Everyone needs a headshot. Not just for actors and those who get on a stage, in the age of LinkedIn and other social media it’s important to have a good representative likeness online. There is a lot of work out there for headshot photographers who can do a good job.
Here are 10 headshot tips to get you started.
1. Bring out personality, positive feedback
Good headshots are more than a recording of someone’s face. They should be a reflection of who the subject is as a person. Try to bring out some personality from the person you are photographing. This involves talking with them, making a connection, or making them laugh. In every case, it also involves a lot of positive feedback. Tell the subject they are doing a good job and that they look great.
2. Focus on the eyes
The focal point for any headshot is the eyes. You should literally focus your lens on their eyes. Your angle and lighting should also be built around showcasing the subject’s eyes, to see the color, texture, shape, and character that comes through in a person’s eyes.
3. Rule of thirds
Employing the rule of thirds is a great place to start for a headshot because it is visually pleasing and works just about every time, for every person. If you divide the image top to bottom you will have a horizontal line one third from the top and another one third from the bottom. I like to have the subject’s eyes on the line one third from the top and to have the subject’s chin on the line that is one third from the bottom. Ideally, you will also have at least one eye on the vertical lines that divide the image into thirds from left to right.
4. Clothing, jewelry, makeup
Advise your subject to wear things that are not distracting. The clothing should be comfortable and free from complicated patterns. They can wear jewelry, but should keep it simple and to a minimum. It should not be bigger or flashier than the person’s eyes. Makeup should also not be overdone, but should be just enough to lightly conceal blemishes.
Lighting should generally be soft for a headshot. No harsh shadows or stark contrasts between light and dark. Use natural window light, or big modifiers for your strobes like umbrellas or softboxes. The light should be directional, from one side or the other, so you can see some light areas and some darker areas just like you would in real life. Add a light from behind to accentuate the top of their hair and to provide some separation from the background.
6. Telephoto lens
Use longer lenses to keep the proportions of the face looking natural. I would recommend 70mm or longer. As you use wider lenses you will find that certain features closest to the camera become more prominent. This usually means that noses get bigger for headshots; most people do not want their nose to be the prominent feature of their headshot.
7. Angle straight on or above
Shooting at eye level is typically the best and most accurate way to portray someone for a headshot. This is how the subject sees themself and how most people see them anyway. If you choose a different angle, find one that is slightly above, with the subject looking up toward the camera. This angle helps to stretch the jawline and often gets more light to the subject’s eyes.
8. Clean backdrop
Use a simple backdrop. A plain black, white, or colored backdrop allows you to place the focus on the face and not on any distracting elements behind the subject.
9. Shutter speed
Keep an eye on your shutter speed. Remember that with a 100mm lens you should be shooting at least 1/100 of a second to eliminate blurriness from hand holding the camera. Many new portrait photographers make this mistake, thinking the image is sharp on their LCD only to find that it is shaky looking when viewed at full resolution.
Keep retouching to a minimum. You want the subject to look like themselves, not a plastic version of their youthful self. By all means, hide blemishes and tone down wrinkles. Just keep your headshots as accurate representations of people, shown in the best light and at the best angles.