How to Take a Non-cheesy Professional Headshot

LinkedIn accounts with a profile photo receive 21 times more views than those without a picture
(illustration: Aysha Tengiz)

The people at Ledn, a Toronto-based Bitcoin-financial-services-provider, know that their industry can be intimidating. “When cryptocurrency companies ask people to turn over their most precious assets in the form of digital cash, trust and credibility are extremely important,” says Andrew Rapsey, the firm’s chief marketing officer. “If you look at our competitors’ websites, you’ll see lots of flashy graphics and not many human faces. We wanted our website to clearly communicate that we’re a people-first company worth trusting.”

And yet they didn’t want to look stuffy. Crypto is all about shattering the norms of finance so it was important that Ledn’s site didn’t remind customers of a bank. (Read: no stern-looking men in three-piece suits.) To that end, Ledn commissioned new employee headshots. “We wanted the personalities of our executive team to shine through,” says Rapsey.

The company enlisted the services of Natalia Dolan, a Toronto-based portrait photographer whose past clients include Google and Meta. Last fall, Dolan brought her equipment and crew of helpers to Ledn’s office to shoot 10 employees.

A series of professional headshot of the Lend team taken by Natalia Dolan
Headshots of Ledn’s staff (photos: Natalia Dolan)

Dolan’s first piece of advice for Ledn’s staff: Wear what you feel good in, not what you think people want to see. “Pull the things in your wardrobe that best represent you. If you don’t wear ties, don’t bring one,” she says. “I always recommend that people have two or three options, both casual and dressier.” Keep it simple, she advised the team, but don’t be afraid to show your personality—or wear colour. “Even when the goal is highly polished and professional, pops of personality and candid expressions can convey authenticity in your portraits,” Dolan says.

When it comes to posing, Dolan says it’s generally best to avoid predictable business stances, like arms folded across the chest. At her Ledn shoot, she played music and had the team try fun poses to loosen them up. She often recommends some movement, like walking toward the camera instead of sitting in a chair. This leads to more natural, candid-looking shots. “We had so much fun that some employees asked if they could have some of the unretouched, sillier photos for themselves,” says Rapsey. Dolan happily obliged. “I love catching a moment or gesture that feels captured in real time,” she says.

When it comes to touch-ups, Dolan says it’s best to keep things natural. She doesn’t believe in major retouching or digital filters. Instead, she uses high-quality lights and diffusers and often works with a makeup artist to help cover darkness under clients’ eyes or shine from the lights. Dolan also recommends an old Hollywood film trick to appear more fresh: ice. “Dunk your face in ice water for 15 seconds the morning of the shoot to reduce puffiness and tighten the skin.”

Ledn’s team couldn’t be happier with the resulting shots, and Rapsey is convinced they help the company effectively communicate its brand. “The headshots look natural and authentic,” he says. “That’s exactly the tone we were looking for.”

Dolan’s number one tip for anyone getting a headshot? Leave your inner critic at home. “No one else notices the things we are fixated on,” she says. “That one thing you’re insecure about is probably among the most captivating things about you.”

Liza Agrba
Liza Agrba
Liza Agrba is an award-winning freelance writer based in Toronto with over a decade of experience covering food, business and culture. Her work regularly appears in The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Toronto Life, among others.