Tech & Work

Photography tips: How to master the headshot

A professional headshot provides a great way to revitalize your clients' personal branding and online presence. These tips will help take your headshot photos to the next level.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

As a photographer, it's your job to make sure your clients look amazing in their photographs. You can shoot candid photos of the client in the work environment. You can even record video snippets of the client in action. But nothing compares to the power of the classic headshot. Headshots are simple, but they can amplify a client's presence in marketing channels. Here are some of the items on my checklist for shooting powerful headshots. I won't get too technical this time, but I do understand that some technical chops can aid in the process.

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Lighting, lighting, lighting

Well, maybe I'll be a little technical. I can't stress enough the importance of proper lighting for your headshots. If you can get your hands on a hot shoe flash or speed light with a diffuser, get it. If you can have a softbox on hand, do so. Sunlight coming through a window is beautiful, as it's diffused before it reaches your subject. If you can't utilize natural like through a window, mimic this lighting with a softbox or a diffused hot shoe flash. Position the light so it flatters your client. If the lighting is too close, the effect may seem to harsh and shadows could even be cast on their face. If the lighting is too far away, it may not fill the scene properly.

Understand your client's message

Headshots are seen on LinkedIn profiles, Twitter profiles, and business cards. All three of these platforms have varying degrees of importance and professionalism. Feel free to ask your client or model where the headshots will be displayed, as well as what message the client wants to convey to those viewing the image. If you're dealing with a CIO candidate, they may want the shot to be more of a "white collar" feel: suit, tie, strong jawline. Something that says, "I'm not just a technology professional, I'm also a strong leader." Understand this and pose your model in a way that supports this message. Take note of posture as well as the eyes.

I recently had the opportunity to capture a comedian for some shots. Given his profession, I aimed to have the photo show his friendly and comedic personality. I allowed him to be himself and I clicked the shutter when it felt right.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Be the virtual hair stylist or makeup artist in post

Post processing of headshots can be rather controversial at times. You want to make your client shine in the photos. Well, not literally. You want the image to promote the client's message and brand, but you also want the client to look great. This means you may have to do some touch-up on the client's physical features. Smile lines (wrinkles) may need to be reduced. Teeth may need to be whitened. Sometimes you may remove a few skin blemishes. It happens. Again, this can be controversial to some.

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Before and after each shoot, I explain to the client that I may "brush away the tiny blemishes" I may see or "touch up their foundation." Being open about this allows you and the client to have an understanding of the process. I've heard horror stories of a client having their skin smoothed out in an image and it really offended them. The client felt their skin was fine as is and didn't want it embellished.

Briefly discuss things you look for during your editing process. Pimples, teeth whitening, wrinkles, lines on the neck, or what have you. Be up front with the client.

If you haven't done so, watch some tutorials regarding makeup application. When you're editing, you have the power to enhance your client's features. Cheekbones and jawlines can be tastefully amended in post. Approaching your post processing the way a makeup artist works with a model can really make a difference. You don't have to copy the makeup artist, but it's a good idea to use their theory as a baseline for working with your photo. Be mindful of hair, as well. Don't have wispy hair all over the subject's head. Tidy it up with your healing brush and/or frequency separation in Photoshop.

It's a headshot, not a mugshot

Shooting headshots can and should be a fun experience. Otherwise, your final product will look like you've spent three hours in line behind a teenager getting their first driver's license. Make the headshot experience a great one for your model or client. If your model is a talker, listen. Converse with them. Don't be the uptight photographer who only wants to discuss aperture and depth of field. Find the happy medium of being loose, yet professional during the shoot. Keep the client comfortable, but also guide them through the shoot. You'll enjoy it, they will enjoy it, and you'll see the awesome energy in the images during your post processing.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

I hope some of my suggestions will be a useful baseline to help you on your next shoot. Try out a few things ahead of time by practicing on a mannequin or maybe a family member. Experiment with lighting, poses, and trying to get the most out of your model. Have some fun with it. Feel free to show me some of your favorite headshots via Twitter or Instagram. I look forward to seeing what you share and comparing notes with you all.

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Other tips?

Have you discovered additional tricks for producing standout headshots? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.


About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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