How To Take A Professional Headshot
We need photos of ourselves for a whole range of reasons. And while taking your own professional headshot sounds daunting at first, trust us when we say it really couldn’t be any easier!
Whether you’re taking a photo of yourself, a friend or a colleague, we’ll take you through the best approach to use.
Getting a professional to photograph headshots can cost a lot of money. But there’s no need to reach for your wallet because with a little bit of knowledge and practice, you’ll be taking photos that look like you’re a pro in no time.
What’s more, you don’t need to run to the local camera store and spend thousands on equipment.
You can achieve professional quality images with the camera you have, or even a smartphone, so you can upload them instantly to platforms like LinkedIn.
Let’s jump in and take your first DIY headshot.
Table of Contents
Why Do We Need Headshots?
In the past, it was very rare for working professionals of any kind to require photo identification. Getting in and out of your place of work didn’t require a swipe card or a badge to show security.
Today, however, we live in a world where identification and security are essential – especially at work. As a result, the best way to confirm your identity is with a photo of yourself – just like with a drivers license.
Headshots are the best style of photo for this kind of application as they show a clear and current image of your face and head. Of course, headshots can be used for much more than just security passes.
As we dive deeper and deeper into a digital world, having an online presence is important for both social and professional branding.
Your face is your most important brand assets as it’s how people identify you and associate with what you do and say.
Also, in many professional settings, it’s critical to have an online presence with a bio and a picture of your face.
If you run a business, head a team or deal directly with the public, then you want people to know who you are. Having a great photo of your face makes you both identifiable and relatable.
Also, with social media platforms being so powerful, a professional headshot is a core element of your online persona.
In applications like LinkedIn and Facebook, having a professional or suitable headshot builds familiarity in your audience.
Tips for Great Headshots
Taking a professional headshot of yourself or another person sounds pretty straightforward, and it can be. But you need to take a few steps to plan, prepare, shoot and edit your photos before you post them anywhere.
This is especially critical if you’re taking headshots for a place of employment or for a professional profile.
Planning for your photography headshots is an essential step because it ensures that you capture exactly what you want and need.
Understanding the settings that the photos will be used in will help to guide you on the style of photo you want. Here are some tips for the planning stage.
Decide whether to shoot indoors or outdoors
- Consider the backdrop against which the headshot should be taken. For professionals, indoors generally looks best. But it also depends on the industry and setting that the photo is for.
- If it’s for a corporate style gig, then indoors with no noticeable distractions is ideal.
- If it’s for an outdoors-based business or role (let’s say you run a gardening business or work as an environmentalist), then you should probably shoot outside with some greenery in the background.
Consider the equipment you need
- It’s also essential to consider the equipment you may need so you don’t find yourself missing something on the day. If indoors, think about lighting, backdrops, tripod, etc.
Once you know the style of professional headshot you want to capture, you need to prepare the space the photos are to be taken in.
Here are some important considerations:
Find and prepare your location
- Find a space clean of any clutter or distractions. If you’re shooting in an office space, then try and find an empty office that you can work in so you’re not distracted and you don’t distract others.
- For backdrops, a blank wall in the background is best as you want the head to be the centre of attention.
- If shooting outdoors, locate a space well before your shoot and ensure it’s suitable and won’t have people walking through it.
- Also, check the weather forecast to prevent any failed attempts.
Prepare your lighting
- Light is super important! Check what the lighting conditions are like as the more light you have the better.
- If outdoors, you want days that are bright and light, but overcast – nothing worse than having a photo taken in glaring direct sunlight.
- If indoors, set up near a window so you can make the most of natural light.
- Alternatively, if shooting with a digital camera, consider the use of a flash bounced off the ceiling to improve light without nasty shadows.
Work on styling
- Dress for the setting and style of the headshot. If it’s for a corporate setting, then don’t wear anything too loud and bright.
- Stick with solid colours over patterns and only focus on the top half as headshots won’t capture anything below the waist.
- Do your hair and makeup naturally as you intend to be seen with this image every day – you don’t want your audience having to guess if the person in the picture is the real you.
- Finally, look natural and feel comfortable as that way you will get the best possible photos. Also consider practising your pose in the mirror.
Pose & Shoot
So you’ve made your plans and prepared for the shoot. The next step is where all the action happens.
Here are some key tips for setting up and posing.
If you’re taking your own headshots:
- Once on location, set up your camera. You can use a smartphone (more on that below), or any digital camera. Either set it up on a tripod and use a timer or remote control to trigger the shutter, or get someone else to help you out by pressing the button.
- Get your pose and expression right (hopefully, you’ll have practised in the mirror first).
- Unless you’re required to, don’t stand facing the camera with your face and body. A simple way to avoid this is to stand with one foot slightly in front of the other. Even though your feet and legs won’t be in the photo, this little action will naturally make you want to twist one shoulder forward. Don’t fight it, go with it so that one shoulder points slightly toward the camera and the other away.
- With this in place, you can turn your head towards the camera and remember to hold your chin up and elongate your neck. Make yourself feel tall and proud rather than slouched and sloppy.
- You can tilt your head ever so slightly and be conscious not to squint at the camera.
- Finally, take a deep breath, think of something fun and let your natural smile show – even corporate headshots looks best when you smile.
If you’re taking professional headshots of someone else:
- Set up your camera and take a few test shots to check your settings are correct.
- Position the subject to be neatly framed with no distractions and start shooting.
- Take short breaks to check the images and show them to the person being photographed. Provide friendly advice and direction for the next round of shots.
- Try to relax and have fun so that the person you’re shooting is also relaxed and looks natural.
- Above all else, don’t finish until you know have at least a handful of great shots fit for purpose.
When it comes to taking the photos, don’t be afraid to takes lots and lots. Our faces move and constantly change, as does our posture – so having many photos to choose from makes the job easier.
Once you’re done with taking the headshots, it’s well worth the time to apply even some basic editing to the images.
While images straight out of the camera can look good, it’s amazing the difference even a few little edits will make.
Whether you edit your images on a mobile or a computer, your headshots will pop and stand out from the crowd.
Here’s how you can optimise the quality of your professional headshot:
- The first step in any editing workflow is to ensure that the image is aligned properly. There’s no point using a headshot where it appears that you’re leaning backwards. Using a cropping tool will allow you to straighten your image and crop the frame so that the person’s head and shoulders sit comfortably in the image.
- We can’t always control the quality of light when taking a photo. Being able to edit the exposure or brightness of an image is a quick win for great photos.
- When changing the exposure, you need to ensure that you don’t end up with parts of the photo that are overexposed or far too bright. Also, you don’t want areas of the photos that are underexposed or too dark.
- Depending on your editing software, you can also finely adjust the detail in the shadows and highlights.
- With your exposure just right, adding a little bit of contrast to an image adds a lot of depth and character. Changing the contrast alters the variance between lighter and darker parts of the image. It also creates a more dynamic play on tones within the image, making them far more appealing.
- All too often images straight out of a camera will be a little dull and washed out. The best way to manage this is to either apply a colour filter within your phone or to manage the colour manually.
- Being able to gently boost the vibrance and saturation of the colour will add a great deal of warmth and character. Headshots look much better when the colour is up as it makes the subject look healthy and happy.
Now your professional headshots are done and ready to be shared on websites and social media.
How Do You Take Professional Headshots With Your Phone?
Step 1: Clean Your Phone
Taking photos and selfies with a phone is super easy – but achieving professional-quality headshots takes more effort. Before you even take your first professional headshot, you need to ensure that your phone is set up correctly.
A great start is to give it a good clean including the front and rear camera as well as the screen. This way your images will be clear and crisp and you can review them accurately on your screen.
Step 2: Set Up The Camera App
Most current models of smartphones have the ability to change settings on the camera app. I recommend that you turn off the flash first – flash can wash out the face and cause unwanted background shadow.
Next, you should activate the HDR or High Dynamic Range setting if your phone supports it. HDR allows your camera to handle the low and highlights better and makes your image punchy.
If you want to control the aperture, you can change this to around f/2.8 – this will result in your subject in focus but the background slightly blurry. Don’t use the built-in portrait mode as this can result in the subject having out-of-focus areas.
Also, don’t use filters when taking the photos – you can always apply these later. Make sure to take a couple of practice shots and check the outcomes so you don’t end up with all your shots looking wrong.
Step 3: Use A Tripod
Holding a phone in your hands to capture a professional headshot will work fine. But for the best results and the sharpest images, do yourself a favour and purchase a small and inexpensive phone tripod.
The quality and the value are irrelevant as long as it holds the phone upright and stable.
This is even more important for taking a selfie as holding the phone out at arm’s length for an extended period will result in fatigue and camera shake.
With a tripod, you can compose the image and have everything stay where it should be ready for the shot.
Step 4: Check Lighting
As mentioned earlier, check your lighting to ensure that there’s adequate light falling on you/your subject. It can be difficult to correct extreme lighting impacts such as deep shadows and blown-out highlights in editing.
If you’re using a separate light source like an LED panel, make sure that it feels natural and doesn’t cast unwanted background shadows. Most importantly, ensure that there’s adequate light on the face.
If you want to try something dramatic, check out our guide to Rembrandt Lighting here which can give your headshots some drama.
Step 5: Take Your Shot
Regardless of if you’re photographing someone else or yourself, you should take a large number of images. Everyone moves or blinks or squints when having photos taken – that’s why professional photographers take hundreds of shots when on the job.
By taking lots of shots you can sort through them to pick out the photo that’s just right. However, I recommend doing so in short bursts.
This way, you can review what you’ve already taken to check for any problems with the pose, lighting, and sharpness. Imagine taking dozens of photos and not checking them only to find out that they were all out of focus.
It also gives your smile a chance to relax!
Step 6: Edit And Publish
One of the best things about shooting a professional headshot on your phone is that you can edit your photos right there and then.
What’s more, once you’re done editing, you can publish the image directly to your Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media profile.
But before you go posting your images, it pays to make some moderations to your image.
Check out my advice in the Edit section above – you’ll want to fix the exposure, contrast, colour and framing of your image.
Fortunately, phones make these tasks incredibly easy, plus you have the option to apply some great filters. My only advice with filters is to not go too crazy – you want your image to look professional after all.
Professional Headshots FAQs
What makes a good professional headshot?
A good professional headshot is one that’s technically well taken (i.e., well exposed, crisp and in focus), and well-composed with no distracting elements and the subject drawing the eye. It also conveys the subject in a way they’d like to be seen.
Should I smile in a professional headshot?
There are no hard and fast rules about smiling in headshots – it really depends on your profession and how you would like to present yourself. If you feel comfortable smiling, it can certainly make for a warmer and more inviting portrait.
Are professional headshots worth it?
Generally speaking, yes – especially if you’re in a profession where you need to display one frequently. Getting your headshot taken professionally will ensure a high quality of image and a good result.
Why are headshots so expensive?
Headshots can often be expensive because it’s expensive for the photographer to produce them. Consider the professional equipment, skills and experience, potentially a studio space, and time taken to photograph as well as edit and retouch the images.
Taking a headshot doesn’t need to be a daunting task.
Even if you’re taking your own headshot, it’s possible to get a professional result while acting as both photographer and subject. In fact, you have maximum control over all aspects of the image and can take as much time as you want – so don’t think of it as a bad thing!
You can even get a great shot by using your smartphone.
Just make sure to relax, smile and get your face in focus. If you can do that, you’re already halfway to an awesome photo.
If you’re taking a photo of someone else, remember to help them relax and don’t be afraid to experiment with different poses and backdrops.
Follow the rest of the tips above, and you’ll have a killer headshot or profile pic in no time.