single time I get on a facebook live with y'all. I struggle with what I'm wearing. I struggle with my hair. I struggle with the fact that I don't wear makeup. CONFESSION: I literally don't know how to apply eyeshadow correctly, let alone foundation or lipstick (the thought of lipstick is enough to make me want to hide for a few years). I've gotten two manicures in my entire life. I get my hair cut twice a year - sometimes once (I'm way overdue right now). And I Really don't understand the whole eyebrow shaping thing. Sometimes I'd look at Facebook lives and people are looking so polished and it's just Not Me.

I've had to kind of make my peace with my version of looking professional and the importance of being me online.

It was a huge leap for me to let myself be seen in the live realm. And actually there are some Facebook lives videos that I did about a year and a half ago where I was 20 pounds heavier than I am right now. I've struggled a little bit keeping those old Facebook lives up because I look at my face and I don't recognize myself.

I'm writing this post today to encourage you all to just take a photo - and accept it!!!

( you can always take another one next month! )

So you have two choices for this > 

  • 1 Go out in the backyard with a friend or family member who has a really good quality DSLR camera. Take a hundred photos, see what works. There should be at least one good one in the mix!
  • 2 Hire a professional photographer - it truly is worth it. This is by far my top choice - learn from my photo journey y'all.

Why hire a professional photographer?

Because they know what they are doing! A professional photographer knows how to choose background, bring all sorts of lights to enhance the shot, and will position you just so. A good photographer will also help you think through what you want to wear, your jewelry choices, and even where you are positioned to make sure that your photos are the best possible match for your web design and your brand. 

Essentially a photo by a professional photographer will not only be inherently better to begin with, but with the magic of Photoshop, they can make it even better! I'm not talking about changing the size of your breasts or making your nose look different. I'm talking about just minor cosmetic changes that can help you feel really great about your photo - evening out your skin, taking out zits, dealing with the stray hair sticking out in a funny way.

Finally, it's a wonderful thing to have a good relationship with a local photographer that might lead to wonderful opportunities for collaboration. That professional photographer could become a valued colleague.

When choosing a photographer, make sure that you take a look at their work before hiring them. Don't just go based on somebody's word of mouth recommendation. When you look through a photographer's gallery is it's really easy to start to get a sense of their photography style. Are their shots more posed or natural? Ask for examples of headshots they've done for other professionals so you can see some, some firsthand results. Ask what their turnaround time is. Some photographers have a quite lengthy turn around, which might be a problem if you're on a deadline for publishing your website or hosting a major event.

Don't have money to invest in a photo shoot? Here's what to do:

I know that some of you simply are not in a place financially where you're ready to invest in a professional photo shoot. And that's fine. That doesn't, however, mean that you have to rely on cropping yourself out of a random family photo ... (here we are after the polar bear plunge on new years day 2019!)

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If you organize your own photo shoot, here are some important things to keep in mind. First, think about your location. For example, once upon a time I had a client whose brand colors were purple and grey and she chose to do a photo shoot in front of a red brick wall. Not good. Plus her outfit was purple. She clashed with the brick wall behind her. The photo clashed with her site... She looked lovely, but the photo just didn't work.

So what are some good backgrounds to choose? Consider using a natural backdrop such as a local park. Alternatively you could seek out a local landmark such as a famous mural in your town you could stand in front of. or a well known bridge or street corner. Some way to say, Yes, This is My Local Community. If you do the shoot outside, shade is better than dappled or full sun.

If you have an actual physical space where you offer your services, doing a photo outside it or in your office space could also be a great option. Another option would be to find a neutral background wall or maybe with a favorite painting or something behind you. What you don't want is to be sitting on your couch and with the back of the couch showing and household clutter in the corner of the shot. Make sure that your background is neutral enough that it's you that shines and not your background taking over the image.

In either scenario - inside or out - it is best to take the photo with 100% natural light. No flash!

Choose your clothing & jewelry with care as well. Think about your brand colors & vibe. Wearing a solid-color shift (no pattern!) can help draw attention to your face. Try out a few different outfits during your informal photo shoot!  Find an accent piece of jewelry that ties in with your website energy & colors. You can even try out different smile styles & poses!

Finally, you're totally allowed to retouch the photo with an app.

WHAT ABOUT PREGNANCY & BIRTH PHOTOS?

What about your pregnancy or birth photos? For some of you, those might be the only professional photos you have ever had taken!  I actually have a concern around that. I've seen cases where people have shared like almost naked photos of themselves on their business site, which really is just from my perspective not appropriate and somewhat uncomfortable for clients that don't want to see that much of the person that we're hiring to work with them. Ask yourself, does this photo help them get to know me as a person?  In general, a photo of you taking a hike in the woods or playing with your kids might be a better, more general portrayal of who you are as a person in this world and in your community. Also, if you use Instagram it is a great way to capture diverse photos of yourself and share them on your site.

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WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

If you don't yet have a photo that you love of yourself on your website, what are you waiting for?  Get out there & take some photos! Or call the professional photographer you've been meaning to reach out to forever and ever... A quality photo of you on your website can work wonders in helping to build connection and convert site visitors into paying clients.

If your weight, or a skin blemish, or your need for a haircut are holding you back, ask yourself what it would look like to be seen As You Are. Your clients are going to see you eventually!  No matter how fabulous your website photo is, they're going to meet you face-to-face and photoshop-free. Yes, it can absolutely feel vulnerable to have your photo on your website.

This is just one more way for you to show up & look the world in the eye and share the important work that you do.

- Sarah Juliusson, Your Website Doula

About Sarah Juliusson

Hi there, I’m Sarah Juliusson, The Website Doula. I support your practice growth with creative website design, seasoned business guidance, and plenty of great resources to help you find your way. With 20+ years as a doula and childbirth educator, I believe in the value of your work as much as you do. >> learn more about my work as the website doula

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