Headshot Photography // 21 Simple Tips (You Can Use Today)10 min read

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A gigantic monster is standing between you and your path to success.

Its tall shadowy figure seems to be made of many simple pieces, but with complex materials.

Each time it steps forward, you take one step backward. Your fight or flight response freezes you in your tracks. Will you face it or run for cover?

Welcome, my fellow photographers, to yet another article that helps you tackle the unknown.

As a beginner, unfamiliar genres of photography may seem as daunting as the giant monster. Some choose to flee and study from afar, while the rest decide to dive into it head-first.

Although new concepts may seem complicated, there are always many ways to handle them.

This article describes 21 simple headshot photography tips that can guide you as a beginner or even as a veteran photographer.

headshot photography session in los angeles california

Let’s start by explaining our topic, shall we?

What is a Headshot in Photography?

To achieve the best first impression, every individual with a platform needs a quality headshot, especially for their profile picture.

Headshot photography involves a portrait picture with a particular focus on the person’s face. The image itself includes the main subject, starting from their head to shoulders, with their preferred scenery as a backdrop.

Headshot Photography: 21 Simple Tips

Before we start with the first tip, let’s briefly talk about headshot photography prices. For beginners, the average rate would be $75 for three fully edited photos.

If your business blooms perfectly in the industry, you could charge up to $1000!

With that in mind, let’s start with the most essential building block in your journey.

1. Understanding Your Client’s Needs

As basic as it may sound, listening to, and meeting your client’s expectations are crucial!

Rally as much information as you can. Start with the fundamental questions about the theme of their headshot photograph.

woman practicing headshot photography

Use all of the information you can get to create a rough sketch of how their portrait would look.

Then slowly ask more detailed questions regarding how formal or unconventional they want their headshot to be, and what meaning they want to attach to their headshots.

These detailed questions will help to make that sketch clearer and give you an upper hand in deciding on the type of headshot photography lighting you would need.

As with most other situations, clear and effective communication will become your best ally. It gives you insights for potential poses and venues needed for the shot and positions you as a professional.

Don’t forget to make sure that both parties are on the same page!

2. Have a Pre-Session Consultation

Before the session begins, a consultation is necessary.

Consultations should clear up any potential misunderstandings between the client and the photographer.

Clothing plays a big part in headshot photography and is one of the things that need to be discussed or adjusted during the consultation.

As a photographer, you should consider renting a studio with air conditioners to make sure that your client is comfortable throughout the session. The studio costs can be added to their bill.

3. A Small Outfit Adjustment

Not everyone will be conveniently dressed for the perfect shot, so it’s perfectly fine to give them a suggestion based on the theme they are going for.

For starters, using some solid neutral colors that aren’t too flashy and bright is always a good idea. Keep in mind that the main focus of headshot photographs is the face of your client.

headshot photography example

Colors, brands, and patterns that are too flashy or attract too much attention should be avoided unless they fit the client’s theme.

Although optional, preparing a short guideline for fashioning future headshot photography would be desirable and add professionalism to your craft.

4. Be Flexible and Creative!

Not all headshot photography needs to be done in a studio with a formal backdrop. Have fun and explore different scenery that may work in your client’s favor.

By adapting to the client’s requests to current situations, photographers can allow themselves the freedom to be extremely versatile.

Maybe you can offer your full photo editing services at a lower price, since a full photography session may not be an option right now. The sky truly becomes the limit, as long as you are willing to be flexible.

5. Prepare All of the Essentials

Prepare some extra tools for the session, such as a mirror, a comb, or other equipment that has been asked for during the pre-session consultation.

If the client is representing a brand, it may be possible for some props/accessories to be worn as long as it doesn’t ruin the composition or take up too much space. The focus should be on the model and not their accessories.

But, depending on the agreement during the consultation, these are still subject to change.

headshot photography

6. Prepare a Plan B

Nothing is guaranteed to go entirely according to your expectations.

If you are not in a studio, uncontrollable factors such as weather, lighting conditions, or even the sudden appearance of a crowd could disrupt your session.

Make sure to have a backup plan before conducting a session! Maybe choose a location with a studio open for rent around two blocks away; you can never go wrong with going out prepared!

7. Keep the Client Comfortable

When a person feels uncomfortable, their expression becomes stiffer and forced.

To ensure that the client remains comfortable throughout the session, prepare some water, and keep a casual conversation going. Maybe take the lead and guide them through the session, especially if it’s their first time doing it.

People dislike doing things wrong or causing unnecessary inconvenience, and these feelings make them anxious. First-timers in any field or activity will have this same emotion, which is perfectly natural!

headshot photography pensive

If some comforting is in order, do not hesitate to do so!

8. Keep Your Cool and Relax

The thought of having to retake the same pose over and over will make most beginners feel uncomfortable.

What begins as a small, awkward start can become increasingly uncomfortable, and the pressure builds upon your shoulders to take the best photos you can.

But don’t worry, every photographer goes through the same thing. Try talking to the client and being honest about how you feel; throw some jokes in the mix to lighten up the mood!

If all else fails, take a deep breath and try your best.

9. Be Enthusiastic and Honest

Now let’s talk about honesty when it comes to praising your client.

When giving compliments to make your client feel more confident, make sure it’s genuine. Nobody likes flat toned praise that just feels made-up, so make sure to show your real excitement for the photoshoot.

Make sure that the compliments come out naturally, as though you are having a casual conversation with the client.

If you can make your client feel safe, special, and proud of themselves, then you’ve already achieved a lot.

Remember not to barrage them with too many compliments, as this may make them feel that you are “buttering them up” and can even come across as unprofessional.

headshot photography

10. Make Good Use of Lighting

The importance of headshot photography lighting cannot be overemphasized. In photography, light is used to highlight the client’s form and features.

The use of lighting is easily the make or break aspect of your photo.

Too little lighting could make them look intimidating or serious, and too much light may not highlight any of the client’s features at all, resulting in a ‘flat’ look.

To get started with an estimate of how much lighting you need, consider the following:
– What is the client’s purpose for the shoot?
– What is their best feature?
– Is the photo going to be taken at a generally bright or dim venue?

Adjust your headshot photography lighting accordingly to achieve the best results. Your adjustments can include equipment such as an on/off-camera flash, a strobe set-up, or even a ring light.

headshot photography lighting

11. Find the Best Camera Settings

It is always advisable to adjust your camera settings to suit every scenario or photoshoot that you find yourself in.

A quick guideline would be:
– F-stop between f/1.8 and f/5.6 for a shallow depth of field, which causes a gorgeous “pop” effect.
– Shutter speed should be, at least, double the length of your focal lens.

A good camera setting acts as a safety net, which you can rely on when shooting in a new environment.

For better results, let’s move onto the next tip on how to use the focus accurately.

12. Fix Your Focus

Keeping the client in focus is one of the most important parts of any kind of portrait photography.

headshot photography example

General guidelines to avoid blurry photos include:
– Focusing on the eyes;
– Using a fast-enough shutter speed
– Using the correct F-stop. The smaller it is, the shallower the depth of field gets. We recommend starting from 5.6 and staying below F18; feel free to experiment.
– Zoom in.

Consider using a tripod if you choose a higher F-stop since it can get quite shaky. Of course, all of these guidelines depend on your specific situation, so don’t be too rigid; sometimes, you may need to break the ‘rules.’

13. Adjust the Camera Accordingly

Depending on the outcome of your pre-session consultation, you may want to bring additional gear to fit the location or new requirements.

Some clients may want their headshots taken with a pretty background. Some may choose a more minimalist look, so be ready to adjust your camera based on this.

There are three main steps to take when adjusting your camera:

I. First, you need to set your aperture according to your needs. The wider the aperture, the more objects will be focused on.

II. Secondly, adjust the shutter speed. Shutter speed is adjusted based on the motion of your client or background. Playing with your shutter speed can help you achieve intentionally blurry backgrounds.

III. The last step would be setting the correct ISO. ISO determines how much light the camera picks up, so a higher ISO can add grain to your pictures.

After these three adjustments have been made, you should be good to go!

headshot photography

Continue to practice these steps to hone your adjusting skills; it will save a lot of time, which is helpful for short photo sessions.

14. Experiment with Various Poses

As a photographer, you can help to make your client’s photo as flattering as possible by asking them to extend their neck to avoid that dreaded double chin, tilt their head at a slight angle, and many more.

The poses you choose will be dependent on the look that your client is trying to achieve. Posing men and women is surprisingly different, as some poses are considered more feminine than others.

A classic pose for male clients includes tucking their hand into the pocket; even though it is just a headshot, it helps them to look and feel more relaxed.

headshot photography

A useful tip for female clients is to take the photo at a slightly raised or lowered angle instead of head-on.

Experiment and see what works best for your client!

15. Find the Perfect Angle

Believe it or not, everybody has an angle. You know, that angle that makes them look and feel good no matter what?

Everyone has their reasons; maybe they have some acne or a scar that they are uncomfortable showing. Perhaps they prefer an angle that puts a little more emphasis on their jawline.

Because people tend to be self-conscious, they usually have preferred angles. Even though you are the photographer, asking them if they have any preferred angles is an act of thoughtfulness.

If clients are unsure, you could show them the results of a few of your previous photo shoots and ask if they have any favorites.

16. Mix and Match Your Compositions

Let’s be honest; nobody wants their profile photo to look like their driver’s license. It just looks bland, and there is nothing attractive about it. To avoid your headshot looking like a driver’s license photograph, consider using some rules of composition.

Rules of composition that can make your photos more exciting include (but are not limited to):

– Perspective – Use interesting perspectives without distorting the image.
– Cropping – Eliminate “busy” backgrounds to give all the attention to your subject.
– Rule of thirds – Your subject should be where the imaginary lines meet.
– Use negative/white space.
– Simplify – Focus on your client.

Photography is a fairly forgiving field because it leaves lots of room for rules to be broken.

headshot photography posing

While it’s great to stay within recommended guidelines, trashing the norm and going against what you’ve learned about how composition can be beneficial.

Trust us, in some exciting ways, breaking the rule works.

17. Keep the Background Simple

Another essential part of headshot photography is background management.

To wow your client at first glance of the picture, backgrounds should be kept simple. And simple does not necessarily mean boring.

Make sure to set up lighting to help create separation between the subject and the background, so that even if the background happens to be a cityscape, it doesn’t overpower the subject.

If you are using natural light, ask them to move away from the background to create distance, then use a wide aperture to blur the background. A nicely blurred background can quickly turn from busy to subtle and muted.

headshot photography

18. Try Shooting While Tethered

Tethered shooting gives you the option to screen through images faster. Another neat feature it provides is instant image storing to your hard drive.

Minor details and small problems can become more apparent while shooting tethered in a studio.

At the same time, showing pictures to your client becomes even easier, allowing them to understand minor tweaks in terms of poses or angles.

Although it may seem inconvenient for those who conduct a session outside of the studio, it’s worth considering, given its many benefits.

19. Attention to Detail

Because of how little is shown in a headshot, attention to detail is the difference between a good photograph and a terrible one.

Eyes must always be in focus. These ‘windows to a person’s soul’ can give more meaning for your headshot photographs. Although it’s difficult to tell someone to make their eyes playful or softer, try to make sure they don’t look zoned-out.

Do not underestimate the power of fixing the seemingly unimportant details, like knocking off some dandruff, straightening their posture, avoiding double chins, and smoothing out creased collars.

It may seem a little pedantic, but it does make a difference!

headshot photography posing example

20. Price Accordingly

Different rates may apply depending on where you live and its current situation. But a general guideline would be to check the other photographers around you based on their level of expertise.

Headshot photography prices shouldn’t be too low as it requires you to edit the photos individually. Make sure that it will be worth your time and effort.

Some people provide packages that include the length of their session, number of locations, and the number of portraits they edit. Some people just write $74 for four pictures and call it a day.

A little psychology trick is to make the cheapest option undesirable and make the rest of their choices more worth it.

For example, the cheapest service you could offer would be $73 for three pictures, while another package would be $100 for five images, and so on.

Although some may consider it deceptive, many industries are performing this practice to make more profit. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide your rates. Just make sure that it is worth the hard effort!

21. Practice, Practice, and Practice

As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”

The last tip for getting better at headshot photography is practice. Practicing will help you get more comfortable shots in a range of different settings.

Start by asking your uncle Bob, or a family member that lives with you. Ask if they want a portrait photo. Search for some good natural light in your backyard or set-up your lighting, and off you go!

headshot photography

The no-pressure practice acts as your photography sandbox, which is convenient!

Practicing outside may be a bit harder because of the current state of the world, but hey, every bit counts.

How Do You Become a Headshot Photographer?

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to enter the world of headshot portraits!

Almost anyone can become a headshot photographer when they have the proper equipment and fundamental skills.

It is, however, preferable if you own a trademark style and a stellar portfolio!

How Do Freelance Photographers Find Work?

Modern technology, social media, and freelancing platforms like Fiverr provide a vast job-hunting ground for freelancers.

Almost every professional needs a decent headshot for their profile pictures on various platforms.

Depending on your reputation, portfolio, and circumstances, getting work may require you to actively search for new clients, or simply put your work out there and be overwhelmed by orders.

Final Remarks

Of all these 21 simple tips, the basics of starting with a pre-session and making your client comfortable would be the most important.

Although the photography itself might be great if the service lacks professionalism and comfort, you may quickly build a bad reputation.

As obvious as it may seem, client service is vital and can outweigh the other technicalities.

The market is wide open for newcomers that want to join and make it their niche. Everybody needs a profile picture, and investing in one is a must nowadays. Nothing is holding you back, so get started and practice diligently.

Good luck!

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