Headshot photography involves a portrait picture with a particular focus on the person’s face.
The image itself includes the main subject, starting from their head to shoulders, with their preferred scenery as a backdrop.
To achieve the best first impression, every individual with a platform needs a quality headshot, especially for their profile picture.
In other words, everyone is always in need of a high-quality headshot, so if you can master your headshot photography technique, it can drive a lot of business for you!
We’ll be covering the following sections (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
1. Understanding Your Client’s Needs
As basic as it may sound, listening to, and meeting your client’s expectations is crucial!
Rally as much information as you can.
Start with the fundamental questions about the theme of their headshot photograph.
Use all of the information you can get to create a rough sketch of how their portrait would look. For example, if the client tells you they want a headshot for their LinkedIn – then you might already picture them wearing a nice dress shirt with a white background.
Then slowly ask more detailed questions regarding how formal or unconventional they want their headshot to be.
Is this headshot for personal or professional use?
Uncover what meaning they want to attach to their headshots.
These detailed questions will help to make that sketch clearer and give you an upper hand in deciding on the type of headshot photography lighting you would need.
As with most other situations, clear and effective communication will become your best ally.
It gives you insights into potential poses and venues needed for the shot and positions you as a professional.
Don’t forget to make sure that both parties are on the same page!
2. Have a Pre-Session Consultation
Before the session begins, a consultation is necessary.
Consultations should clear up any potential misunderstandings between the client and the photographer.
Clothing plays a big part in headshot photography and is one of the things that need to be discussed or adjusted during the consultation.
For example, do they want a headshot that conveys happiness, or one that is a bit moodier?
Also as a side note, you should consider renting a studio with air conditioners to make sure that your client is comfortable throughout the session.
3. A Small Outfit Adjustment
Not everyone will be conveniently dressed for the perfect shot, so it’s perfectly fine to give them a suggestion based on the theme they are going for.
For starters, using some solid neutral colors that aren’t too flashy and bright is always a good idea.
Keep in mind that the main focus of headshot photographs is the face of your client.
To further explore the subject of outfits, we also recommend this video by David Suh!
Colors, brands, and patterns that are too flashy or attract too much attention should be avoided unless they fit the client’s theme.
Although optional, preparing a short guideline for fashioning future headshot photography would be desirable and add professionalism to your craft.
4. Be Flexible and Creative!
Not all headshot photography needs to be done in a studio with a formal backdrop.
Have fun and explore different scenery that may work in your client’s favor.
By adapting to the client’s requests to current situations, photographers can allow themselves the freedom to be extremely versatile.
Some photographers may be forced to adapt and run their photography businesses from home.
Maybe you can offer your full photo editing services at a lower price, since a full photography session may not be an option right now.
The sky truly becomes the limit, as long as you are willing to be flexible.
5. Prepare All of the Essentials
Prepare some extra tools for the session, such as a mirror, a comb, or other equipment that has been asked for during the pre-session consultation.
If the client is representing a brand, it may be possible for some props/accessories to be worn as long as it doesn’t ruin the composition or take up too much space.
The focus should be on the model and not the accessories.
But, depending on the agreement during the consultation, these are still subject to change.
6. Prepare a Plan B
Nothing is guaranteed to go entirely according to your expectations.
If you are not in a studio, uncontrollable factors such as weather, lighting conditions, or even the sudden appearance of a crowd could disrupt your session.
Make sure to have a backup plan before conducting a session!
Maybe choose a location with a studio open for rent around two blocks away; you can never go wrong with going out prepared!
In the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail!
7. Keep the Client Comfortable
When a person feels uncomfortable, their expression becomes stiffer and forced.
To ensure that the client remains comfortable throughout the session, prepare some water, and keep a casual conversation going.
Take the lead and guide them through the session, especially if it’s their first time doing it.
People dislike doing things wrong or causing unnecessary inconvenience, and these feelings make them anxious.
First-timers in any field or activity will have this same emotion, which is perfectly natural!
If some comforting is in order, do not hesitate to do so!
8. Keep Your Cool and Relax
The thought of having to retake the same pose over and over will make most beginners feel uncomfortable.
What begins as a small, awkward start can become increasingly uncomfortable, and the pressure builds upon your shoulders to take the best photos you can.
Check out this video by Louise Glendon on dealing with pre-shoot nerves.
But don’t worry, every photographer goes through the same thing.
Try talking to the client and being honest about how you feel; throw some jokes in the mix to lighten up the mood!
If all else fails, take a deep breath and try your best.
Tip: It helps to know your female and male poses so it’s muscle memory when you’re on your photo shoot.
9. Be Enthusiastic and Honest
Now let’s talk about honesty when it comes to praising your client.
When giving compliments to make your client feel more confident, make sure it’s genuine.
Nobody likes flat-toned praise that just feels made-up, so make sure to show your real excitement for the photoshoot.
Make sure that the compliments come out naturally, as though you are having a casual conversation with the client.
For example, do they have great hair? Let them know!
If you can make your client feel safe, special, and proud of themselves, then you’ve already achieved a lot.
Remember not to barrage them with too many compliments, as this may make them feel that you are “buttering them up” and can even come across as unprofessional.
10. Make Good Use of Lighting
The importance of headshot photography lighting cannot be overemphasized.
In photography, light is used to highlight the client’s form and features.
The use of lighting is easily the make-or-break aspect of your photo.
Remember the three-point lighting system:
Too little lighting could make them look intimidating or serious, and too much light may not highlight any of the client’s features at all, resulting in a ‘flat’ look.
To get started with an estimate of how much lighting you need, consider the following:
- What is the client’s purpose for the shoot?
- What is their best feature?
- Is the photo going to be taken at a generally bright or dim venue?
Adjust your headshot photography lighting accordingly to achieve the best results.
Your adjustments can include equipment such as an on/off-camera flash, a strobe set-up, or even a ring light.
11. Find the Best Camera Settings
It is always advisable to adjust your camera settings to suit every scenario or photo shoot that you find yourself in.
A quick guideline would be:
- F-stop between f/1.8 and f/5.6 for a shallow depth of field, which causes a gorgeous “pop” effect.
- Shutter speed should be, at least, double the length of your focal lens.
To further explore this topic, check out this in-depth video by CreativeLive.
A good camera setting acts as a safety net, which you can rely on when shooting in a new environment.
For better results, let’s move on to the next tip on how to use the focus accurately.
12. Fix Your Focus
General guidelines to avoid blurry photos include:
- Focusing on the eyes
- Using a fast-enough shutter speed
- Using the correct F-stop. The smaller it is, the shallower the depth of field gets.
- Zoom in
Consider using a tripod if you choose a higher F-stop since it can get quite shaky.
Of course, all of these guidelines depend on your specific situation, so don’t be too rigid; sometimes, you may need to break the ‘rules.’
13. Adjust the Camera Accordingly
Depending on the outcome of your pre-session consultation, you may want to bring additional gear to fit the location or new requirements.
Some clients may want their headshots taken with a pretty background.
Some may choose a more minimalist look, so be ready to adjust your camera based on this.
There are three main steps to take when adjusting your camera:
- First, you need to set your aperture according to your needs. The wider the aperture, the more you can focus on a single object or person.
- Secondly, adjust the shutter speed. Shutter speed is adjusted based on the motion of your client or background. Playing with your shutter speed can help you achieve intentionally blurry backgrounds.
- The last step would be setting the correct ISO. ISO determines how much light the camera picks up, so a higher ISO can add grain to your pictures.
After these three adjustments have been made, you should be good to go!
Continue to practice these steps to hone your adjusting skills; it will save a lot of time, which is helpful for short photo sessions.
14. Experiment with Various Poses
As a photographer, you can help to make your client’s photo as flattering as possible.
For example, you could ask them to extend their neck to avoid that dreaded double chin, tilt their head at a slight angle, and many more.
The poses you choose will be dependent on the look that your client is trying to achieve.
Posing men and posing women is surprisingly different, as some poses are considered more feminine than others.
A classic pose for male clients includes tucking their hand into the pocket; even though it is just a headshot, it helps them to look and feel more relaxed.
A useful tip for female clients is to take the photo at a slightly raised or lowered angle instead of head-on.
Experiment and see what works best for your client!
15. Find the Perfect Angle
Believe it or not, everybody has an angle.
You know, that angle that makes them look and feel good no matter what?
Everyone has their reasons; maybe they have some acne or a scar that they are not comfortable showing.
Perhaps they prefer an angle that puts a little more emphasis on their jawline.
Ask them, you’ll be surprised that most will have an answer for you!
Because people tend to be self-conscious, they usually have preferred angles.
Even though you are the photographer, asking them if they have any preferred angles is an act of thoughtfulness.
If clients are unsure, take photos from all angles and show them the results and ask if they have any favorites.
If you find them picking all side angle shots from a certain side or all front-facing shots, then you’ve found your answer and you can focus on that side.
16. Mix and Match Your Compositions
Let’s be honest; nobody wants their profile photo to look like their driver’s license. It just looks bland, and there is nothing attractive about it.
To avoid your headshot looking like a driver’s license photograph, consider using some rules of composition.
Rules of composition that can make your photos more exciting include (but are not limited to):
- Perspective – Use interesting perspectives without distorting the image.
- Cropping – Eliminate “busy” backgrounds to give all the attention to your subject.
- Rule of thirds – Your subject should be where the imaginary lines meet.
- Use negative/white space.
- Simplify – Focus on your client, only have 2-3 other elements going on in the background.
Photography is a fairly forgiving field because it leaves lots of room for rules to be broken.
While it’s great to stay within recommended guidelines, trashing the norm and going against what you’ve learned about how composition can be beneficial.
Trust us, in some exciting ways, breaking the rule works.
17. Keep the Background Simple
We actually have a full guide on headshot background ideas, so be sure to check that out!
Another essential part of headshot photography is background management.
To wow your client at first glance, the picture, and backgrounds should be kept simple.
And simple does not necessarily mean boring.
Make sure to set up lighting to help create separation between the subject and the background, so that even if the background happens to be a cityscape, it doesn’t overpower the subject.
If you are using natural light, ask them to move away from the background to create distance, then use a wide aperture to blur the background.
A nicely blurred background can quickly turn from busy to subtle and muted.
18. Try Shooting While Tethered
Tethered shooting gives you the option to screen through images faster.
Another neat feature it provides is instant image storage on your hard drive.
Minor details and small problems can become more apparent while shooting tethered in a studio.
To further explore this subject, check out this video by Yaneck.
At the same time, showing pictures to your client becomes even easier, allowing them to understand minor tweaks in terms of poses or angles.
Although it may seem inconvenient for those who conduct a session outside of the studio, it’s worth considering, given its many benefits.
19. Attention to Detail
Because of how little is shown in a headshot, attention to detail is the difference between a good photograph and a terrible one.
Eyes must always be in focus.
These ‘windows to a person’s soul’ can give more meaning to your headshot photographs.
Although it’s difficult to tell someone to make their eyes playful or softer, try to make sure they don’t look zoned out.
Do not underestimate the power of fixing the seemingly unimportant details, like getting sharp focus on the eyes, knocking off some dandruff, straightening their posture, avoiding double chins, and smoothing out creased collars.
It may seem a little pedantic, but it does make a difference!
20. Price Accordingly
Different rates may apply depending on where you live and your current situation.
A general guideline would be to check the other photographers around you based on their level of expertise.
Headshot photography prices shouldn’t be too low as it requires you to edit the photos individually.
Make sure that it will be worth your time and effort.
To further explore this subject, check out this video by Scott Lawrence.
Some people provide packages that include the length of their session, the number of locations, and the number of portraits they edit.
Some people just write $74 for four pictures and call it a day.
A little psychological trick is to make the cheapest option undesirable and make the rest of their choices more worth it.
For example, the cheapest service you could offer would be $75 for three pictures, while another package would be $100 for five images, and so on.
Although some may consider it deceptive, many industries are performing this practice to make more profit.
But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide your rates. Just make sure that it is worth the hard effort!
21. Practice, Practice, and Practice
As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”
Practicing will help you get more comfortable taking images in a range of different settings.
Start by asking your uncle Bob, or a family member that lives with you.
Ask if they want a headshot photo.
Search for some good natural light in your backyard or set up your lighting, and off you go!
The no-pressure practice acts as your photography sandbox, which is convenient!
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the YouTube video we made on this topic:
What are headshots in photography?
A headshot is a portrait of a person that focuses on their face. Headshots are typically used for professional purposes, such as for an actor’s portfolio or a corporate website. They can be taken in a studio or on location.
How do you take a good headshot photo?
First, it’s important to find a photographer whose style you like and who can make you feel comfortable in front of the camera. Once you’ve found the right photographer, it’s time to prep for your shoot. Wear clothes that make you feel confident and put together, and be sure to do your hair and makeup in a way that makes you feel like your best self. On the day of the shoot, take some time to relax and get into the right mindset – this will help you feel natural and comfortable in front of the camera. And finally, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through – a great headshot should capture who you are, not just what you look like.
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Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog 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.