How to Take the Perfect Headshot (Without a Professional Photographer)

How to Take the Perfect Headshot (Without a Professional Photographer)

In the age of the internet and social media, headshots are a must-have for people in a countless number of professions. Often times, a headshot will be the first time a potential client or employer is able to see you. As everyone knows, first impressions are very important. Your headshot can tell people a lot about you, therefore, it is important to make sure you feel the finished product is a good reflection of yourself. Many people feel obligated to hire a professional photographer when really, it is not necessary. All you need is a friend with a camera (even a phone camera), some inexpensive equipment to make your photos appear professional, and these tips to help you get the most out of your photography session.

1. Where’s My Light?

When it comes to taking photos, lighting is key. You may not need a professional photographer to get great headshots, but you do need to make sure your lighting is up to par with the pros. The best way to accomplish this is to invest in two softbox lights, the same type of light photographers use in their studios. These can be found relatively inexpensively on sites like Amazon. While it will take some trial and error to find the best placement for optimal lighting, a good general rule is to set one light on each side of the camera, slightly in front of, and above you (outside of the picture of course). One should be focusing on you, while the other light is focused on the backdrop.

2. Location, Location, Location

Choosing a good background or backdrop for your headshot is very important in achieving a professional-looking photo. A solid color is generally best, and there are plenty of affordable options available online. Try to avoid any backdrops that appear too dated. Nothing is worse than finding your pictures look more like senior class photos than headshots. Your background should not be busy or cluttered; A few objects sitting behind you are fine but keep it to a minimum. You want people focused on you, not the excessive amounts inanimate objects looming behind you. Be mindful as well of the overall tone you’d like to get across in your photo. While a run-down brick wall in an alley is a popular headshot background for performers, if you’re a cardiologist, choosing a run-down alley as the location for your next photo shoot may not be the most fitting choice.

3. Dress for Success

Headshots are a great opportunity to make a great first impression on potential clients or employers. Make sure you dress professionally in your photos and choose something you feel good about yourself in. Headshots focus only on your face, shoulders, and upper chest, so if you can’t find slacks, a skirt, or shoes to complete the ensemble, that’s perfectly okay. Take your backdrop into consideration when choosing an outfit (or, if you already have an outfit that you know you want to wear, vice versa). A good rule of thumb is to have the background of your headshot, and the clothes you are wearing be contrasting colors. Avoid choosing an outfit that will clash with your background. Alternatively, you should also make sure your clothes and the background are not the same color; People are unlikely to want to work with you if they suspect you are a disembodied head.

4. The Windows to Your Soul

Your eyes will be the first thing anyone who looks at your photo will see. It is important to choose a photo where your eyes look fully open, making you appear alert. The best way to accomplish this is to invest in your self-care in the days leading up to your photo shoot. Make sure to eat healthily and get plenty of rest beforehand so you do not end up with large bags under your eyes for your headshots.

5. Strike a Pose

Posing for a headshot can feel rather uncomfortable, especially the first time. The angles that read well in photos are quite different from the ones we use on a daily basis. Here are some tips to make sure your photos will be Tyra Banks-approved:

  • To avoid a double-chin, move your head forward and down.
  • Smile naturally; A forced smile is never appealing. It may help to make light conversation with the photographer between photos.
  • Finally, remember the Golden Rule from those Wal-Mart photography sessions and school picture days: Angle one shoulder forward and slightly down. Now slightly tilt your head in the opposite direction of the shoulder in front.

If you feel more awkward than you ever have before, rest assure you will look fabulous in your headshots.

6. The Right One

When it comes to photos, we are our own worse critics; Regardless of what others day, we will often feel perfectly good photos of ourselves are less than flattering. But every so often, there is a photo taken that we feel immortalizes us perfectly- we all know the feeling. To make sure you get that incomparable shot that you plan to have etched on your gravestone, make sure to take many (and by “many”, I mean two-hundred or so). While keeping your every-important angles in mind, try to slightly change your position for each photo so you will finish with a wide variety of options.


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