Creating beautiful headshots can seem like a daunting prospect. To have one person in front of your camera, looking to you for direction and positivity, can be tough. Plus, people are generally very critical of themselves when in front of the camera and can feel very nervous.
However, there are some simple things that you can do to make headshots a lot easier for everyone.
So here are 10 tips to help you photograph headshots:
1. Have a pre-session consultation
Before your session, make sure you know how the images will be used and what style your subject would like. You can have this “pre-session consultation” on the phone or face-to-face. Talking to your subject will help them relax so much more than an email, and a consultation will allow you to help them prepare for the session.
Make sure they know what to expect and are as relaxed as possible.
Find out what profession your subject is involved in; a corporate lawyer may opt for a clean white background look (above), while a more relaxed style of business (e.g., a yoga instructor) may prefer a more colorful, environmental image (below). Find out in the consultation what they want so you are prepared on the day.
2. Help your subject choose the right clothes
Generally speaking, solid, neutral colors work best for headshots, as you want to avoid anything that distracts from people’s faces.
If you’re looking to achieve a formal style, make sure that everyone gets the message and remembers to bring formal work clothes with them. Men often forget their jackets, so for a consistent look, try to have a spare one on hand, even if you need to clip it at the back.
If you know you’ll have lots of time with a person, get them to bring a few items of clothing. Remind them to iron their clothes, as well.
Here are some examples of good clothing choices:
3. Create separation from the background
For great headshots, make sure your subject doesn’t stand too close to the background.
If you are using a studio background (or the wall in an office) and you position someone close to it, you may see shadows on the wall, which makes the images look less professional.
For environmental headshots outdoors, I still recommend separation from the background. The resulting bokeh will create a nice, nondescript background, especially when you shoot at a wide aperture. Typically, I aim for an aperture of f/4 for environmental and natural light sessions, and f/8 for studio-style sessions with lights.
4. Starting the session
Whether you are photographing headshots for a single person or a whole team, make sure you have a general chat with each person first to help them relax.
This can be just a 10-second, confident handshake and a “How are you?” People generally feel very nervous about having their photograph taken, and talking about something within their comfort zone (where they live, if they have children or pets, etc.) will really help them to become (and to appear!) more comfortable.
5. Silly faces!
A great way of helping people relax in front of the camera – especially if you don’t have much time with them – is to ask them to pull a funny face for the first frame.
Use this as a lighting test for a new person, as well. It’s a great way to break the ice, and very few people will refuse to do it. Once your subject has pulled a silly face, everything else is easy!
6. Lighting and positioning
For business and actors’ headshots, I tend to light quite evenly. There are a few circumstances where the images are low-key, but for the most part, they are evenly lit. A classic beauty lighting setup works well, with one light above and a second light, or a reflector, supplying fill light from below.
Ensure the subject is turned with their body 45 degrees away from the camera and toward the main light source (if your lighting allows for this). Their face should be pointed straight toward the camera. You may need to guide people to look straight down the lens. It’s surprising how many people look off-camera, at the flash, or somewhere random.
7. Sit people down
People may be more comfortable sitting down, and by asking them to rest their hands on the tops of their thighs, it gives them something to do with their hands. It also ensures that the subjects all know where they need to be, and that they don’t move around too much.
8. It’s all about the little adjustments
What separates a great headshot from an average one is generally very small changes. These little adjustments can make all the difference. The slight tilt to the head, leaning forward, a gentle but intriguing smile. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to make very specific changes to their expression and position until you get the image you’re looking for.
9. Keep talking and be positive
When you’re in the midst of taking photographs, make sure that you keep talking to your subject. Reassure them that they’re doing it right and you’re getting great images.
Even if you’re not satisfied with the images you get when your subject turns their head in a certain direction or when the light falls in a bad way, never express those feelings. Silence will kill the atmosphere, so no matter what is happening, just keep chatting and being positive.
10. Shoot tethered
If you have all the necessary equipment, shooting tethered is a fantastic way to get great headshots. When people see a couple of shots on the screen, they can very quickly get an idea of what needs to be changed. The immediate feedback from the screen will help everyone massively.
Photographing great headshots: conclusion
I hope you find these tips for better headshots helpful.
Do you have any other tips we missed? Please share them – and your favorite headshot photos – in the comments below!
On Pinterest? Here’s an image to pin.
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 10 Tips for Photographing Great Headshots
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES