Shooting The Breeze is a photography blog by Gavin Jowitt, an award-winning Sydney-based photographer, offering valuable articles and advice on corporate, industrial, and architectural photography; life and photography in Sydney; and running a successful photography business.

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Should I smile in my corporate headshot?

Published On: 7 April 2023By Categories: Corporate Headshots

Unleash Your Professional Potential: The Power of Smiling in Corporate Headshots

Discover the power of smiling in corporate headshots, from the science behind Duchenne smiles to factors that enhance professional potential and first impressions.

Australians spend an average of 38 hours a week at work, so it’s crucial to cultivate a welcoming and amicable professional persona. One aspect that significantly contributes to this is the use of a corporate headshot, which often serves as the first impression you make on potential clients, employers, and colleagues. A common question that arises is, “Should I smile in my corporate headshot?” As we explore the science of smiles and the impact of facial expressions, the answer becomes clear.

The History of Smiles

First, let’s turn to the work of French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne, who conducted groundbreaking research in the mid-1800s that laid the foundation for understanding smiles. Duchenne identified the “true” smile, known as the Duchenne smile, and other types of smiles. The Duchenne smile involves the contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (responsible for raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which crinkles the outer corners of the eyes). Smiles that don’t engage the orbicularis oculi muscle, known as non-Duchenne smiles, can be perceived as insincere or even deceptive.

Duchenne’s research opened the door to understanding the importance of the Duchenne smile in fostering positive impressions. A study discovered that infants as young as ten weeks old preferentially responded to Duchenne smiles, suggesting that our ability to detect genuine emotion is innate. In another study, researchers found that job applicants who displayed Duchenne smiles during interviews were more likely to receive job offers, highlighting the potential advantage of a sincere smile in professional contexts.

Nevertheless, smiles are not always interpreted positively. Researchers examined the effect of dynamic facial expressions in trust-related decisions and found that smiles, both Duchenne and non-Duchenne, could sometimes be seen as untrustworthy or manipulative when displayed too quickly or for an extended period. Furthermore, some studies have demonstrated that the Duchenne smile may not always be viewed as genuine or appealing, depending on the context and observer.

Advantages of Smiling in Professional Headshots

Despite these caveats, there is compelling evidence to suggest that smiling in a corporate headshot can have numerous advantages. Participants in a study rated photographs of people displaying different facial expressions on various personality traits. Individuals displaying smiles were consistently rated as more likable, trustworthy, and competent compared to those with neutral expressions. This supports the idea that smiling in your headshot can create a favorable first impression in the professional world.

Moreover, a smile can trigger a psychological phenomenon known as the “facial feedback hypothesis.” Research has shown that individuals who were instructed to hold a pen between their teeth (simulating a smile) rated cartoons as funnier than those who held the pen between their lips (inhibiting a smile). This suggests that the mere act of smiling can generate positive emotions, which in turn can influence our interactions with others. Consequently, a corporate headshot featuring a smile might elicit positive emotions in viewers, fostering a more amicable professional relationship from the outset.

Cultural Differences and the Smile

It is essential to consider cultural differences when interpreting and displaying smiles. For instance, Western societies typically view a Duchenne smile as a sign of happiness, trustworthiness, and sincerity, while in some East Asian cultures, the same smile can be perceived as a sign of embarrassment or shame. In an increasingly globalised world, it is crucial to be aware of such cultural variations in order to optimise the effectiveness of your corporate headshot.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Smile

When it comes to selecting the right smile for your business headshot, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, ensure that your smile appears genuine and warm; a Duchenne smile is generally preferable over a non-Duchenne smile, as the former is more likely to be perceived as sincere. Second, consider the context of your profession and the image you wish to project. In some fields, a more serious or neutral expression may be deemed appropriate. However, in many cases, a well-executed smile can convey competence, trustworthiness, and likeability.

Next, remember that your smile should reflect your personality and your professional brand. If you’re known for being approachable and friendly, a big, warm smile is suitable for your headshot. On the other hand, if you want to convey a sense of authority and power, a subtle, closed-mouth smile may be more appropriate. Make sure that your smile feels authentic to you and your professional persona, as a forced or unnatural smile can be off-putting.

Additionally, it’s important to pay attention to the composition and lighting of your headshot, as these elements can significantly influence how your smile is perceived. Work with a professional photographer who understands the nuances of capturing a flattering and genuine smile, and who can make recommendations based on your facial features, profession, and desired image.

Corporate headshots by Gavin Jowitt - Sydney Photographer

The Role of Gender in Smiling

Gender can also play a role in how a smile is perceived in corporate headshots. Research has shown that women are more likely than men to be expected to smile, and they may face more significant backlash when they don’t. This can lead to a double standard where women are judged more harshly for not smiling in their headshots, while men are given more leeway. That being said, both men and women can benefit from including a genuine smile in their corporate headshots, as it helps project warmth, openness, and confidence.

Embracing the Power of Your Smile

While the decision to smile in your corporate headshot is ultimately a personal one, research suggests that a genuine smile can foster positive impressions and may even offer a competitive edge in professional contexts. By carefully considering the type of smile, being mindful of cultural differences, and working with a skilled photographer, you can create a corporate headshot that effectively represents your professional persona and showcases the power of your smile.

In today’s fast-paced, digital world, first impressions are often formed in mere seconds. As we continue to rely on virtual interactions and online networking, the importance of a strong and compelling corporate headshot cannot be overstated. By harnessing the power of a genuine smile, you can leave a lasting impression on potential clients, employers, and colleagues, opening doors to new opportunities and fostering success in your professional endeavours.

So, should you smile in your corporate headshot? The answer is a resounding yes, provided you choose the right smile for your profession, personality, and intended audience. By embracing the power of a genuine, well-captured smile, you can project warmth, competence, and trustworthiness, and ultimately enhance your professional potential.

About the author
Gavin Jowitt is an accomplished corporate communications and branding professional with over 30 years of experience as a creative director and photographer. Awarded Australian Commercial Photographer of the Year in 2019, Gavin has built a reputation for delivering high-quality photography that enhances stakeholder communication. Gavin works with a wide array of public and private sector clients, guiding them in creating versatile photography libraries while offering extensive corporate, industrial, and commercial photography services throughout Australia.

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As a professional Sydney-based photographer specialising in corporate headshots, I recognise the significance of top-quality images for building the professional profiles of your key personnel. My expertise is crafting professional headshots highlighting confidence, character, and professionalism.
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