• Follow proven data to take a favorable photo.
  • Test different looks from a shoot to find the most impactful image.
  • Keep your photo current.

It takes about 40 milliseconds for a person to draw conclusions about you based on your headshot.

The headshot plays one of the most vital roles in the overall scheme of marketing for a real estate agent. It will be the image from which people form an impression of you before they get a chance to meet you in person.

Far more people will see your photo than will ever actually meet you; they might refer you to family or friends based entirely on their perceived comfort level with you, and that can weigh heavily on your headshot.

What about those farming postcards? Your website? Digital paid campaigns? Your email signature? As a real estate agent, your photo is being used all the time as the face of your brand.

Logic would then indicate that a lot of thought should go into not only choosing the right photograph but also taking the right photo. This isn’t just a “step into the studio and pick the best one” type of affair. One would be surprised at how many headshots are missing the mark.

During my most recent photo shoot, I was determined to go about creating the optimal headshot based on data and not just what I thought looked the best. For this, I turned to proven research and a platform that helps you receive statistically accurate data on how your headshot and profile photo rank in key areas.

These three areas, as defined by PhotoFeeler, are:

  • competence
  • likability
  • influence

In a combination of research from PhotoFeeler and a study at the University of New York, scientific data showed where the biggest gains could be achieved with positive feedback toward a headshot. Below are some of the top conclusions from this data.

10 key components to a successful headshot

1. No eye obstruction

Whether it’s sunglasses or some other object, the conclusion is clear that when your eyes are blocked in any fashion, likability suffers dramatically.

Most real estate agents won’t fall prey to the desire to retain some cool factor with sunglasses, but hey, you never know. If you wear glasses for sight, make sure they are clear and that the frame does not obstruct.

2. Slight eye squinting

Simply put, a slight squint of your eyes conveys comfort and confidence. Wide-open eyes give off a sense of fear. You benefit all around with a good squint.

3. Defined jawline

Lighting that accentuates the shape of your jawline prompted increases in all three categories. If you have a shadow that needs to be darkened under your chin, a tweak in Photoshop can help solve that.

4. Smile with teeth

Smiling, especially with your teeth showing, will go a long way in improving all three areas. A closed-mouth smile tends to have about half the effect on likability.

A laughing smile will yield even greater likability, but it also makes you suffer slightly in competence and influence.

5. Dress formal

To the surprise of researchers, dress had the biggest gains in influence and competence. Fortunately for those in real estate, dressing formally is fairly standard in headshots.

A missing tie or jacket would hurt on formality, as well as more trendy fashion-forward looks. Seems as though the timeless look wins here.

6. Proper framing

Overly close-up and full-body shots ranked the worst. Shots of the head and shoulders or from the waist up fared the best. In my own testing, I polled the same photo with better framing, and the results were significantly better.

7. Natural color

I imagine this isn’t a problem with most agents, but over-processed photos do not help your ratings. This means oversaturation, vignetting or other cross processing. Surprisingly, there is no real difference between black and white and full-color. Keep the color natural.

8. True to real life

Have you ever met a broker with a 15-year-old photo of his or her younger self? Work on keeping your photo up to date.

It’s not only misleading, but age can also show experience. Embrace it. Have you also had a significant change in your look as of late? Shaved facial hair, new hair style, etc.? Get some new headshots done.

9. Clarity

In my own tests, an unclear (blurry) photo adversely affected ratings. Make sure your photo has a good resolution.

10. Generous light

Finally, ensure your face is well-lit and does not contain an abundance of shadows. No dramatic lighting.

Below is an example of my headshot testing. Feel free to use it to help you get the best shot of your own.


Now that you know all about headshots and what scores best, you are ready for your close-up.

Preston Zeller is a real estate broker and digital marketer with M Realty. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

Email Preston Zeller.

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