How Do You Take a Perfect Headshot?

You might be looking for a new headshot to be done or want to learn how to photograph a headshot. Regardless which side of the camera you’re on, this might bring up the question to you about how do you take a perfect headshot?

Studio or Natural Light Headshots

Going to a Studio for Headshots is Common but Natural Light Can Also Be an Option

Studio or Natural Light Headshots?

First off, you don’t “take” a headshot. A headshot is “made,” it’s a creation born out of a process. You might start by wondering in what location should you start? Is a studio best or somewhere outdoors? Studio headshots are most often the better option because it affords the photographer complete control of the lighting they can use.

However, natural light can provide for an endless number of background options and sometimes the background can add to the story you might want to tell in a headshot. But natural light has its limits. You can’t control where the sun will be. You must work around it. In a good studio a photographer can also have multiple background options. Thus, usually a studio headshot is the optimal way to go.

The Goal of Your Headshot

Another factor that plays a role in deciding the location of your headshot is what is the goal of your headshot? If you’re a real estate agent looking for one to use on your business card and brochures, you might want a clean studio background. Then again, if you’re a real estate agent that needs one to run an ad with messaging, you might want a lifestyle headshot, perhaps in our outside of a recent sale you made.

If your photographer has marketing experience, ask them for guidance on how to go about doing the headshot. Or, find someone else with marketing experience to ask. If in doubt, do both studio and natural light and study the results to learn which to use.

What to Wear and Do in Headshots

Unless you’re doing a lifestyle headshot, what you wear isn’t a huge concern. Usually, a headshot is from around the belly up or a bit tighter at around the chest and up. So, what bottoms you wear may not be a concern.

For your top, try to keep it simple. After all, the goal is to have the focus fall on you and not what you’re wearing. Usually, nature colors and pastels are good. Keep jewelry minimal, unless flaunting it is a goal. Makeup is often a personal decision. If it’s a corporate headshot, it’s often best to wear the same amount of makeup you’d do for a client meeting. For actors, wear the same amount of makeup you’d wear for a casting call.

As for what to do, posing is a subject in itself. Your chosen photographer probably has some tips from experience as to what works and doesn’t. Generally, don’t overdo poses. For example, you don’t usually walk around with your wrist bent at a 90-degree angle and your hand under your chin. So, this might also not work for a headshot. Then again, perhaps if you’re a model it might. In a headshot session, you’ll usually take many shots to ensure at least some will be just right.

The Photographer

Up until now, much of the focus has been on the subject. Rightly so as the subject of a photo and how it appears is important. On the other side of the camera, the right photographer is also important. This means working with a photographer that can be creative and has good mastery of the technical side of cameras, lighting and software.

For example, the angle at which a subject is shot matters. Shooting below a person can make them appear a bit more authoritative while shooting from above them can make them appear more submissive. Different facial features are also made more prominent depending on the angle. It’s decisions such as these made by a photographer that can improve upon results of getting the best headshot.

The Camera and Lens Needed for a Great Headshot

The decision on what equipment to use is another part of the equation. One can opt for medium format cameras that are very expensive. Thus, usually a full frame DSLR or mirrorless camera is used, though these too are thousands of dollars for just a camera body, no lens.

These cameras are capable of really good resolutions and when paired with premium lenses truly can deliver incredible details. The lens choice is also very important, with most headshots done being best from a focal length of around 85mm to 135mm. Which focal length to chose often depends on the subject and a photographer should understand this.

The Software and Lighting Needed for the Best Headshot

The quality of lighting is also important. If we’re talking “the best” here, the brand you choose can make a noticeable difference. Not all studio lights are equal, nor are the light modifiers used with them. Then understand the laws of light is important.

Once you’ve got all this down you can start making a headshot and once you’ve selected that one, there is post-production. Some might argue post-production is optional and I’d say I’ve yet to see a photo that couldn’t have been improved – even if just a tiny bit – with post-production.

Getting all things right in-camera is a good photographer’s goal. But post-production can fix little things. This can be fly-away hair, lint on a shirt, shadows under the eyes, whitening teeth, a bit of acne, and so on. Then there is also how to crop the photo, which in most cases is 8×10.

And the Answer Is

That’s a good look at what factors are at play when attempting to make a perfect headshot. You’ve probably noticed there was no specific outline or steps defined to do it. This is because there is no one way to do it. Various factors must be considered to work toward making what is the best headshot for that subject at that time.

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