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Professional Headshots for Team and Organizations

The Power of Expression in Your Headshots

By May 27, 2021September 17th, 2021No Comments

A headshot is all about communicating effectively in the blink of an eye. That’s why the power of expression in your headshots can be the difference between a potential client viewing you favorably or choosing to go with a competitor. No matter how quick the initial viewing of your headshot, your facial expression always stands out. If you were to see a headshot of someone who only speaks Mandarin, but they’re smiling in their photo, you may consider them approachable even if you don’t share a common language. That’s how important expression is!

No matter where in the world we are, or how many dialects we understand, facial expressions are a universal language. Through them, we can express love, happiness, approachability, and most of the alternatives on the emotional spectrum. Sometimes, we’re aware of what we’re expressing. This is great when you’re consciously trying to communicate how you’re feeling.

But what about those times when you’re not even aware that your face is twitching? Or you’re frowning when you’re trying to look calm and relaxed? Small facial movements can result in involuntary displays of emotion. But it all boils down to one very important question: Are you communicating what you want to communicate in your headshot?

As you create your new headshot with Heroic Headshots, we recommend you keep the power of expression in mind. Have you ever practiced a smile in the mirror then found that when it was time to recreate it in a photoshoot you just couldn’t? Luckily, with Heroic Headshots, you’ll be taking the photo yourself, so you’ll more easily capture those genuine facial expressions. 

What Are Facial Expressions?

When a person experiences an emotion, it can trigger an involuntary reaction expressed by changes in the facial muscles. These slight adjustments in proportion and relative position of the facial features are what make up an expression. The human face can make over 10,000 expressions!

However, there are six fundamental, universal facial expressions. In fact, these universal expressions are recognized even in remote tribes deep in the Amazon. These six primary expressions are happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, and disgust. Some people wonder about body language, and whether it has something to do with emotions, as well. Emotions are shown primarily on the face, not the body. As a result, the face is where the critical action is happening.

When it comes to faces, there are three types of signals they can send. There are static signals, like skin color, which are permanent aspects of the face. There are slow signals, like permanent wrinkles, that develop over time. Then there are rapid signals, where emotions happen. These are the quickest type of signal, and generally, only last a few seconds. In fact, you really have to be paying attention to catch them. Therefore, studying facial expressions is important. Especially if you want to be able to recreate a specific facial expression to convey emotion in your headshot. 

Harnessing the Power of Expression in Your Headshots

Facial expression in your headshots is extremely important. One way to practice different facial expressions when you take your photos is to use the “Three S” method. 

  • Serious
  • Smirk
  • Smile

The Three S method gives you a way to start from a relaxed place and then increase your range of expression gradually. Start slowly by taking a few photos with a serious or neutral expression. Don’t do too much with your face or eyes. Just take a breath, look into the camera, and think about one word you want people to feel about your image. 

After a few more photos, try smirking. A smirk is easy to do and brings a little more warmth to a headshot without feeling too forced. Next, try smiling. As soon as you feel your smile start to falter, let it go and run through the Three S method again. It may feel like you’re not doing much, but the difference between each subtle expression will really help. With a little work, you can look confident, competent, approachable, and trustworthy.


Happiness is one of the easiest emotions to read. For headshots, it’s a popular choice to make you appear warm, friendly, and approachable to clients and employers. Your facial expression in your headshots is what will convey meaning to those viewing you. So you want to get it right!

Happiness is shown in the lower face and the eyes. The brow and forehead are not involved in the facial expression of happiness. Thus, if you see some action in that facial region, there’s likely some other emotion at play! 

The main visual feature of happiness is the movement in the mouth. When real happiness is present, the corners of the lips are drawn back and slightly up. The lips can remain together in a smile. The mouth can appear open, lips parted with the teeth together in a grin. Alternatively, the mouth can be open with the teeth parted, to create a wide grin.

While the smile is the most known feature of happiness, the other aspects of the expression are important, too. They can help you determine the intensity of the emotion and whether it’s genuine or fake. 

We all have facial lines known as the nasolabial folds. These are wrinkle lines running from the nose, out and down to the area beyond the corners of the mouth. The parentheses of the mouth! While the position of the lips is the primary way to determine the intensity of the smile, these folds can also help. In fact, you can have the same intensity of smile with or without teeth showing. The way to tell how “real” a smile could be is by checking the depth of the nasolabial folds. The deeper the folds, the more intense the emotion. 

Expressing Genuine Emotion

With happiness, there is a lot of action around the eyes, as well. “Crow’s feet” is a wrinkling formed at the outer corner of the eyes associated with expressing joy. The cheeks become raised, the skin below the lower eyelid is pushed up, and lines are formed below the eye.

However, we all know smiles can be faked. Unfortunately, fake-looking smiles don’t convey any real emotion, making the image less meaningful to the subject. You haven’t projected a feeling they want to remember, but rather a hollow representation of an emotion. Not quite as awesome or eye-catching when you’re trying to land your dream job or win a client. 

But, luckily, there is a way to determine a real smile from a fake one. It was first discovered by French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne, and has since been named a “Duchenne smile.” This telltale smile involves both the zygomatic major muscle (the one that raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which circles the eye). Very few people can voluntarily contract the orbicularis oculi muscle, so it is seen as the indication of a genuine smile. 

Meanwhile, there are many indicators of a fake smile, especially in a headshot. The smile may be slightly asymmetrical, or it may be that there are contradictory expressions along with the smile (particularly in the brow/forehead area). Read on for some tips and tricks to capture a genuine smile in your heroic headshot. 

Tips & Tricks for Facial Expression in Your Headshots

These tips and tricks will help you get a great photo for your heroic headshot:

  • Smile with your whole face, not just your mouth. Your eyes will give you away if you are not being real! Try thinking of a memory that makes you laugh and hold that in your mind as you snap away.
  • Brighten your eyes by lifting your brows a bit. Be careful not to let it drift into a surprised look. Think about seeing someone you love unexpectedly. Your eyes will open a little wider, your smile will be authentic. Your ears will even lift a little, bringing a brighter look to your whole face.
  • Elongate your neck by thinking of the pose of a ballet dancer on stage. Focus on lengthening your spine, like there’s a string attached to the very top of your head, pulling up. 

Body Position

Body position lends a lot to the expression that will end up on your face. If you are sitting, sit up straight and roll your shoulders backward a couple of times to loosen them up and release any tension you’re carrying. Get set in your pose, then tip your chin up just a bit before the (phone) shutter snaps.

Turn your shoulder toward the camera, then turn your head to look over that shoulder toward whoever is taking the photo. You can even do this if you’ve set up your phone to take your photos yourself! Try a few shots with the camera set slightly above you to help hide any neck, jaw, or chin issues you may be concerned about. 

If you’re standing, stand slightly turned so that you are at an angle to the camera, and put your weight on your back foot. Try different angles to find your “best side.” Remember, since you’re not on a professional photographer’s schedule, you can take all the time you need to find the right angle! And check out these tips for more ideas on how to take a great photo at home

Getting Started

Expressions are such a fundamental part of photography that their study and appreciation can truly strengthen your images. Start taking a closer look at professional headshots of those in your industry. The more you can learn to differentiate those very subtle differences, the more you’ll understand people. And the better you can communicate the power of expression in your headshots, the better to connect to potential clients or employers. 

To prepare yourself for your new headshot, take a good look at yourself in the mirror. You can even take a few pictures with your phone when practicing your smiles. The purpose is to figure out which smile looks the most natural on you. Pay attention to the smallest details, such as how much you squint your eyes or the wrinkles on your forehead. 

Next, you also want to practice a more dramatic, serious facial expression. That way, you can determine which style would best fit your personal brand. If you’re not quite sure what type of smile works best for you, take a few options and compare. What emotion are you seeing? Remember that whether you smile or not, you should always communicate with your eyes.

Heroic Headshots

Before you start taking your photos, give some thought to how you want to pose and present yourself. We encourage you to try as many facial expressions as possible. It’s best to try different smiles as well. You can practice a big smile, a three-quarter one, a half-smile, and one with your mouth closed. 

Again, one of the benefits of creating your headshot with Heroic Headshots is that you aren’t under a time constraint. You can take as many photos as you’d like, then take a break and come back to it. Once you are ready, just purchase your individual or team plan from Heroic Headshots, and submit your photo(s). You can rest assured that our world-class editors and retouchers will return with a great headshot within 3 business days. So get started on capturing the power of expression in your headshots today! 

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