How to Take a Good Photo for Your CV

By Emma Davis

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Your curriculum vitae (CV) is a means of making a good first impression. While looks aren’t everything, your headshot photo is part of that first impression. How can you take a good photo for your CV?

Follow these simple photography tips to create the best CV photo possible.

If you need additional assistance creating your resume or CV, you can find more information here.


1. Understand the Headshot

To choose or create a good CV photo, you need to understand what employers expect from your headshot. A headshot is as it sounds - a photo of your head, shoulders, and upper torso, taken while facing the camera. Your photo should not be taken in profile or at an angle, and it should not include your entire body. 

Your CV headshot is a lot like the thumbnail you use for your social media. Unlike social media, however, you should avoid being overly casual, including pets or other people in the photo, or displaying distracting backgrounds.


2. Dress the Part

Generally, your CV photo should be made wearing formal attire. For men, this means a button-down shirt. A suit jacket and tie are optional, but should always be used when applying to C-suite jobs, law firms, and similar positions.

For women, the proper attire is a blouse or dress. Consider wearing makeup and simple accessories, such as earrings and a necklace.

An exception to the formal attire rule occurs when your career requires a formal uniform. One example is the medical field. If you generally wear scrubs at work, these are also suitable for your headshot. Select solid-colored scrubs for the most professional look. Law enforcement or the military can also wear uniforms in their headshots.

Always avoid t-shirts, sunglasses, or any other accessories that might be inappropriate at the office.


Use Good Lighting

When taking your photo, strive for balanced lighting. You don’t want such strong lighting that washes you out, creates glare on your face, or causes unappealing shadows below your nose, eyes, and chin. On the other hand, you want your photo to be well-lit and not overly dark.

Natural light is an ideal way to achieve this balance. Consider taking your photo by a window in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is soft. Don’t position yourself directly in front of the window, however, as this would cause backlighting. You’d appear as a shadow.

Avoid harsh or direct sunlight, as this can cause severe shadowing called hatchet lighting.

If natural light is not an option, you can utilize a selfie ring light. Set the light to a warm, golden tone and position the ring light directly in front of your face with the camera in the middle. This will provide ample illumination and negate shadows.

Alternatively, you can hold a photo reflector in your lap to bounce light up to your face and eliminate shadows. Tinfoil or aluminum foil can also be used to accomplish the purpose.


Select a Proper Background

We’ve already mentioned that your background should not be distracting. A light-colored wall, photo backdrop, projector screen, or even a wrinkle-free bedsheet hung on a wall make ideal backgrounds.

If you use a patterned background, select something nondescript, like a brick, stone, or wood wall. You don’t want the distraction of your children’s photos, your kitchen, etc. in the background.

If you are taking your photo outdoors, set the camera’s parameters to create a shallow depth of field. This will keep your face in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. The “Portrait” mode on some cameras (and smartphones) will easily accomplish this.


Hire a Photographer

It is possible to create an outstanding CV photograph using the steps above. However, if you are having trouble getting your photo to look just right, consider hiring a professional photographer.

In addition to providing backgrounds and lighting equipment, your photographer will use a dedicated camera to take a high-quality image. A photograph taken in this way will always be crisper than one taken with a cell phone camera or a consumer-model point-and-shoot camera.

If you’re looking to hire a photographer on the cheap, look for local photo centers that produce passport photos. These photos will consist of a headshot with a plain white background.


In Conclusion

Your CV photo should be a headshot of you in formal office attire. Select a simple, plain background and make sure your face is well-lit with no shadows. Natural light from a window is best. When in doubt, hire a photographer.

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