In this guide, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about casual headshots.
We’ll be covering the following topics:
What is a Casual Headshot?
Casual headshots can basically be described as a portrait taken of yourself and your gear in a casual setting.
These shots are usually captured in natural lighting and tend to focus on the character or their equipment worn instead of placing the character front and center with dramatic wardrobe, makeup, and/or posing.
At its most basic level, these types of photos are simple snapshots that might be taken for social media pages, character reference sheets, or other purposes.
In some circles, being able to take casual headshots is a mark of someone who has enough skill (or at least experience and practice) to do so without making basic mistakes like excessive reflectivity on certain clothing items and incorrect lighting.
With that said, there are always exceptions to the rule and some people do make them look easy!
Casual Headshot vs. Professional Headshot
Since there are no real rules for casual headshots, often times the only thing that separates a casual headshot from a full-fledged photo shoot is the time and effort put into it.
If you see a character or person posing in front of a green screen with dramatic lighting, odds are very good that those pictures were not snapped during an off-the-cuff afternoon.
A casual headshot will most likely not be part of a full spread or portfolio, but it certainly can be!
What is the Point of Casual Headshots?
Some people who are not professional actors seek out agency headshots at their local portrait studio with the hopes that they might land an audition for something down the road.
In that case, it is definitely a good idea to invest in a decent shoot that will include wardrobe changes and retouching.
Casual headshots are not always about getting work as an actor or model though!
Casual headshots can be captured as simple concepts for characters from fanfiction, comics, YouTube videos, short films, stories, etc.
What are the Rules of Casual Headshots?
In an age where there are practically no rules, sometimes it can still be overwhelming to try and break into this style of photography.
If you want to give it a shot yourself or enlist a friend or family member to help out, what should you keep in mind?
Lighting can be a very important element in casual headshots.
It is often advised to use natural lighting whenever possible since it tends to look the most flattering and professional.
Artificial light can also work but if your character or gear has a reflective surface, try to avoid harsh reflectivity that will reflect too much light on their face/body parts and make it impossible for you to blend into your background.
Reflectivity can be a wonderful thing, but subtlety is key.
Backgrounds should also be kept as natural as possible.
While green screens and professional studios are not required, they certainly won’t hurt if that floats your boat!
Again, the point of casual headshots is to keep things simple, so if you can find a nice balance between photo-realistic and fantasy without too many distractions, you’re probably doing well.
There are no rules about what kind of clothing your character should wear in casual headshots, but common sense says it is best not to make their outfit the focus of the photo.
A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple and avoid clothing with metallic surfaces, high sheen, or excessive reflectivity.
Consider the character’s personality for ideas too; if they are into having fun with fashion (i.e. color-coordinating outfits, accessorizing with quirky pieces), then go crazy!
If they like to keep it simple, they might look better in more muted colors.
What Not to Do: A Few Don’ts
The biggest mistake you can make when taking casual shots is to assume they will be taken as seriously as studio or headshot images.
Casual photos may be used for completely different purposes than a traditional headshot, and many times they are going to be used in a smaller size where detail is lost.
If that’s the case then why bother taking them?
The answer is that casual headshots can also help you build your portfolio as it is a fun way to expand what you normally do as a model, cosplayer, or costumer.
Also, these types of images are not necessarily any less challenging than a “serious” portrait.
Great photos are great photos no matter what the subject is, so why not give yourself the opportunity to have some fun?
What to Do: A Few Dos
On the other hand, you should also consider that because these are casual headshots they can also be useful as you can set up your camera and shoot them without assistance or direction from others.
This means that you can shoot at home instead of having to go out to a studio and pay for time there.
Casual Headshot Tips and Tricks
1. Clean and Not Cluttered
One important thing to remember is that if you are going to set up your own shots you should make sure the environment where you are taking them is clean and not cluttered.
If you’re trying to take a photo of yourself in front of some cool graffiti but there’s tons of trash on the ground then it will likely detract from the scene instead of adding interest to it.
If your background or surrounding scene is too busy and complicated it can be hard to get a headshot that focuses attention on you while you’re wearing your costume.
It is usually best if the background, lighting, and pose (if applicable) all come together in harmony and complement each other similarly enough that they do not overpower the model or their attire.
One way to combat busy backgrounds is to use simple backdrops or pose against a blank wall.
Some photographers will use their garage door or even the side of a box as they know it will be easy to remove later in image editing.
2. Keep It Lighthearted
The number one tip is to have fun! If you are looking at your photos and you think, “Well…that’s okay I guess,” or they “look cool but I can’t really tell what my face looks like” then you are not getting the most out of your time.
Casual photos are meant to be fun, so try not to stress too much about how serious they look because it’s unlikely anyone else will either!
Where Can Casual Headshots Be Used?
Many times these types of photos are used on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
What Should You Wear In a Casual Headshot?
Casual headshots can be used anywhere you want to show off your personality or an idea of who you might be.
Pretty much any casual outfit that’s something special to you or that fits your theme can work great for these types of photos!
Sometimes people will even shoot multiple versions of a casual headshot with different articles of clothing so they have one version “dressed up” and another dressed down, but the same type of casual.
Casual Headshot Costs
The biggest difference between casual and traditional headshots is that there is no need to book a studio or hire a professional for these.
If you have your own camera and tripod you can set up shots wherever makes sense: outside, inside, at home, etc.
If you do want to hire a professional headshot photographer, search for ones in your area and let them know the look you are going for.
Where Can You Find a Casual Headshot Photographer?
There are plenty of talented photographers who specialize in both types of photos.
Just remember that hiring someone to help you get the best images possible is not just about their portfolio or experience, but also how they work with you and your ideas.
A quick search for headshot photographer in your area will suffice.
When reaching out to them, let them know you want a casual session and I’m sure they will be more than happy to accommodate.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on casual headshots.
This guide is also a part of our Headshot Photography Tips Hub, so be sure to check that out for further headshot tips and insights.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.