It’s probably one of the most overlooked components of personal branding: the head & shoulder photo.

When you think about it, headshots should be one of the most essential components of your branding toolbox. Your head & shoulder photo delivers the image of YOUR personal brand. If you have a great photo, use it consistently across multiple platforms. Make it your signature photo.

I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at the photo you use in your personal branding materials, including social media and Facebook. Does your photo  complement what you do? You should be able to look at your image and immediately come up with five or more words that come to mind (hopefully, dufus, goofy and comatose aren’t choices!).

If possible, have a professional take your photo.

Before you begin, jot down about five words that should sum up what your photo will say about you.

Here are three important reminders for head & shoulder photos for personal branding:

1. Beware the bad backgrounds. Nothing takes the focus away from you more than backgrounds with clutter. Avoid bookshelves, bulletin boards, etc. Anything that causes a person to focus on something other than you is distracting. Look for clean backgrounds, solid colours, or even consider having a skilled PhotoShop pro tweak your image to remove the background.

2. Make sure your eyes connect. Professional photographers, whether they are shooting wildlife or people, know that eyes are always a key point of focus. Our eyes are naturally drawn to a subject’s eyes. It is what builds a connection. Ensure your eyes are not lost in shadows, hidden behind sunglasses, or out of focus.

3. Lighting. If you want your face to come alive (hey, that’s important!), make sure you have excellent lighting. Light from above (ie. photos taken at noon with the sun overhead) will almost certainly give you ‘racoon’ eyes (dark, circular shadows filling your eye sockets). Simple light reflectors (a large piece of white bristol board will do just fine, on a budget) can dramatically improve your photo and are a trick the pros regularly use to enhance facial lighting. Don’t let lack of proper lighting turn your photo into a dull dud.

Epilogue: Now, remember those five words you jotted down before you started the exercise of getting the perfect personal branding head & shoulder photo? Put them to the test. Does your finished photo say what you want about you? No? Then start again! You don’t want a photo to be worth a thousands words – of even 100 – that are wrong about you.