Headshot Photography

Headshots can be broken down into three different categories



Take the photo of the person head on with a nice, neutral expression. Soft lighting and neutral background.

Commercial Headshot

Bring out the shiny, happy person. Big smiles, bright, and flattering colors. Use people skills, tell jokes, and play upbeat music to set the mood.


Change in character types that accompany a change in cloths. Must have lots of different looks. Use the differnt looks when applying for different gigs.

Sublety is key. No costumes, imagine what a character would wear when off duty.

Typical head shot seession will take 1 0r 2 commercial looks and 3 to 5 theatrical. Pick out shots with the client between different shoots.

Corporate Headhsot Photography

Key is to be quick. Can’t be fiddling with lenses and lights. Must complete the work within 5 minutes. Must nail the exposure and lighting within the 1st minute. Use assistant as sit in for client to test out lights and camera settings.

Try to be friendly with them, look them in the eye when shooting.

Try to understand the job before you just into it. Do they want a enviornemtal headshot where they are in their work area, or do they want one on a backdrop. THe more you know about the job, the easier it will be for you.

THe most important part of your job is to make the subject look confident, but approachable. Try to shoot for slight smile, or even smirk.

High Volume Corporate Headshots

When shooting lots of clients, use automation to ensure spped and consistency. Try to get lights and setting just right. Use loop lighting on a umbrella about two feet away from subject.

Have a stack of paper and a sharpie. First photo you take should have their name in the photo. Shoot tethered so people are able to review their picture and give you feedback so you can process the images more quickly.

Everybody Headshots

Social media headshots that are used as profile photos. Everyone needs a good headhsot that helps them look their best. If just starting out, do this to hone your skills. These are low pressure situations, so you have more fun.

To get better as a headshot photographer. Shoot everyday if you can. Try out new concepts. Use girlfriend as practice model to practice setting up camera and lighting.

You can also practice interacting, and what you need to do to get the looks you want.

You will shoot what you show. The photos in your portfolio will determine the types of gigs that you want to have.

Don’t put too much in the portfolio, you will be trying to show that you have more expiernece than you actually have. Determine your style and only show subjects that you loved working with. Get model release form if working with people you don’t know very well.

When starting, number one goal is to shoot as many gigs as possible. Must convert each paying gig into multiple paying gigs, then charge more as you go along.

Essential Equipment

Of course, you’ll want a camera.  You don’t have to go for the most expensive option, just a mid-range prosumer camera from Nikon or Canon (or Sony) will do the trick.  The big deal is the lens.


The sharpness of the lens is important, but the most important aspect is focal length.  You want between 85mm – 200mm focal length (ultra telephoto) as anything below 75 will have wide-angle distortion on close up shots.

When shooting, make sure that you choose a lens that allows you to stand a comfortable distance from your subject and frame your composition properly.  You want to be able to interact with them and gie directions.

Take into account sensor size.  APS-C sensor lenses have a crop factor of 1.6, meaning a 200mm lens would offer the field of view of a 320mm lens.


5 in 1 reflector use is critical.  White side of reflector bounces soft, natural light on your subject.  Use of off-camera flash is also important, so be sure to check out my notes on that (when they become available).

Second Nature

You need to practice until your technical skills become second nature.  You should be able to conrol the technical aspects without too much light.

You must understand how cameras see light.

Look at a ton of great photos.  Spend hours looking through the photos of any photographer you love.  If you spend enough time looking at great photos, you get an intuitive sense of the quality fo your photos

Distill the photography process.  Spend the first 75 percent of shoot to get good images that match what you have in your portfolio.  Try to produce consistent results.

Use off-camera flash and a studio set up to control the enviornment and ensure a consitent feel between subjects and shots.

Poeple Skills to Get Good Head Shots

Dont necessarily have the camera out when you begin the shoot.  Spend time with the subejct before the are  to build trust.  Always greet subject without any camera in sight and make reassuring eye contact.  Be positive as negativity will only undermine your subject or name them feel like they are the problem.

If subject just doens’t look right, be reassuring.  The first couple minutes might be a bit weird, but even pro models need

Deveope a schtik to get clients into a more relaxed state.  Use your sense of humor to lower the subject stress levels.  Use music if possible, try to have soft background music playing as shoot begins.  Ask what music they think would make them the most happy.

Affirmation is a huge part of getting the best out of your client.  Let them know when you are happy with what they are doing.  Be able to quickly and easily communicate.


Speak direcitons rom the point of your subject.  Give them directions from their frame of reference.  Ask them to imagine that you are a mirror, then

Or pretend your hand is attacted to thier face, and to mimic their head movements based on your hand movements.  THis will allow you to give great direction without taking your camera away from your eye.

Personal Style

Your ability o reproduce decisions from shhot to shoot witll help you develope your individual style.  Journey to finding your style is the funnest part of photography.

However, since we need to sell photos, you need to stay within the confinues of usable headshots.  Tor to push edges, then dial back when necessary.



Deciding where to put your shpaes and lines within the image.  Rule of thirds dividies the image into equal segments and place focal points of image on intersections.

WHen focal ppoint is centeretd, eye stays at center and doinest see the rest.

Cropping is also important.  Entire goal of photo is to show off subject and make people want to interact.  To start, fill whole frame with subject, but don’t crop too close.  Try to get cropping in camera, get image int eh viewfinder that you want at the end.

When starting, crop in post production.


have ths subject face the camera, then turn slightly towards the primary light source.  They must also be facing into the frame.

The hieght is also importnt. Shooting from a high angle makes the eyes jump out, but the subject is weaker.  Shooting from low angle make s the subject look strtong, but the eyes are harder to connect with.  Try to shoot at eye level or just a bit above eye level.

Play with different lenses and settings to find what you like.

Study different lighting setups to build technical knowledge.  The only goal is to use light to flatter subject.

Photography is paining with light.

In post, you must protect the skin tones of your subject.  The skin must look natural and pleasing.  Sublety is key, use a light hand.

YOu can’t develope you style ina background.  Turn to a community of people to ask for feedback and criticism to get better as a photographer.  Don’t ever use the excure that “its just my styel”.  Even if you decide their advice is wrongm, take it in and use it to make you better.,

Using Windows

Big windows (tall so light is coming down on subject) are great for portrait photography.

For commercial photography, you want shiny happy people.  Get your subject to laugh with jokes, or tell them you will be laughing and you want them to laugh with you.  Shoot a lot, in between shots wont be usable.  You’ll use right as he starts laughing and right as he stops.

After you shoot a look, review the shots with the subject and make sure we have 5 or 6 shots that will work for the look.  Try to get the subject to agree on 1 great shot for each look, and adjust and export on the spot.

Changing Looks Means Changing the Attitude of the Photo

For more dramatic image, have lighter side and shaded side of subject.  These are great for theatrical headshots.  We don’t want to sell selves as theatrical actors, but just serious, professional entertainers.  Want a more subtle, understated facial expression.

Mobile Studio Setup

2 background stands

cross support

light stand

43 inch umbrella

umbrella holder

flash sync cable

Quick set up , want flash facing away from subject into umbrella.  Angled down towards subject.  Sync cable allows for off camera flash.

Post Production Process

Pop contrast and bump exposure and shadows.  Once you get the settings the way you like,  sync all the image settings to apply your settings to the rest of the shoot.  Then review each one and make sure they look how they should, and export!


When working on actor headshot, important to do some retouching.  Use healing brush tool.  DOn’t try to retouch anything permanent, but clean up any redness.  Use healing brush and sample from areas that have similar texture to the ones you are concealing.

Create curves layer, duplicate the curves layer.  Call one dodge, and one burn.  On dodge layer, bring up midtone brightness until the picute looks bad.  Then fill with  black.  Do the same for burn layer, but bring down midtones until it looks bad.

Now select dodge layer and paint on the layer in white to add brightness to the image.  For the burn layer, paint in white over the parts of the image you want to darken.  Also use it to define lines (especially on the jaw) and outline the head.  Do this process for all actor headshots.