10 Easy Steps to Create Amazing Headshots


Headshots – The Challenge

Headshots ~ If you’re like me, the thought of finding a photographer and having headshots photographed is a challenge.  Will it be expensive?  Will you actually LIKE how you look?  And will you get all the files you need with the permission to us them as you choose?   If you’ve got a DLSR camera and a nice lens or two, or a friend with the gear, wouldn’t it be great to be able to tackle this yourself?  



The Good News:

I’ve narrowed down what I believe are 10 easy steps to shooting pro-looking headshots, even if you’re not a pro.  If you have a basic understanding of how your camera works, you should be able to take some amazing headshots.  You’ll be able to take as many photographs as you’d like, you won’t end up paying for something you don’t like, and you’ll own the full copyright so you’ll be able to use the headshots however you choose! 

Follow along for successful headshots~

We’re going to assume that “Mary” wants headshots.  Here’s how to tackle it.

First – What you’ll need:

Two people.  One to take the headshots.  One to be in the pictures.  (Yes, you could set up a tripod and do this all by yourself, but it adds some new challenges I won’t be covering here)

A Camera.  And a little bit of understanding on how to change settings on it.  Have the camera instruction book handy if you’re not very familiar with how to adjust the settings.
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A good lens.  Yes, This is pretty vague.  So I’ll narrow it down.  You’ll need either a zoom lens that roughly covers the 70-200 mm range or a fixed lens that you can open up your aperture wide.

A good location: Look for surfaces that will bounce light around, and open shade.  You don’t have to find the perfect, picturesque location, because our goal in this exercise is to drop out the focus on the background. 

1. Know your goal

Ask Mary to scour Pinterest and create a board of sample headshots that she loves and represent the style she want.  Is she looking for something casual?  Formal?  You’ve got to know this before you begin. You can only hit the target when you know what it is.  Click here to see a sample board.  

2. Consider Clothing

Outfits should match the message you want to convey – and should work with your background.  Are you looking for casual or corporate style headshot?  A business suit on a beach would be wrong.  A sundress in a formal office setting would be odd.  Also, consider the body composition of Mary and advise her to dress accordingly.  If she wants to look slimmer, make sure she has long sleeves, solid color, preferably darker colors.  Watch necklines that are too stiff around the neck.  I personally prefer a lower neckline (but not too low).  Keep it classy.



 3. Location & Light

When you begin shooting, this is your #1 concern.  If your light is bad, your results will be bad, even if you do everything else right.  Don’t let the background be so much brighter than Mary that it gets overexposed.  Use light from above – not below.  Look for reflective surfaces to bounce the light onto Mary’s face.  As I mentioned earlier, look for open shade.


4. Get a little technical 

In most circumstances, you can likely shoot in Aperture Priority mode.  Set your aperture as open as you can.  For example, if you have have the choice of f8 or f4, choose f4.  If you have the choice of f11 or f2, choose f2.  The smaller the number, the more you’ll be dropping out the focus in the background. Now move back and zoom in (if you’re using a zoom lens).  This will drop out the focus on the background and bring your eye to Mary.  This is where you maximize the gear you have.  Zoom in as much as you can, which may mean stepping back more than you’d expect.  Open your aperture wide – possibly as wide as it will go (remember – you want a small number for your aperture).  In headshots, the focus should be on the person and the background should fall away.  If you need a refresher on getting good exposure – read up on it here.

5. Watch your speed

If you zoom in, you’ll likely see a drop in shutter speed.  Make sure your shutter speed is at least twice your focal length.  For example – if you are zoomed to 200mm, you need at least 1/400 sec shutter speed.  For longer lenses, I like to go 3-4 times the focal length because I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to holding the camera steady.  You could also consider using a monopod. Click here to see the monopod I use.   

10 Easy Steps for Shooting Amazing Headshots

6. Understand posing.

Ask Mary to sit up straight, and bring her chin forward a bit. For most people it’s better if they don’t sit straight on – facing the camera.  Ask her to turn her body slightly to the side, and bring her head back partway towards the camera.  This is slimming.  I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t want to look slimmer.  

7. Shoot from slightly above.

Never shoot up at Mary, unless you like looking at necks and up noses.  It’s just not flattering.  For anyone.   Shooting from straight on is better than shooting up, but still may not get you the look you’re going for.  If you can get the camera just a bit above Mary’s face, you’ll see better results.  

10 EASY steps to take amazing headshots!

8. Build confidence.

Most people are uncomfortable in front of the camera, and it shows.  Here’s where the photographer needs to really work with Mary.  Have her loosen up.  Laugh with her.  Tell her to shake her hair out, shake her shoulders.  If she complies, you’ll get her more relaxed, which will get you the look for your headshots that you need.  

9. Eye contact

Connect with the eyes in camera and viewers will connect with them in their headshots.  I know some people love the “gazing off into nowhere look”.  I personally don’t think that works with a headshot.  

10. Retouch just enough

Not too much. Photoshop is your friend.  You can use it to touch up blemishes, remove stray hairs, take out unwanted elements in the background.  Just don’t go overboard.  Avoid trendy looks.  Keep it classic.  Don’t over soften skin.  

 If you’re interested in seeing exactly how I edited these images, comment below or sign up for blog updates to get the scoop!

If you follow these tips and get some great photos, please swing back here and let me know!
And if you’d like to see some of these headshots in action, head over to my friend Barbara’s blog, Hello Life ~ Family Living in Style.