5 Tips & Tricks for Shooting Headshots

A few weeks back I shot head shots for Matthew. He’s an aspiring actor and performer and he wanted head shots that he could use for auditions as well as building his website. That being said, he wanted some to be more candid, approachable, and less traditional.

Those words were music to my ears. Many people just want the standard in-your-face-solid-color-background headshot. After shooting a few of these here’s a list of what I recommend to help your client love the results and you be able to include them in your portfolio:

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1. Collaborate & Communicate with Research

The first thing I do with many clients, not just my photographic ones, is I create a project mood board in Pinterest and I add them as a pinner. I ask them to add examples of what they like and in the description write what they like or don’t like about that example. As I add things they’ll “like” a post or use the link to send me an email and discuss it further. Here’s the project mood board that Matthew and I made together: Project Headshots.

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2. Know Where You’re Going

If you plan on just shooting in a studio – this one doesn’t really apply to you. But if you’re venturing outside, which I highly recommend, then you must know where your going. I’m not a stickler to plans so I wouldn’t say schedule the day to death, but it helps you stay on a better timeline to go to a location you’ve previously scouted and know how close the next stop is.

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3. Plan for textures, colors, and angles

You’ve walked around your city enough to know that cool beaten down wall that has just the perfect hue to bring out your model’s eyes. Or maybe you’ve passed a large marble building and you love how the light hits it – take note. Make a note in your phone of great portrait locations. These will become your map for tip #2. And not only will your client love them, but they’ll become pieces you’ll be proud to put in your portfolio.

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4. Cheer them on! But be honest.

One mistake I see a few photographer’s make is that they only communicate with the client to correct their posture or tell them to smile. This leads to squinty faces and awkwardly standing, insecure photos. It’s your job as a photographer to make the client feel comfortable in front of your camera. If they are feeling awkward the photo will look awkward – but only you, as the photographer, can communicate that to them.

I like to start them off with super smiles and really serious faces – get those facial muscles stretched, then we work for the in between. And when they get it perfectly – I tell them. Don’t Austin Power’s them, but make it fun and funny and you could get a really great, honest smile from them.

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5. Don’t be afraid of trying new things.

Matt asked me if he could do some candid shots. That was new for me during head shots. People are usually asking me to make sure the background is as abstract as possible or if the lighting is working. So when Matt asked for something that felt more like portraiture, I got excited. I didn’t even realize I was dividing portraits and head shots in my mind. But I definitely was.

We ended up staging him in a cafe with a coffee and newspaper and we did some very candid shots, some posed, but all were relaxed. What I learned from this was twofold. The first was: don’t limit yourself in any project because you think the client wants something generic. And the second: embrace every suggestion even if you can’t fully do something the client requests – look for a way to approximate it.

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