If you’re trying to make a career as a professional photographer, it’s important to know how to take a good headshot. A headshot is a picture which mainly focuses on a person’s face. Actors, models, and other performers use headshots when they are booking a client or signing with an agency, but you may be approached by other professionals who want to use their headshot on social media or in trade publications. By listening to your client, using the right camera settings and equipment, choosing flattering lighting, and doing a little minor editing, you’ll get a great headshot the client will love.
EditConsulting With the Client
- Talk about expectations. Ask your client how they plan on using their headshots. The tone of the photo will depend on the type of image they want to project. A headshot for a model to take to an agency, for instance, should be very minimal, while an actor’s headshot might show a little more personality, and you might choose an informal, relaxed setting with props for a small business owner who wants a picture for their website.
- Listen to the words they use to describe themselves. This will help you understand the tone they have in mind. Words like “professional”, “approachable”, “fresh”, and “versatile” all convey different emotion. Think about how you can use your client’s facial expressions and body language to bring their vision to life.
- Offer makeup and wardrobe suggestions. Some everyday makeup trends don’t translate well to camera. Recommend clean, simple makeup that showcases the subject’s natural appearance. Clothing should be simple, flattering, and non-distracting, and jewelry should be minimal.
- Suggest colors that will complement the client’s skin tone. For instance, subjects with medium or dark skin often look great in bold, bright shades that contrast with their coloring, while clients with fair skin might look best in a darker color.
- Recommend that your clients be comfortable. A photo shoot is no time for ill-fitting clothes or tight shoes. If your subject feels uncomfortable, it will show in the picture. Suggest that your client avoid clothes which made from scratchy or clingy materials.
- Tell your client to drink plenty of water. Hydration is important to giving skin a healthy glow. The subject should also avoid soda or alcohol and greasy, salty foods the days of the shoot, as these can make a person look bloated and tired. Instead, recommend that they eat a light, healthy meal beforehand so they’ll have plenty of energy.
- Choose the perfect time for the shoot. Try to find a day when the subject has plenty of free time. Being rushed on the way to or from the shoot might cause your client to feel stressed, and this can show in the final photograph.
- If you’re shooting outside, think about the lighting at different times of day. Try to schedule the shoot for the first hour of the day after sunrise or the last hour before the sun sets. This is known as the golden hour because of the beautiful glow it gives to photographs.
EditGetting Ready for the Shoot
- Choose a simple backdrop. The focus should be on the client’s face, not on what’s behind them, so choose a plain backdrop. Opt for something in either a solid color or with a minimalist design. If you’re shooting outside, use a wide aperture to blur the background.
- Avoid wide-angle lenses. Lenses with wider angles can distort a person’s face. Instead, use a lens with a narrow focus to slim your subject’s face. Look for a lens with a large aperture and a small f-number.
- An aperture of f/4 is good for natural light, while f/8 is usually best for studio lighting.
- Set your camera’s ISO at 100 and the shutter speed at 1/200th or 1/250th of a second. The ISO determines the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. A lower setting means less sensitivity to light and a finer grain in your photograph, which will help create a crisp image.The shutter speed determines how much light is let into the photograph. The measurement indicates how long the shutter is open (1/250th of a second, for instance). Faster shutter speeds are good for capturing fast motion, while slower speeds are usually used for creative photography. Normal range is considered 1/30th to 1/250th sec.
- Set your main light above and slightly to the left of your client. Using a reflector directly across from the main light will fill in shadows on the face, creating a soft, flattering appearance. Eliminate shadows on the backdrop by pointing a light behind the subject.
- Diffuse the flash. Having the flash hit the face directly can be too harsh. Diffuse the flash by using a softbox or umbrella, or by bouncing the flash off of a nearby wall. This will cause the light the wash across the face in a more flattering way.
EditShooting the Subject
- Use an ice-breaker to make the client feel comfortable. If your subject feels nervous or self-conscious, it will show in the picture. Start with an ice-breaker, like making silly faces or standing in exaggerated poses. Try this while you’re shooting your lighting test.
- Be positive. Most people aren’t used to having their pictures taken, so keep your tone encouraging, and keep the conversation going through the shoot.
- Try to capture what makes your client unique. Everyone has gestures and facial expressions which are unique to them. Animated expressions are best for headshots, so talk to your client about different topics to see what they’re passionate about, then shoot the results.
- Ask questions about what the subject likes to do in their free time, as well as their job, their family, and their pets. When you hit on a subject they seem interested in, ask them more about it. For instance, talk to a dog lover about which parks in the city are the most dog-friendly, or ask a music lover about any shows they’ve seen recently.
- Share funny stories from your photography experience to put your client at ease. Just be sure to never badmouth a former client – that always comes across as unprofessional!
- If the energy in the room seems to drop, suggest a wardrobe change or come up with a new pose to shake things up a little.
- Shoot from above the subject for the most flattering angle. In general, a top-down shot is the most flattering, as it eliminates the look of a double chin. Have the client tilt their forehead slightly forward, which strengthens the look of the jawline.
- In some cases, shooting up from the bottom can convey strength and authority. Practice a few shots to see if you can find the angle you like.
- Try sitting, standing, and leaning poses to see which look the most natural. Sometimes, subtle changes can make a big difference. Make slight adjustments to the subject’s posture and the angle of their head as needed between shots.
- Folded arms can convey strength, but it can also look very stiff, especially in women. Try asking them to drop the shoulder closest to the camera for a more natural look.
- Action shots can demonstrate a person’s profession. Show them holding a prop or acting out something they would do at work.
- Try turning the body to a 45 degree angle with the subject’s head facing directly at the camera.
EditEditing the Photo
- Print a contact sheet. This is a page with thumbnail images of the photos you have taken. Go over them with your client, and see which pictures you both agree are the best.
- Stick to minimal edits. You can change the white balance, tweak tones, and remove blemishes or stray hairs, but you don’t want the finished product to appear too edited. A headshot should be an accurate representation of your client.
- Shoot your headshots in color unless your client asks for black and white. Black and white has become less popular for headshots in the past few years, but they are experiencing some resurgence, especially on social media. Ask your client what they prefer, and try different versions of the same shot to see which you like.