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Intimate portraits, head and shoulder views or head shot portraits, are an excellent way to provide great images for our clients. Since the view is so close, our subjects may feel somewhat anxious or intimidated by the thought of having such a close up portrait of themselves.
Since the subject, who is likely our paying client, is likely to be at least a little camera shy concerning head shot portraits, it is up to the photographer, you, to take control and make the photo shoot as smooth as possible.
This is easier than some may think. Here are some head shot portraits tips that may assist you in making the best head shots possible.
Talk It Out First
Before any images get captured, you should talk to the subject about their head shot portraits, their ideas of how they want to look, your ideas of clothing colors or styles that could be most flattering, and other thoughts.
That would be well before the head shot portrait session. Perhaps as you book the photo shoot, or as the scheduled date gets closer.
When the session starts, I like to chat around a bit. It doesn’t take long, just a few minutes. You don’t need to be an orator or comedian, just be yourself. That should help the subject relax and be themselves in the photos.
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Control Your Set Up
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Whether in a studio or on location, the photographer has the ability and skill needed to control most of the variables involved in how to take head shots.
The set up can refer to your photographic lighting gear, the exposure setting you choose, and the lens used, plus how close or far you are to the subject and how close or far the subject is to the background.
All of these variables can be controlled, at least to some extent, by the photographer. Which brings us the head shot portrait lighting tips and head shot portrait composition tips.
Head Shot Portrait Lighting Tips
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Photographic lighting for head shot portraits can be the same lights and lighting configuration you’re already using. A simple two light set up will work for flattering portraits whether in a studio or on location for environmental head shot portraits.
A configuration I like for head and shoulder views is the basic broad lighting technique. This can easily be accomplished with just one or two small lights. Indoors, you would likely use two lights, one either closer to the subject or set at higher power than the other light.
Outdoors, you can make this technique work for head shot portraits with one portable light optimally placed.
A small portable light I’ve been enjoying since their first Kickstarter campaign is the Hakutatz portable LED light. It’s very compact with a very bright power level that can be used indoors or out. Being battery powered, you can take it anywhere you need to add lighting. It’s now available in their new eBay store.
Additionally, this little light offers amber light, white light, and hundreds of RGB colors so you can truly customize the look and feel of the lighting you get for your head shots.
And since it can literally fit in your pocket, it’s easy to take with you wherever you go - and easy to set up, too.
Head Shot Portrait Composition Tips
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Good head shots portraits depend on posing and composition every bit as much as they depend on lighting and exposure.
The broad lighting technique mentioned above is half light placement, half subject placement. The lights are placed in a position that flatters the face, such as 45 degrees up and 45 degrees to one side.
The subject has their face and body mostly turned towards the light. This illuminates a large portion of the head shot, the broad part of the name for this technique. The short side is in shadow. A second light can be used to lighten the short side shadow.
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Outdoors, or with window light indoors, you would position the subject to take advantage of natural light as the broad light, adding a reflector or small light to fill in the dark side.
Other posing and composition ideas are to make use of the the Rule of Thirds and carefully watch their head placement.
The Rule of Thirds is an important composition tool for most head shot portraits. While there is definitely room for creativity, the head shot many clients will be expecting generally is a composition following established norms.
Make Your Head Shot Portraits Stand Out
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Two things that can help make your version of the regular head shot stand out from the crowd is assisting your subject with head and hand placement, and selective focus.
So many people act completely natural right up until the camera lens cap off. Then they seem paralyzed. As a photographer, this is when you take control and make suggestions for flattering head position and natural looking hand placement.
photo by damircudic via iStock
You also set your portraits apart by setting the head shot portrait subject apart from the background by means of selective focus and proper lens choice. Short telephoto lenses and wider apertures are a method you can use to make that happen.
As the photographer, you can take control of head shot portraits with good lighting, pleasing composition, and comfortable posing suggestions.