I normally write about water issues. But, today I thought I would go off topic just a wee bit. In the past few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with my clients about how and why every organization should facilitate a photo session for its leadership to take professional headshots. I was asked to provide guidance on what makes a good headshot. Part of that guidance was based on my evaluation of headshots that people have chosen to use on LinkedIn.

I did a quick review of about 200 of them to see if there were any patterns that I could report on and document. I only evaluated the photos of “People You May Know” — people not in my current professional network for obvious reasons.

The evaluation revealed seven distinct categories of problems:1) Wrong Message; 2) Too Many People, Kids or Animals; 3) Wrong Background; 4) Posing Issue; 5) Clothing, Sunglasses, Etc., and 6) Way Too Action-Oriented. Here’s a description of some of the “don’t” photos that I found.

Wrong Message

  • Sitting at a desk with a plastic bottle of water in the picture
  • You have a spoon, knife and fork sitting between the E and F key on a piano
  • You and your wife (?) and she’s wearing a funny hat
  • You and your grandmother’s very old clock
  • You wearing the candy necklace you bought for your child before s/he ate it
  • You eating a sandwich while operating a cash register
  • You wearing gigantic sunglasses with a reflection of who’s taking the picture
  • You standing next to a cluster of grapes still on the vine and you don’t work at a winery
  • An obvious selfie with your arms showing
  • You with your legs crossed sitting on a 1950s red velvet couch
  • A river only (you are no even in the picture)
  • You with your lunch, pink iPhone case and a wicker basket in the background
  • You on a swing with a winding road in the background
  • You wearing full winter gear and your hair looks like you just took off your wool hat
  • You have a celebrity leaning on your shoulder and you are both smiling way too big
  • You taking a picture of your cat and someone is taking a picture of you
  • You smoking a cigarette
  • You with your feet on a blue chair and a book on top of your knees
  • You standing in front of an empty bookshelf in the background with only a pack of crackers on the shelf near your head
  • You sitting in your car (well, at least you were wearing a seatbelt)
  • You standing in front of a bunch of those blue plastic Hawaiian leis
  • You in an old elevator

Too Many People, Kids or Animals

  • You standing with your daughter next to a Christmas tree
  • You sitting on a wooden stage and your dog is in the background
  • You and 10 children
  • You, your dog and your Dallas Cowboys hat
  • A picture of just your bulldog
  • You and your dog whose wearing a striped sweater
  • Two kids playing with a waterscape model

Wrong Background

  • Columns of a monument
  • Brick wall and garage door
  • The roof of your house
  • Terribly messy desk
  • Lace kitchen curtains
  • A corn field
  • An empty stadium
  • A wooden stage with your dog is in the background
  • A picture of a picture of your headshot
  • You sitting on the steps of a big building and there’s someone in the background with his knees against a green suitcase
  • Curtains growing out of your head
  • A mountain growing out of your head

Posing Issue

  • Face too close to the camera
  • Head is at a 45 degree angle
  • Face fills 98% of the screen
  • You have your hand on your chin
  • Only half of your face showing
  • You smile that clinched smile you smile when someone says, “Now come on, smile.”

Clothes, Sunglasses, etc.

  • You wearing big sunglasses
  • A picture of sunglasses Your picture
  • You wearing a shiny gold ball gown with shoulders elements that come up to your ears
  • You wearing a tux and with champagne glasses glaring in the background

Way Too Action-Oriented

  • You about to dive off of a diving board
  • You wearing full ski gear getting ready to go down the mountain
  • You standing on the edge of 25 story building with the cars on the street visible (hair blown by the wind)
  • You wearing your biking shirt and bike helmut
  • You on a boat with a bright orange life vest
  • Your 4-wheel drive stuck in the snow

My favorite: You (in black & white) squeezing a yellow chicken (well, I guess that one is OK; the guy is a comedian and actor).

Now, I am not suggesting cookie cutter headshots here. Just professional ones. Especially for LinkedIn, the world’s largest online BUSINESS network.

Professional headshots are an important component of leadership communication, reputation, and executive branding. A professional headshot should be on your priority list if you don’t have one. You want people to recognize you, not your dog, christmas tree or yellow rubber chicken. You are your business. Your picture is part of your brand.

What does your headshot say? My next evaluation will be in October. Look out.

To learn more proven ways to enhance your brand communication or to schedule a day-long session with your leadership team to determine your specific needs, click here to contact Donna.

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About the Author


Donna leads high-stakes, social impact organizations and projects. Her track record shows a relentless focus on results and innovative strategies that favorably impact the bottom line, operational efficiency and organizational culture. She is a driver of positive and disruptive change and brand transformations that outperform business objectives. A leader in international development, a champion for social innovation and environmental issues, Donna thrives in organizations that see the world through an environment, water, sustainability, agriculture, public health, and social impact lens.