When it comes to creating a great headshot, all the best headshots have 5 key elements in common, and all the best headshot photographers have mastered every single one of these elements, and they know how to make them work seamlessly together in order to create a great headshot.
Lighting for a great headshot
All the best headshots have one key thing in common, which is good lighting, and the most important rule when it comes to lighting is that the smaller the light source in proportion to your face, the harsher the light, and vice versa.
For example if you took a photo at midday in direct sunlight, you would notice some dark shadows underneath your eyes, nose, and chin.
That is because direct sunlight does normally tend to create harsh shadows (shadows with a clearly defined edge), as the sun is so far away that in proportion to your face, it is a small light source. However, the best headshot photographers will know how to work with sunlight in a way that delivers the results they are after.
For instance in the outdoor headshot below I was using sunlight, but not direct sunlight. I positioned the customer in front of a bright wall that was bouncing up sunlight. In this way the customer was not in direct sunlight and the main light source, the wall, was big enough to produce very soft, flattering light.
Likewise, when working in the studio the best headshot photographers will know which light modifiers are best to use to sculpt your face in a flattering way and at the same time create the right mood.
Facial expression for a great headshot
Facial expression is crucial to a great headshot, and it is especially important in this increasingly digital world where very often your headshot is the first glimpse a new acquaintance will get of you.
Even though I do not believe that you can capture the whole of somebody’s personality in just one photo, we all have a unique facial expression that tells a little something about who we are. However, it can be difficult to bring out that genuine facial expression during a photoshoot, and especially because it is not something that we do consciously.
The best headshot photographers will know how to help you relax in front of the camera, and help you bring out that genuine facial expression, that is quintessentially you.
Of course the facial expression will vary depending on the type of look we are going for, and a moody acting headshot will not have the same facial expression as a more formal corporate headshot, but independently of what mood we are going for, in there, there is always something that is uniquely you, and it is important to capture that.
Posture for a great headshot
When taking a headshot, we are taking a three dimensional world, and putting that into a two dimensional photograph. What that means in practice, is that whatever is closest to my lens will look larger in the photo. As an example if you lean back, your head will look smaller and your body larger, and vice versa.
The best headshot photographers will be used to this, and keep an eye on it throughout the session, and help you with some small posture adjustments, to ensure that the proportions in the final headshot look natural.
The other thing to keep in mind is that standing in front of somebody who is pointing a big camera at you is by no means a natural setting, and that will affect your posture. For that reason during my sessions I always do my best to help you relax and feel at ease, and there are also a few other things that I keep an eye on to ensure that your posture looks natural.
As an example, even though in a headshot your feet won’t be in the picture, your posture does start from your feet and affects the whole of your body. In a natural setting we almost never distribute our body weight equally on both feet, and if I notice that during the shoot, I will show you plenty of ways in which you can relax your posture and bring it back to a more natural look. This is just an example and there are plenty of other things I keep an eye on during the shoot.
Outfits for a great headshot
The best headshot photographers will know how to advise you in terms of what tends to work best for a headshot session, and they will send you plenty of information before the session.
As an example I always advise my customers to avoid tops with big logos, as they tend to be very distracting, and to select outfits with muted colours that complement their eyes and/or skin tone.
It is also important to select outfits that will fit with the mood that we are trying to create.
You can find more advice about what outfits tend to work best for a headshot session at the link below.
What should I wear for a headshot session:
Backgrounds for a great headshot
In order to create a great headshot, the background has to complement the photo, but without distracting from the most important thing in the headshot, which is you.
The best headshot photographers will select backgrounds that fit well with your outfit, and the mood that you are trying to create. As an example in the first headshot below, we wanted to create a casual headshot for a personal brand, whereas in the other one we wanted a moody acting headshot with a bit more character.
If working outdoors, it is a bit different, as we will have to walk around until we find a suitable spot, with both good lighting, and a background that fits the mood.
For instance you can see below two headshots, both taken outdoors, but one is a moody acting headshot taken next to a brick wall, and the other one is a casual professional headshot with some trees in the background.
Putting it all together
In order to create a great headshot, all these elements need to work together seamlessly, and the best headshot photographers will know how to do that.
When a customer arrives at my studio, the first thing I do is sit down with them, and have a quick chat during which I will ask them a few questions that will help me understand what the customer is trying to communicate with the photos. We will then go through the outfits they have brought with them, and select a combination of outfits and backgrounds that will help us deliver on that idea.
Ultimately, I will select a lighting setup/s that suits the mood we are trying to create, and help the customer throughout the session with pose adjustments, and by helping them relax and ease into a natural facial expression.
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