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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  1. Thanks for great tips! 🙂
    I have one question.. what if you shoot on the cloudy day? How to get the catch light in the subject’s eyes? Maybe if I stand far from subject and use flashlight? tnx

    • Hi Janja! Cloudy days are great for shooting because there aren’t harsh shadows anywhere. You get nice even light. Just go out in the open, stand above them so the sky reflects light into their eyes (it will even if it’ s overcast), and snap away!

  2. Love all the tips – Tara has taken some great headshots of our family! Love ya girl!!

  3. I love Tara! She was my voice teacher for a summer. Her photography is one of my faves too!!

  4. some freakin awesome tips! great post!

  5. Great tips! My photos of people usually turn out weird looking, but I’m to practice a bit more with this is mind!

  6. The 24mm perspective was giving me the heebie jeebies! Great tips!

  7. really great! thanks for sharing!

  8. really great! thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you so much for all of the awesome tips! Now I know why I hate my headshot so much, it was taken way too close.

  10. Great tips, love the before and after visuals!

  11. These are great tips! I love all of your examples,

  12. The first tip was totally brand new to me. Thanks! I can’t wait to try it out.

  13. So many great tips! I’ve been needing to get a head shot done and this information is just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks!

  14. These are great tips! I always wondered why I look so terrible in the pics I take with my phone. Now I know! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Great tip about stepping back andnusung zoom! It makes so much sense and i wouldnt have figured it out on my own! Thanks!

  16. Thanks – very helpful!

    I do have a question, though… in the first tip, you suggest stepping back, and then zooming in. Is there a rule of thumb for how far the camera should be from the subject? Or do you zoom, and then keep stepping back until their face is framed?

  17. Sonya Ramsey says:

    Such a beautiful headshot. You can easily see that this is work of great photographer.

  18. Thanks for the tips, those are truly professional actor headshots.

  19. I love your tip on capturing their personality. That is something I love about good photographers–their skill to make you feel comfortable in front of the camera. When you keep it real like you mentioned, it allows the person to act more naturally in front of the camera.


  1. […] you don’t have something usable in the photos you have on hand then plan a photo shoot! Grab your camera and a friend with a good eye for composition and take photos, lots and lots of […]

  2. […] Since this was my first “official” shoot specifically for headshots, I did a little research. You can see the research on my Photography/Design Pinterest Board. My favorite pin on the topic is by photographer Tara Butler. She offers her personal check list on the basics of creating good headshots in a blog post from Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke.  […]