How do you take a professional headshot?

Headshot Photography, Headshot Photography FAQ

Before we get started on how do you take a professional headshot, let’s look at the definition of a headshot.

A headshot is a photograph that focuses on the head and shoulders and communicates confidence and approachability. A great headshot helps people recognise you and build a connection with you.

I always recommend you work with a professional photographer to create your headshot. They’ll help you relax and create images that feel aligned with your personal brand and capture your personality.

If you’re on a tight budget, here are five quick tips to help you take a professional headshot.

1. Focus on the face

A headshot is different to a branding photo. We’re not looking to tell a story or reveal where you work or what you do. A headshot is a photo that focuses on the head and shoulders so keep it nice and tight, so all the attention is on the face. You also want to ensure you have great eye contact and the eyes are pin sharp in the photo too.

2. Capture a warm and engaging expression

We’re naturally attracted to faces that feel warm and inviting. So if you’ve asked a friend to take your headshot, spend a bit of time having some fun so you feel relaxed. It’s worth taking lots of photos so you have plenty of variety too. Afterwards delete the blinkers and the funny expressions!

I’m often asked by clients if you should smile in a headshot, and my answer is it depends on the situation.

There are lots of factors at play here, such as…

  • How you feel about smiling (does it feel natural)
  • What’s your job? – is it appropriate to smile
  • The company culture
  • Where the photos will be used

Definitely take a look at the article on smiling in a headshot, if you’re not sure.

3. Avoid distractions

I mentioned that we need to keep the focus on your face with a warm and engaging expression. To help keep the focus where we want it, simple plain backgrounds are best. The same applies to outfits, again simple block colours are preferred to bold patterns as they’re less distracting.

4. Soft natural light

I’m assuming that you don’t have a room full of professional lighting equipment so there’s a good chance you’ll be working with natural light

The best kind of light for portraits and headshots is soft light. It wraps around the face, evens out any wrinkles and softens shadows. Think of the light on a cloudy day – this is often perfect for headshots. So try and find open shade or if you’re inside you’ll find great light for portraits from a large north facing window. Avoid direct sun and hard shadows where possible.

5. The right camera and lens

Professional photographers will use equipment that’s been designed for portraits. A modern camera will deliver great resolution and sharp focus even in low light. However the lens choice is even more important.

Portrait lenses have a longer focal length which reduces distortion and the depth of field can be easily controlled to blur background distractions.

Ideally you should use a camera with a portrait lens, but if you only have access to a smart phone this is my suggested quick set up.

  • Look for a well-lit location with soft light (point 4) and avoid distracting backgrounds (point 3).
  • Take some time to ensure you feel relaxed.
  • Use the portrait feature on your smartphone camera if it has one. This will keep the focus on the face and blur the background.
  • Make sure whoever is taking the photos doesn’t get too close. Smartphone cameras tend to distort the face if you’re too close. So take the photo further away and crop the image afterwards if you need to.
  • Play around with different expressions until you capture an image you feel happy with.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

If you’d like to find out more, I’ve written a series of headshot photography FAQs. Clients often ask me these questions, so I hope you find them helpful.     

If you prefer a chat instead, or you’d like to plan a headshot session you can book a complimentary consultation call here. 

Learn more about headshot photography and the other services I offer including business storytelling photography, personal branding photography and corporate event photography.