I’m going to help you get your own headshots. You can do it. And I’m going to tell you right now that the most important thing in a headshot is to create a moment that the camera will capture. It’s your expression that matters. If you trust in me and come to my studio here in Los Angeles, I will take great care of you. Professional lighting and great lens sure make a difference, but I’ve given these tips below to other people that have successfully done their own headshots with the help of a friend or even just with a tripod and a timer; and it’s the creation of a magic moment – even for a fraction of a second – that brings an impact that we can see in the final shot.
So here we go.
You want a headshot that features your best expression, your confident, approachable self. You will get many comments from me against distracting elements, and that’s because the viewer should most of all see that expression on your face, not what you’re wearing or other things around your picture.
You will probably benefit from having someone to help and actually press that button. You could use a tripod and a timer and do some trial-and-error and get everything in place, but having someone on the other side of the camera can help in several ways, maybe pointing out things you did not see, or just being a human being interacting with you as you try to look connected with the camera.
And then, watch out for these items:
- You want to look your best, be well groomed. Any facial hair should be looking great. If wearing makeup, it should be very natural, just even out the skin, give a very slight glow and shape, and give a little shine to the lips. A little makeup can make you look polished; too much makeup is distracting. Eyes should be very natural, avoid hard lines and dark eyeliner and eyelashes.
Eyebrows should be natural, under control but not looking artificial. Especially in a headshot, you don’t want people’s gaze concentrated on your eyebrows, either because they’re too crazy or because they look like they were painted on you. Also, avoid plucking them the same day or day before, it will show the redness!
Make sure your skin is clean, not too shiny, and not too dry. Hydrate, drink plenty of water in the previous days. Use chap stick the previous days, make sure your lips are not chapped for the shot.
Hair: it should not be the center of attention. Just well groomed and simple.
- Dress like you’re going to an important interview or meeting. Avoid clothing that looks beaten up, wrinkled. Be simple and elegant. If your market requires a suit, wear one. Whatever you wear, needs to fit you perfectly. If wearing a collar, it needs to sit around the neck without extra space and without being too tight. The extra space on the back of the collar is especially distracting! Also, the shoulders need to fit perfectly, and avoid any padding (so 80s!).
Avoid patterns, stripes, and do not wear bright colors. Neutral or pastel are better, but always a color that fits you, and that you feel comfortable in. White can be used with caution, it can be too bright sometimes, but most times it’s okay. Black is a bit more difficult, but vivid colors sure get the wrong attention. Check how the colors sit against your skin and against the background.
Avoid tops without straps, as it might look like you’re not wearing anything, which is… unusual!
No big jewelry, no hats, no accessories. Often, the viewer has a fraction of a second to see (which they will later remember) your face, not your accessories.
- Have a background that won’t stand out. A plain, white-ish wall is probably your best bet. You can also opt for an out of focus background, but those probably still provide too much information that can be distracting. If standing in front of a wall, give some distance between you and the wall – two or three feet (or more, if your clean piece of wall is big enough) would be great. Make sure there are no details behind you, wall decoration, edge of a furniture etc. Or you can go the out of focus background and be in front of a bookcase, for instance – but then you have to make sure to keep some distance.
- Light it up. Having a window in front of you is a great idea. If not a natural source such as a window, make sure the light is not making you look yellowish (incandescent light) or green (fluorescent light). Avoid hard light that creates hard shades, such as direct sunlight. If shooting outside, be in the shade, with more light coming from your front than from your back – for instance, if you stand under an awning, in the shade, facing the direction where the light mostly comes from, it might work out great. Check that your eyes are well lit. If you have a white sheet of paper under your face, just outside the perimeter of your shot, reflecting light into your eyes, it might work well.
- Stand straight, maybe with the body a little sideways and head facing forward, as if you were in conversation with the viewer (the camera). Sometimes standing with your body straight to the camera can be a bit confrontational, or maybe less interesting than just a bit sideways, but it really depends on how you look and how you seem comfortable and conversational. Don’t cross your arms or put your hands on your pockets or on your waist, those positions make your shoulders look too broad when we crop at headshot size. Standing slightly sideways will probably make you look slimmer; hands on pockets or waist will probably make you look wider in a headshot crop.
- If you’re wearing glasses, make sure they’re clean and watch out for glare; we want to see your eyes. Push the glasses up against the bridge of your nose, so it’s not crossing your eyes and blocking our view. If the glare is hiding your eyes, move yourself in relation to the light or find a different spot. Oh, and don’t wear sunglasses for a headshot 🙂
- Do not have hair covering your face, or too close to your eyes. Again, we want to see your eyes, and they should have enough space around them so that they’re the center of attention. If you have longer hair, make sure it’s not covering all over your front. Have at least one side behind the shoulder so we see your neck. Avoid areas where we can see through your hair (where we can see the background through your hair). Avoid tucking hair behind the ear.
- Have the camera at your level, maybe slightly lower. As in an equal-to-equal conversation, or maybe you’re just very slightly above. That helps make you look confident and approachable. Never have the camera higher, looking down on you, as that diminishes you.
- Do not use a wide angle camera. By default, that’s what cell phones do: take wide angle pictures. You want to get distance and zoom in. If the camera is too close and the angle is wide, your facial expressions will suffer distortion, your nose will look bigger or maybe your chin or whatever is a tiny closer to the camera. If the camera is a bit far and zoomed in, your facial features will look more balanced.
- Connect with the camera. Look right inside the lens and make an eye-to-eye connection. Get a good posture and elongate your neck. Relax, straighten up, look right in there and be your most confident and approachable self.
Most importantly, have fun while you’re doing it. Yes, it shows. And break a leg!