Tips for a Great Headshot

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Welcome another photo contributor, Tara Butler, the owner of Tara B Photography, based in Utah.  I love to hear the perspective of other photographers sharing photo tips, so I’ve invited a few to share on my site.

A little bit about Tara: She teaches in the Music Dance Theatre department of BYU.  Her current hobbies include playing Peter Pan and Wendy with her 3 year old, nibbling the fat rolls on her baby, studying human anatomy and physiology, and concocting new green smoothie recipes.

I’m excited to meet Tara in a few weeks while I’m in Utah and take her family pics;) Here’s a pic of her:



Take it away, Tara…

Once upon a time I was an equity actress living in New York, so I’m coming from the world of “this headshot better get me an audition because if I don’t get this audition, I have absolutely no chance of paying my rent this month.”

In other words, I think headshots are important!

No matter what type of photoshoot I’m doing – wedding, family, engagement, senior, newborn, it always requires a good headshot.  It’s great to have the luxury of a full session just for one person’s headshots, but usually, I’m needing to snap them quickly – in an amongst the other shots of the session.

So, here are some fool proof tips to getting a great headshot in a jiffy:

1.  FOCAL LENGTH – go long!  Step back from your subject, and zoom in all the way.  You will have more blur in the background so the face “pops”. When you are zoomed out and standing close to a subject, it distorts the middle of their face to be bigger. Most people don’t love their nose lookin’ bigger!  The two pictures below are taken with my 24-105 4.0L lens. The first is at 24mm (zoomed out and standing close), and the second is taken at 105 mm (standing farther away and zoomed in).

‘Nough said, right?!  That’s my gorgeous sister by the way.  Totally no photoshop.  Thanks, Jen for being willing to look like a distorted alien for the sake of a photo tutorial!
*BTW, This is why you don’t always look so great when you take selfies with your cell phone – focal length isn’t long enough to do you justice!

2. ANGLES. It’s always fun to play with angles.  With headshots, you want to be shooting straight on or above (never below the subject – hello, nostrils and chin fat!!)  Standing above the subject is flattering.  It opens the eyes, puts catch light in them as they reflect the sky, and thins the rest of the face.  Wrinkles and fat are pulled smoother by gravity when they are looking up.  If someone has a face that is angular and thin, this might be an exception to the rule – in that case it might be better to shoot from straight on.

Above: (and slightly to the side)

Straight on:
Guys look more masculine if you shoot at their level.  That’s my 18 year old brother trying to look fierce.  Work it, Drew!

3.  EYES. Be sure the eyes are the place your camera locks focus.  It’s very hard to get your camera to lock a sharp focus on the eyes without light reflected in the eyes, so find a way to get some catch light in the eyes.  Get above the subject so their eyes reflect light from the sky, or reflect some light on their face by putting their back to the sun and using a reflector to bounce it back at them.  If you are inside or in a shady spot, put them facing the window or light source.  Eyes are the main thing that will invite the viewer in to the photograph – they are the window to the soul!

4.  PERSONALITY.  That’s the point of a head shot.  (Think 1990’s glamour shots. Let’s take a minute to laugh together. Hahahahahaha. Why are they hilarious? Because you have absolutely no idea who you are looking at, and then 5 minutes later it dawns on you, and then it strikes you as hilarious – right?)

So the point is to keep it real. Keep talking to your subject.  Don’t make a big deal of it.  You can’t distract them from the fact that you are taking the picture.  Don’t try to . . . . but just keep snapping as you tell them to do lots of things.  Let them focus on the task at hand, and let them get comfortable interacting with your camera.  Tell them to laugh, to give you a sexy face, etc. (The sexy face usually yields the most natural laughs.  This is not why my 3 year old is laughing in the second picture below though. Just had to clarify.)

Above is a head shot I took for an actress.   Obviously you notice she’s gorgeous.  But then you just really really like her, too.  Because she seems happy, interesting, and down to earth. You feel like you might want to go eat a hamburger with her!

My 3 year old imp – personality galore.  Just keep snapping with kids. They are wiggly and crazy but also delightfully un-self conscious. If you keep snapping while focusing on the eyes, you can totally capture their little personalities without giving them a lot of direction.

So there are some technical tips for getting a head shot that makes the subject look attractive while capturing their personality.

Hope this helps, happy head shotting!

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