How Should I Pose for a Headshot?

If you’re rather new to getting headshots, you might wonder going into a session what you should do to pose? Like most photography answers, there is no one way or one shoe fits all answer to this. Much of it depends on the purpose of the headshot – is it for an actor, executive, a model, dancer, etc. and how will it primarily be used? Also, is there a feel or emotion you’re trying to convey?

There truly is no one way to address how to pose. Therefore, there are no rules. But there are some obvious considerations.

To Smile or Not to Smile

Smiling during headshots is arguably the one thing most people struggle with. They often think they overdo it or underdo it. It’s never just right. Therefore, it’s important to establish quick rapport with a headshot photographer. Being put at ease goes a long way toward getting that smile just right.

When posing for a smile, consider having your headshot photographer take many variations so you can ultimately find that one where your smile is great. Then again, there are some situations where you don’t want to smile. For example, an actor theatrical headshot might call for a more serious look.

theatrical headshots los angeles

Sometimes, a Smile Isn’t Fitting, Such as With Theatrical Actor Headshots

It’s All in Your Head

Don’t be afraid to use subtle head movements. A slight head tilt can go a long way. It’s usually best to not have your chin up but, also not too far down either. Pair your head movement with your smile. For example, it’s probably more natural if you have a closed-lip smile after moving your head up into position and a slightly open-mouthed smile if you’ve moved your head out toward the camera.

Also, try some shots with your head slightly tilted to each side. And, also try some shots with your chin out over-extended toward the camera. Think of a turtle extending their neck. It sounds odd and seems odd to do but, on some occasions, it can make a big difference. It’s worth taking a shot at it.

Look into My Eyes

In portrait-taking, we’ve all heard the phrase “communicate with your eyes” and it’s true but can be difficult for some to pull off. Basically, remember the point of why you’re getting a headshot. People that have difficulty communicating with their eyes often do so because they separate what their mouth is doing from what their eyes are doing.

If you’ve ever seen someone in a photo that looks like they have a fake smile, it’s often because only the bottom half of their face is smiling – or showing whatever emotion is intended. So, if you can smile with your eyes and mouth – or look serious with your eyes and mouth – at the same time, you’re likely pulling off an authentic look.

Use Your Hands, Or Not

In most cases for a classic headshot, the use of hands doesn’t come into play. Use of your hands is usually in portraits. There is a difference between a headshot and a portrait. So, when might hands come into play in a headshot?

Some executive headshots can be from around the belly up and in some cases, folding your arms can look good. So, this is one example when your hands might come into play. Another example is during lifestyle headshots. With these types of headshots, the goal is to show you in your element. So, an example might be a real estate agent beaming with confidence and an inviting smile.

real estate headshot

Use of Your Hands is Rare in Headshots but Can Be Positively Impactful When Appropriate

Summing it Up

So, if you generally follow the below summarized tips, and probably combined with some advice from your headshot photographer, you should come out of a headshot session with good poses accomplished.

  1. Smile when it fits the goal of the photo and make it natural
  2. Establishing rapport with the photographer can put you at ease for a better smile
  3. Look serious if needed, such as for actor theatrical headshots
  4. Consider slight head movements, such as chin out, chin down, and slight head tilts
  5. Communicate with your eyes and mouth, not just one or the other
  6. In most cases, don’t worry about your hands


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