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Ten Tips for Taking a Great Headshot | Tina Case Bay Area Head Shot Photographer

September 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

This is the first in a series of photography tips.  For a list of what's to come check out the very end of this article.

Why do you need a great headshot?  These days there are a number of social media sites that require or request a headshot.  And let's face it, a selfie is not the way to go to present a professional image.  Many of us are on Linked-In, Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter.  A headshot is the most used image for a profile besides a logo.  So the question is, how do you take a great headshot whether you're behind the lens or in front of the lens?

A great headshot tells the viewer about you.  We can get into a long conversation about 'beauty being more than skin deep' and 'don't judge a book by its cover,' a headshot is pretty much the norm on social media sites.  In addition to that some lines of work such as acting or modeling require a portfolio of headshots.  A great headshot can make the difference between getting the job or not getting the job.

What can you do to prepare for or take a great headshot?  Below I list the top ten tips whether you are in front of the camera or behind the camera.  Check them out.  And if you think of a tip I missed let me know!

In Front of the Lens - 10 Tips for Getting a Great Headshot 

  • Drink lots of water.  If you are not a regular water drinker it is important to start drinking 4 to 6 cups of water a day.  Why? Water is great for the skin and helps hydrate and moisturize the skin from the inside out.  Water helps you flush out some of the impurities in your system. Just a week's worth of hydrating yourself can create a nice glow to the skin.  Drink plenty of water at least a week before your photo shootFor your next headshot be sure to drink up to 8 glasses of water a day for dewy skin.Water helps your skin glow from the inside out.
  • Get plenty of sleep.  When you are well rested it shows in your face.  But, as we all know, if we did not get a good night's sleep it shows. It shows in our eyes.  Someone who did not get a good nights sleep has puffy bags under their eyes and their complexion can look ruddy.  The whites of the eyes may be red and none of this makes for a great headshot.
  • Don't cut your hair - go to a Dry Bar before a headshot.  It may seem to make sense to get your hair nicely coiffed before a photo session.  But there is a difference between styling it (for instance at a dry bar) and getting it cut.  If you get it cut right before a photo session there is the chance that your bangs are too short or that it doesn't lay quite right.  So the rule of thumb is to wait until 2 or 3 weeks after a don haircut or to style is as you normally do so you don't look drastically different.  Dry bars are popular these days.  I have a number of dry bars I work with and recommend to my clients.  The cost is quite reasonable and I recommend to my clients that they plan a night on the town after our session since they will look gorgeous. For guys - the same thing. Get your haircut a few weeks before your headshot.  If you don't already have a mustache or beard now's not exactly the best time to sport one.  Keep it pretty much the way you look day to day.
  • More Eye Makeup.  While
    More, not less eye make-up to make your eyes popMore, not less eye makeup, often makes for a better head shot.Beautiful smokey eyes.  it's true that less is more when it comes to makeup, it's actually not always the case when it comes to photos.  When done with the right touch, smokey eyes look fantastic in photos.  My recommendation for female clients (with the exception of girls under 18) is to play it up a little more than usual with the eye makeup.  You'll be surprised how the false eyelashes and eyeliner can make your eyes pop and play up your features.
  • Less Blush.  I recommend a little less blush for photos because in this case it can overpower the eyes.  We want the eyes to be the 'focal' point and not the cheeks.  The same goes for lips.  A neutral color for lips is better than a bright red tone.  For commercial photography you will see more vivid cheek and lip colors.  But we don't want to draw the eye to those red lips, we want people to notice you.  A good headshot shows your friendly face, your warm smile and accentuates those sparkling eyes.  
  • Wear a Solid Color, Long-Sleeve Top. Headshots focus on the top half of your body.  Choose a color that brings out the tone of your skin.  White, tan, blue and burgandy are colors that look good on most people.  Tops that have heavy patterns, plaids, tank tops or T-shirts with logos distract from your face so I always recommend NOT wearing those.  Be sure to iron your tops, I've had guys show up with shirts that clearly showed all of the fold marks straight from the store.  I can try to 'iron' them out in Photoshop but it is a lot easier if you iron it at home.
  • Brush your Teeth.  Yes, it sounds simple but how many of us actually think to brush our teeth before getting a headshot?  As a photographer I Be sure to check your teeth, we don want to be sure the spinach you had for lunch or the sushi roll with black sesame seeds don't show up stuck on your teeth and later in the photo.  Again I can always try to Photoshop that out but it's best to brush your teeth to get those pearly whites to sparkle.
  • Eye Drops.  If you tend to have bloodshot eyes then bring a bottle of Visine or eye drops that help decrease the redness.  People look younger when the whites of their eyes are absent of any redness.  The best DSLRs can pick up every nuance of your skin and eyes so these things can make a huge difference.
  • Blot or Powder?  For people who tend to sweat under hot lights or who have oily skin you should consider bringing some blotting tissues that can help soak up some of that dewiness.  For people with high foreheads consider using a little translucent powder so that your skin does not reflect back the light from the flash or even from the natural lighting conditions.
  • Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses?  If you wear eyeglasses day-to-day then you should wear your glasses for your headshot.  But if you wear contact lenses then be sure to wear them for your headshot.  However, be aware that some eyeglasses reflect quite a bit of light.  A trick is to wear them at a bit of an angle facing downward so that the glare does not take away from the eyes behind the glasses.

Behind the Lens - 10 Tips to Taking Great Headshots

  • Keep things AsymetricalBe sure to have asymmetrical poses for your portrait.for headshots asymmetry adds eye appeal and impact. Asymmetry. If there's only one thing you do as a photographer it would be to keep things asymmetrical.  Don't take the shot head-on, it tends to make a person look heavier and is not a flattering angle.  Instead be sure to have the person at a 45 degree angle, have them put their weight on their back leg if they are standing, and make sure the front shoulder is slightly lower than the back shoulder.  It instantly slenderizes in camera without any Photoshopping required.
  • Chin out and Down. One of my favorite photographers, Sue Bryce, is known to preach this mantra at all of her sessions.  When you stretch your chin out like a chicken (this is the easiest way to describe this) and then down a wee bit it does two things:  first, stretching your neck out helps eliminate the double chin and defines your jawline.  Second, bringing your chin down opens up your eyes and makes them pop in the photo.  Think about it.  If you were to do the reverse, which many of us actually do when we are laughing, you will look like you have a double chin and your eyes squint and become these tiny little specks.  So tell your client that although it may feel unnatural they will love the results.
  • Relax your lips. This rule is for both men and women.  As the photographer be sure to tell them to relax their mouth. Have them lick their lips and part them slightly.  Make sure they don't have chapped lips, that they are moist and soft.
  • Do a once over face check and keep a mirror handy.  It's a good idea to keep a small mirror handy for your client to do a quick check before Do a quick check in the mirror before and during your photo sessionBe sure to look in the mirror for smudged make-up, clean teeth and stray hairs for the perfect photoBe sure to do a once over in the mirror before your headshot. you start.  Between shots have them check for mascara smudges, to blot the sweat off their brow and that their teeth are nice and spinach free.  And before you take your first shot have them smile and do a quick check to ensure their teeth don't have lipstick stains or spinach on them.  I also check for mascara or eyeliner smudges. For men I check for stray hairs, wayward whiskers, and shiny spots if they have a high forehead. 
  • Focus on the eyes.  Whenever I take a headshot my focal point is targeted on the eyes.  When the eyes are crystal clear the whole portrait comes to life.  Learn to play with your focus points and practice moving it to pinpoint your target as quickly as possible.
  • Make them laugh.  It's not unusual for people to be a little self-conscious when they are getting their portrait taken.  Being the center ofattention is a lot of pressure for some people.  So I always chat it and keep the conversation going which relaxes them and gets them to talk.  I'll  Make them laughLearn to make them laugh naturally for their headshots.Laugh naturally for a great headshot find a topic that we have in common and think of something to make them laugh.  When you can manage that you will get the most natural looking smiles which is the objective for a great headshot.
  • Choose the right lens.  For years my go-to portrait lens was my 24-70mm.  And while I still use that a lot I find myself using the 70-200mm lens more and more.  There are a number of reasons for using this lens including the great bokeh or blur I get when I'm shooting at my widest aperture, 2.8.  But besides that the clarity with this lens is outstanding.  I also think that being a little further from my subject gives them a little more breathing space to relax and be themselves.  So play with your lenses and study the results to see which ones you prefer.  Many photographers swear by prime lenses.  And while I do love my nifty 50mm, I am thoroughly enjoying the 70-200mm.
  • Shoot at eye level or above.  Besides my camera gear I always have a portable folding footstool on hand in order to take shots from a higher angle.  I'm of average height so I often need to use my stepping stool to shoot from a slightly higher angle.  Taking shots from a higher plane does a couple of things: First it automatically produces nice chin definition.  Secondly it makes the eyes pop and sparkle because of the nice catch light they reflect.  I often have my clients sit in the same spot but I move around them by getting up or down on the stool and change my direction while they move their chin toward the camera.
  • Lighting: This may be the single biggest tip for great photos.  Using a flash may be advanced for some photograph Golden backlighting is captured just before sunset.The "Golden Hour" right before sunset helps create wonderful backlighting for head shots.Get great backlighting during the Golden Hour, right before sunset ers.  So when taking photos in natural light be sure that the sun, shade and light are at the right angle.  When in direct sun try to have your subject facing away from the sun and their faces in complete shade so that you don't get harsh streaks of light on their faces.  Use foam core board or pop out photography shade structure to act as a diffuser from the sun.  Usually I'm able to find an assistant to help with this.  And be sure to set your exposure to the right focal point.  I recently started using a Sekonic L-308S light meter to get more accurate readings for my manual exposures.  The "Golden Hour" is my favorite time to photograph in natural light.  This is approximately 1 hour before sunset.  At that hour I love to position my subject in the line of site of the sun to get some amazing hair lights (or what I like to call Hair-Los).
  • Bring some handy white foam core board.  I always carry a couple of white foam core boards that come in handy for headshots.  When I place them just below and in front of my client the white creates a nice catch light in their eyes.  Secondly it can be used to shade my clients when we're in full sun.  Lastly the whiteboards reflect a little light on the skin when angled just right.  These can be purchased at any craft store for just a few dollars.  
  • Add interest with fill-flash.  I often shoot using natural light.  But I always carry my Speedlites just in case we need some fill flash.  This comes in handy especially when you shoot during the "Golden Hour" just before sunset.  Fill flash is also great when you are in broad daylight and need to be sure that the sky isn't overexposed.  

Whether you are in front of the camera or behind it, what tips do you have to share for creating great headshots?

Coming soon in my series:

Tips for taking great Food Photos

Don't forget these details when taking newborn photos



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