Starting a practice
How to plan and shoot therapist headshots
Getting a great therapist photo requires a bit of strategy — but don’t stress. You won’t need any fancy tools, and you don’t even have to hire a pro if it’s not in the budget.
Pictures, as you know, are worth a thousand words — and that’s especially true in the mental health field. Before a potential client reads your bio or scans your credentials, they’ll see your headshot on your website or a directory profile.
The right photo can go a long way in forging a connection. “Headshots can immediately cause someone to feel a sense of connection with you, opening them up to learn more about you and start the process of becoming your client,” says Ryan Schwartz, CEO of Mental Health Match.
Like any marketing in your practice, getting a great therapist photo requires a bit of strategy — but don’t stress. You won’t need any fancy tools, and you don’t even have to hire a pro if it’s not in the budget.
Key takeaways for great therapist headshots
- What to wear: You want to look like you! Wear whatever you’d wear in a session, keeping in mind your headshot is from the shoulders up.
- What tech to use: While a ring light can come in handy, you don’t need any fancy or expensive tools to get a great shot.
- Lighting: Try standing in front of a window on a sunny day when you’re taking a photo or using a ring light. Watch out for shadows!
- Backdrop: Taking photos in your office can help you feel more comfortable — and give potential clients an idea of your space before reaching out. Outdoors is a great option, too!
- Poses: Act natural! No, seriously, try to relax — you want to come across warm and authentic, so do whatever makes you feel most comfortable in a picture.
Headway is a free service that makes it easier and more profitable for therapists and psychiatrists to accept insurance.
Why your headshots matter
A great headshot is a more-than-worthwhile investment for any mental health professional. Your picture will ultimately live on your website, social media, and on your therapy directory profiles, and it’s often the first point of contact a potential client has with you.
So it’s important you not only have a professional-feeling photo, but one that tells prospective clients a lot about you.
“Everyone is looking for something different in a therapist, but ultimately, the headshot should capture your personality and the way you want to be seen by clients,” says Becca Miller, a professional photographer who takes therapist headshots as a passion project.
Along with making a great first impression, your photo is a quick way to help people parse through therapist options that make them feel most comfortable — many people are seeking a therapist of a certain demographic (think age, gender, or race).
Signs your headshot might need some improvement
The number one sign your headshot may not be working for you? Business is slow. “If you’re not getting enough clients, your headshot is a great thing to look at,” says Becca.
A few quick ways to tell you might need a new photo:
- Your face bleeds off the edge because you cropped someone out of the picture
- There are harsh shadows on our face
- You don’t look friendly and warm (or you look overly stiff and business-y)
- The photo is blurry, grainy, or unfocused
- There’s a disconnect between how you want to be perceived as a therapist and how your photo looks or feels
Not sure if you’re using the right photo? Enlist the support of people you trust — maybe a colleague or close friend can give you honest feedback about whether your picture truly represents you, and suggestions of how to tweak it.
So, what makes a great headshot?
A great headshot involves lots of components — some are non-negotiable, and some you can personalize depending on your budget and how you want to come across to potential clients.
Shadowy, dark pictures can make for cool portraits, but you probably don’t want to come off as mysterious to your potential therapy clients. Becca says the best headshots are well-lit, with diffused lighting (basically, a large area of bright light) from the front. If you’re worried about lighting, a photographer can help you find the right angles to avoid shadows. If you’d rather take a photo yourself, stand in front of a window on a sunny day or use a selfie light. “Just make sure you don’t see the reflection of the ring light in your eyes,” says Becca.
What to wear (and how to handle hair and makeup)
It can’t hurt to coordinate your colors with your background, but there’s not necessarily a “best color for headshots.” What you decide to wear truly depends on your personality. If you’re going to show up in a blazer to sessions, then wear one in your photo. But if you’re typically more casual, that’s a good thing to exude to your potential clients (so stick with a t-shirt).
“Whatever your vibe is, take that to 11 in your photo,” suggests Becca. The important thing is to choose clothes, hair, and makeup that make you feel like you — otherwise, you might appear stiff, awkward, or unapproachable.
Backdrop and setting
You have a few options when it comes to your headshot backdrop: outside or inside. In general, Becca recommends against studio photos, as they can come across as cold. She prefers taking photos in therapist’s offices, because it gives an idea of the provider’s personality and space (and there’s usually better light).
If your office doesn’t have great light, you want a softer, more casual feel, or you just like nature, then you can also take a photo outside. Again, the important thing is to choose a location that makes you feel comfortable and confident.
If you’re not comfortable taking pictures, Becca says it may help to sit down for your headshot. “You can sit back, cross your legs, hold your notebook, or whatever you need to do to drop into your body, and you’ll end up looking more comfortable,” she says.
As for poses, you have lots of choices. A photographer can help guide you if needed. But if you need inspiration, here are a few ideas:
- Sitting down on a sofa, leaning forward with your hands in your lap
- Sitting down on a chair, turned slightly sideways, with your hands on the arm of the chair
- Standing up with your arms crossed
No matter how you pose, remember, the key is to look natural and not stiff — so aim for a posture or stance that makes you feel most like yourself.
Professional headshots vs. DIY
With professional headshots, you’ll get lots of options to choose from. Your photographer can suggest poses and backdrops, and they’ll also edit the pictures to appear professional and crisp. But working with a professional is an investment, costing up to several hundred dollars, depending on how much time you spend taking photos and how many picture options you want. “Consider a professional shot if your niche clients are very professional or have high professional expectations,” Ryan says.
A casual DIY photo can be just as powerful, or even more powerful, than a professional one, says Ryan, making you seem more relatable and authentic. They’ll definitely be cheaper, which is appealing when you’re starting a private practice and want to invest your startup money in your office space or other forms of marketing. Just bear in mind you may have to fiddle with your phone and take a few rounds of photos before you find one you like, along with potentially investing in a ring light if you don’t have great natural lighting.
How to take a headshot with an iPhone
Yes it’s possible to take a great headshot on an iPhone — or any personal device! All the same advice above applies — but instead of relying on a pro to take a photo of you, you’ll be doing it yourself. Before you take your headshot, it can help to get familiar with your phone.
Rather than taking a straight-up selfie, stabilize your phone using a tripod — they’re relatively inexpensive and can help your photo feel more professional. You can also invest in a bluetooth remote you click to take a photo when you’re ready.
Portrait mode focuses on your face and blurs out the background, which can make for a professional-feeling headshot. Becca recommends adjusting the background blur if needed. Before you take the picture, tap the “f” in the top right corner, then adjust the focus up or down.
If you want to take several photos at once, use burst mode. Try taking 10–15 photos with your remote and review them so you can adjust your lighting and poses accordingly.
If you’d rather not invest in equipment, Becca recommends downloading a free app called LensBuddy, which allows you to set a timer and take a burst of photos with your front or back camera.
Artificial intelligence can be a cost-effective way to generate headshots that look like you, based on a few existing photos. Keep in mind, though, that AI isn’t perfect, and sometimes pictures come out looking weird or warped (you may not even notice, but your potential clients might). Plus, there’s the question of ethics. If your goal is to forge an authentic connection with people in need of mental health support, it’s likely a better idea to use a real, human photo.
It definitely takes time (and maybe a little money) to take an effective therapist headshot, but the payoff will be worth it: You’ll set yourself apart as a mental health professional and, hopefully, meet your business goals so you can offer your support to people who need it.