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Providing professional headshots for clients is good for your bottom line as a professional photographer. You can offer the service as part of your portfolio of portraiture, you could specialize in it, or you may want to only dabble in professional headshots from time to time.
There are techniques for taking headshots that are very similar to professional portrait photography tips in that we are concerned with our camera settings and lighting configurations as well as posing hints. For this session of headshot photo advice, we’ll concentrate on 4 ideas helpful for how to take professional headshots.
Talk It Out
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Who are our clients for professional headshots? Most of the time, we’re probably not going to be shooting models or actors. It’s fair to say that many subjects won’t already know how to take headshots. However, we can always let them know how to take professional headshots with a pre-shoot conversation.
This conversation may happen at the time we book the photoshoot or right before taking the portraits. Let them know what the intent is for the final images, perhaps by showing them your promotional images of previous headshots.
It’s also important to talk during the actual session. Small adjustments to the subject’s posing or facial expression are appropriate to say. You might make light small talk, too, so it’s not all just direction or correction to the subject. This helps keep the subject relaxed which will result in better portraits.
Use Flattering Light
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Unless it’s specifically requested otherwise, professional headshots should be clearly lit with flattering light. The contrasty lighting styles such as Rembrandt lighting may not be the best choice for professional headshots.
Simple broad lighting is a good look for professional headshots. A key light and fill with perhaps a 2:1 or 3:1 lighting ratio, reflectors can also be used. The background can be either lit or unlit, depending on if you want it bright or dark.
Position the main light 45 degrees to the side of the camera, elevated from 0 to 30 degrees or so, but definitely avoid having the light below subject eye level. Have the subject turn their body toward the main light and turn their face toward the camera. Use your fill or reflector to add light back to the face.
This configuration gives a flattering modeling effect for the face without obscuring any features. It also makes for an attractive eye catchlight.
Put Them On a Pedestal
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We adore our clients, true, but this headshot photo advice is about posing. A tall stool is one of the best items for a portrait studio, especially so for professional headshots. Anything from a purpose made adjustable posing stool to an old barstool will work.
Using a stool is usually better than a chair because it allows freedom of movement to fine tune posing the subject. A stool positions the subject in such a way where their hands fall naturally in front of them, resting on a leg, so it also helps alleviate nervousness about what to do with their hands.
Lens Choice Matters
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A short telephoto lens is often used for the head and shoulders portrait as well as three-quarter body shots. Since professional headshots are primarily framed as head and shoulders, the short telephoto focal lengths remain the standard choice.
While you would have that focal length in a kit lens, a single focal length prime or faster zoom will have the wider open maximum apertures that give shallow depth of field which portrait artists prefer. Selective focus is one of the standard techniques for taking headshots.
A short telephoto lens is preferred for portraits because of the flattering slight foreshortening apparent perspective effect. Other fast lenses such as our Nifty Fifty (or the equivalent normal lens of whatever format we’re using) with a very fast maximum aperture aren’t a first choice for many portrait artists because of the slight distortion of facial features which occur when close enough to fill the frame with head and shoulders.
Bonus: Review and Feedback
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We said 4 professional portrait photography tips, but let’s add in one more bonus tip for our professional headshots session, reviewing captured images with the subject.
It doesn’t take long at all to scroll through a few images and get or give feedback with the client. Many of the current DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, especially the prosumer models, have wireless tethering capability. A wirelessly connected tablet becomes the perfect feedback tool.
What kind of feedback are we talking about? We could build on our pre-session conversation about posing to give helpful hints. Keep it upbeat and positive, highlight the poses that are working really well and suggest copying more of those for the rest of the scheduled session.
As a client, the subject could also have some input they can offer. In fact, we can ask for their feedback. The images they like the best tell us what type of posing, position, and expression direction and coaching we might focus on for the remainder of the session.
When photographing large groups of professional headshots, such as for a company wanting their employees to have portraits all at once, you will probably eliminate this step for time saving and simplifying the workflow. The feedback step is completely optional whatever the setting, but it can result in truly superb professional headshots when employed well.
What’s Your Business Model?
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Your professional portrait offerings are part of your business model, so you want to get the best results out of your efforts. Use the professional portrait photography tips that enhance your bottom line. Professional headshots can be a useful and profitable part of your photography business.