Smile or Not Smile – What Message Does Your Photo Send?


Author Austin Hill Shaw creates two distinct moods with his headshots.

If you are posting your professional headshot should you post the one with a smile or not? As a headshot photographer, a lot of my clients feel one shot will cover all bases.

Smile or not? It’s an interesting question and one that requires an evaluation of message, audience and medium. Let’s start first with medium. Are you posting it on your company website? Is it going on LinkedIn? Or is it for a byline on a blog or column you write?  Are you the CEO of a company that is hiring? What is your culture at the company? People are going to look at your photo to get a clue. If you project the wrong mood in your executive photos, you may not attract the type of people you want.

Who is your Audience? Do you deliver a serious message about a serious product or service? Then your audience might expect a serious demeanor on your profile photo on LinkedIn. Is your company trying to get across a fun atmosphere in a staid industry? Maybe you want to show some mirth in your expression, like the corporate headshots for my recent clients at Silicon Valley Finance Group.

What message are you trying to get across? If you are like my client author Austin Hill Shaw, author of “Shoreline of Wonder: On Being Creative”, you might need it to be both ways at different times.  Austin chose both a more serious image and one with a smile. He even chose different color backgrounds to make it a different look. We had a great time shooting these at our Berkeley Headshot Day.

My advice is to try both at your photo session. Then you can always pull one from the library later if the one you have is not working for the mood and audience you are addressing.

If you do want to try to cover all bases with one portrait, you can always go for the smize or Brad Pitt: that expression where you are smiling with your eyes but not showing teeth. It is an all purpose expression and probably the best all around fit.

Whatever mood you choose for your professional headshot, make sure it fits the message, audience and medium you are trying to convey. Have this in mind before you start your photo shoot and communicate it to your photographer. If you would like to schedule a headshot for you as an individual or several for your company or organization, please visit our headshot website at

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