5 Top Tips for Incredible Headshots Every Time


Headshots are arguably the unsung heroes of the photography world. They’re everywhere, from social media profiles and advertisements to portfolios and hanging on the walls of the home. These carefully crafted images didn’t take themselves, though.

If your headshot skills are a little wanting, there are a few tips you could take to improve your game. If you’re after magnificent snaps, for personal or professional reasons, follow these steps for a perfect shot every time.

1. Let the eyes be the stars

Eyes headshot tips Eyes headshot tips

As cliché as it may sound, eyes really are the windows to the soul. By creating a clear focus on them, this is a world of opportunities that can instantly draw in the attention of a viewer. If you want to capture a certain emotion it’s easy to do so.

Depending on the intended use of the images, you can convey a specific message. Want to create a professional looking photo? Focus on welcoming eyes that encourage contact. After a serious acting portfolio? Concentrate on targeting a stern appearance stemming from the eyes.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different poses, eye positioning, and lighting. After a few shots, you’ll know exactly what to do.

2. Think about light

Light headshots

It may sound rather obvious, but light can create a number of different variations of the same photo. The best photographers know how to use light to their advantage and create excellent works of art.

Again, this is largely dependent on the purpose of the shoot. Natural light and the outdoors are great for showcasing a genuine feel. Natural light can be powerful for achieving real-life situation photos. It will also allow you to grab an honest and genuine aura of the person.

Light headhsots

Artificial or studio light is an exceptional tool for providing a highly professional end result. You’ll be able to inject light where you see fit, creating a photo that screams professionalism. This is probably the better option for taking corporate headshots as it allows for a uniform lighting pattern amongst a team.

3. The lens is key

Lens headshots Lens headshots

You’re probably very familiar with your lenses but with so many available, it can sometimes be difficult to know which one will work for each shot. Generally speaking, headshots aim to achieve two things. Compliment the subject and grab a clear and concise image.

Even the best lenses on the market are vulnerable to distortion if used in the wrong way. Mid to wide angle options are best avoided, as headshots are taken within a fairly close range to the subject (they will create facial distortion).

Using a 90mm or longer telephoto lens will let you capture a stunningly clear image, with the added benefit of slimming the face, which most subjects would be thrilled with.

4. Capture the mood with your background

Backdrop headshots

Pathetic fallacy works on so many levels. Primarily used as a literary term for setting a mood or humanizing elements, the same criteria can be applied to the camera.

If your shoot is outdoors, you don’t have to do too much to convey the message. Typically speaking, you wouldn’t capture a happy face in the rain unless you were doing a contrast shoot. You’d wait until the weather brightens up and use the environment to further enhance the purpose of the image.

Backdrop headshots

Healthy trees and plants have lively connotations; a park can showcase a playful personality. There are literally thousands of ways you can use a backdrop to strengthen your headshots. Just be careful that the attention isn’t taken away from the subject, though.

5. Live the shoot as a director

Director headshots

As a photographer, you’re essentially the director of a film split into still photographs. This might not be completely for your benefit, but you’re the one who knows exactly how it should be done.

Of course, it’s important to listen to the subject’s requirements, but from there you are the captain. Dictate how the shoot goes. Explore different angles. You are the professional after all.

You’ll be working together to achieve the end goal. With your direction, knowledge, and experience, you’ll both get the best possible results.

Director headshot tips

It’s easy once you know how

Headshots are among the trickiest photographs to capture. A demand for perfection is there almost every single time. With so many variants to take into account, what works for one shoot may be completely wrong for another.

With a little thought and by leaning on your expertise, you’ll get incredible results. You’ll produce your best work and the subject will be more than happy. Everybody wins.

Please post any questions or share your images in the comments section below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

John Kemp of JK Photography is a professional photographer with over thirty years experience in the field. John both practices and teaches photography, passing on the knowledge he has gained down the years to budding shutterbugs.

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  • Marko


    great tips for a beginner photographer. What do you think of a 35mm 1,8 lens on a DX body for portraits?
    Here is a link to my photos on 500px. Ufnfortunately i can not upload those to this post (an error occurs, but i meet all the requirements).

    Feel free to comment :))


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  • mur_phy

    unfortunately, like so often one only gets a bit of the tips that may be useful but also unfortunately, there are many mistakes that are not beneficial to either the beginner nor the advanced photographer.

    Lets examine each of the images and try to lend some information that hopefully is useful to others viewing these tips. No examination of the actual tip is going to be done but the information is just to provide things portrait photographers should be cognizant of in creating images.

    1. the top left image — this lady has a great expression and as mentioned the eyes are expressive. However, it would be nice to have more body supporting the head.

    The male image to the right is not well exposed in the highlights and with men, it is always a good idea to pose the body about 2/3 to the camera position which this appear to be although more body supporting the head would be beneficial. Then the nicest way to present a male is with the head perpendicular to the shoulder line and in the same direction as the body. One of the major things this helps to do is to remove the far ear from view which helps both male and female subjects. In this particular case, the lob of the far ear appears to be showing and is almost the lightest and brightest object in the image.

    2. In this image much of what is said above related to men holds although the body position is almost there — turn a bit more to the 2/3 position in relation to the camera. Perhaps in this casual pose the shooting up is not recommended as the “superior” positioning just does not appear to be warranted.
    What, to me, is of more concern, is the strong stream of lights leading the viewers eye completely out of the frame to “nothingness”. Diagonal lines are great to use but at the end of the line should be something for the viewer to see which generally will be the centre of interest of the image where in the case of a portrait should be the subject.

    Let check out this very pretty lady that has a couple of issues. One of the most important things to keep in mind when photographing people is the concept of the Five Views of the Face. These are 1 Full Face, 2 2/3 views of the face and 2 Profiles.

    As mentioned most people don’t look ideal in full face but there can be times when that will work and is often done in groups or for a variety of reason but in this case, there is neither a full face nor a 2/3 view.

    To create a 2/3 view of a face, turn the head only as far as the nose come to the inner edge of the far eye and that no cutout can be seen on the edge of the far eye’s orbit. When the nose is turned to far, there will appear to be a cutout at the side of the head and the nose will elongate and not be representative of the subject. Sometimes, as in this subject’s case, going to the inner edge still is a bit too far but you can see that there is the beginning of a cutout on the far edge of the eye’s orbit.

    However, the elongation of the nose is quite evident and not attractive on such a pretty subject. Remember, the subject should be portrayed in the best lighting and posing possible to show the attractive characteristics of that subject unless for some reason one is trying to show the opposite which is not too often in a photographers lifetime.

    Mentioned in this commentary is information about masculine and feminine posting and while so often photographers can easily get enamoured with a pretty lady, more often most portrait photographers won’t have the beauty pageant girl but the neighbor next door. With the former often what will still make that subject attractive simply won’t work with the latter so it is generally better to try to photograph either with the best posing and lighting techniques available and in this case the hand, body position, facial view, cropping and head position in the frame all need to be addressed.

    3. Both of these men have the same issues as mentioned above — heads and bodies directly facing the camera and both ears showing.

    4. I am not sure what the mode nor what the background actually is but from this one almost sees the “feminine” pose which is body 2/3 to the camera and the weight distributed to the back (same for men) and the head turned and tilted toward the high shoulder. From this image and if doing a similar image to an older or heavy female, the viewer can see the unflattering rendering of the skin around the neck,

    The lady has what relation to the background? I know – was not going to comment on the main topic but this really is a big question mark. However, again more head support would be good. This concept does not mean the photographer can’t creatively crop and cut into heads and body parts but this is not what is being done. Perhaps the image here could be tilted but the major issue is the background which is so overly lit that the eye does not go to the subject but rather has no choice but to continually return to the bright areas. Perhaps a better background that would tell the story could be chosen, tone down the background in post processing and add a vignette???

    5. With the first image, everything above will also hold here but add to the cropping or positioning of the subject,

    The second man — again the highlights are not well defined and in fact, by reducing exposure the large ear could be reduced in emphasis but even better is at the time of exposure when the photographer encounters a subject with protruding ears, just use a “gobo” which will block light from a portion of the image or again in post processing, simply darken that area. Also this subject is being photographed with a hand. Keep in mind that the back of a hand like the palm of the hand are not particularly photogenic and should be avoided under most circumstances. Also, it is best to pose the subject with the hand closest to the lens being the posing or support hand in the image. Otherwise this has a nice facial view.

    Hopefully this information can be of assistance to photographers who are going to be creating images of men, women and children.

  • Claire

    Thanks for your interesting comments! Your observations are very helpful.

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  • MickMJM

    Really helpful article. Thank you.

  • Dave

    Thanks for that breakdown mur_phy. Your descriptions are much more critical (not criticising) and provide a good balance to the generic nature of the article.

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