You've got 7 seconds.

The Mona Lisa, by Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci, is arguably the most popular headshot in the world.  Thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondoher, her smile is said to be “enigmatic” and “perplexing.”  I tend to agree with the experts on this characterization.  Lisa seems a little mysterious… and a little aloof. 

Why does everyone read her this way?  What is it about the Mona Lisa that has confounded people for centuries?

It’s simple: she isn’t really smiling.

If Lisa had a big old grin on her face, would the world have cared so much about her?  Probably not.  The lack of a real smile has basically made her famous. 

Where am I going with this?  Well, I am just wondering… are you like Lisa?

It is widely theorized that you only have 7 seconds to make a first impression.  That means, when people are looking at your headshot on your business card, on a sign, on a website, or on the side of car, they are going to decide whether or not they like you by the time you can say, “I wish I would have smiled.”

It stinks that people are like this, but it’s true.  I’ve molded my business around the fact that first impressions are incredibly important.  What people see in your headshot brands you and your business, whether you like it or not.  And if you aren’t smiling, then well, what are you saying?

Let me just say right here that there is a time and a place for a serious headshot.  Maybe you are a marksman for the CIA, or maybe a mob hitman.  In those cases, I’d say that a grimace or some sort of stone-cold countenance would be fitting. 

If, however, you are looking to come across as approachable, happy, and good at communicating, well then I think smiling is for you.  A smile is essential to a good headshot.  And no, you don’t have to be a toothbrush model to have perfect smile.  Your smile is perfect, whether you think so or not.  You might think your lips are too skinny, or your teeth aren’t straight enough, or your gums are too big.  But, I promise you, your smile is beautiful. 

It’s my job to position people in ways that make them feel comfortable.  Lighting plays an important role in this, and well, so do I.  I’m going to say you are handsome or gorgeous, because you are.  I see it.  Others see it.  And, I know I can bring it out of you so that you can see it, too.  If you feel awkward, your headshot will show it.  I’m not going to make you look fake or photo-shopped; there’s no substitution for real happiness in a photo.

But hey, if you don’t want to smile, then that’s up to you.  You’ll be sending a message to people that perhaps you aren’t friendly, or maybe you just want to be left alone.  I don’t know about you, but being approachable is pretty important in my business.  Is it important in yours?

If you aren’t sure, then just think about this: do you have the time for people to figure you out? 

Mona Lisa has had centuries, and people still don’t know. 

You’ve got 7 seconds.