Your Headshot: Is serious or smiling better?

A couple of weeks ago I bought an audio book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards. Ms. Van Edwards is a social scientist and the book’s purpose is to help create a manual for social hacks and teach how to effectively network and understand human behavior (in case you’re wondering why I was interested, I am actually an extremely introverted person when it comes to being in large group settings…).

Within the first few chapters of the book, Van Edwards sited a study where participants were shown 4 faces in rapid succession, all smiling, but one was a genuine smile and the others were fake smiles. I can’t remember the exact statistics but it was something like 96% of the study participants selected the face with the real smile. Then she went on to talk about the chemical effects on your brain when it sees a genuine smile… and yup, you guessed it, a serotonin hit. In other words, the same chemical reaction that causes us to get addicted to social media likes.


rachel neville dance photo headshot
Christina Clark, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville
I’m guessing right now you’re having the ‘ah ha!!!’ moment that I did when I heard this! So not only can our audiences (insert artistic directors, casting agents, etc etc) smell a fake smile coming from a mile away, but when they are served up with a real smile, they get a hit of serotonin and their brains make an automatic positive connection with us.   How valuable is that information when it comes to our industry???

Does that mean you should always choose a headshot with a genuine smile?

So guys, while I don’t market to my audience that I shoot headshots, I do take dance headshots as part of our photography sessions for individual dancers, as well as for dance companies and corporate clients (in other words, I do tons of headshots every year).  Does everyone look great with a giant smile? Objectively, I have to say, of course not. Most of us don’t like ourselves with a big toothy grin. However, 8 out of 10 genuine smiles are given with teeth… just a little food for thought.

Shannon calamus marsh for potency what substances Harkins, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville

I’ve been telling my clients for years that you need to pick the right headshot for the job. Most people gravitate towards others who look like themselves. Your job is to research the companies you wish to audition for and find out what type of headshots those people gravitate towards.

But when it comes to a smiling headshot, it may be better to choose one with a genuine, happy expression and worry less about whether you like your mouth at that angle.

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