Tips for Great Headshots

Headshots are head and shoulder portraits often used by businesses to introduce their staff members. These kinds of portraits are also popular for acting portfolios, dating sites, and personal web pages. Though taking headshots sounds like a simple procedure, it’s actually quite challenging to produce images that accentuate the subject’s best features and give a hint of his or her personality traits. Hammering out the details, including lighting, posing, and post-processing requires a fair amount of skill. Use these tried and true tips to improve your headshot photography.


Inga I. by Philip Odegard

Establish Rapport

People act differently in front of a camera than they do in real life. Your job is to help them act like themselves by creating a comfortable, safe environment. Whenever possible, spend at least a few minutes getting to know your subjects before you dive into photographing them. Provide them with a quick overview of what to expect during the photo session. This will calm their anxiety and show them that you’re a capable and confident photographer.

Get Up High

Most people look best when they are photographed from slightly above eye level. When the camera is in a higher position, double chins are minimized and eyes usually appear bigger, since the subject is looking up. Seat your subjects so their eyes are just below your camera level, or use a tall tripod if they’re standing.

Use Flattering Light

Diffused light is almost always the best choice for portraiture. It softens the skin and de-emphasizes wrinkles and blemishes. Use a window with a diffusion panel, an overcast sky, or a softbox as your main light source. Fill in with a reflector or additional light sources to eliminate harsh shadows. Consider using a rim or hair light to set the subject off from the background. Don’t be afraid to experiment with light positioning until you find just the right setup.

Focus on the Eyes

Eyes are what draw a viewer into a portrait, and this is especially true of headshots. While many photographers prefer to use a wide aperture for headshots in order to throw the background out of focus, it’s important to make sure the right parts of the face are in focus. Choose a depth of field that puts both eyes in focus, and set your focus point on the eye closest to the camera.

Shoot Tethered

Connecting your camera to your computer so that you can see the images you take immediately is a great use of resources for headshot photography. Clients can give and receive feedback about their images on the spot. This collaboration helps with getting just the right expressions and choosing images that the client likes.


DSC_0238 by Megan Brown

Keep Coaching

Unless you’re photographing a model who is photographed regularly, your subject likely does not know what to do in front of the camera. It’s up to you to direct your subject and give them constructive information to get the results you want. Keep talking throughout the session to keep your subject posed appropriately and to elicit natural expressions. Help your subjects look their best by directing them to soften their smile, turn their shoulders at an angle, establish eye contact, take a deep breath, move the chin toward the camera, and sit or stand up straight.

Frame It Up

Framing is crucial to capturing flattering headshots. Eliminate distractions with careful framing and the use of a simple background that accentuates the face. Follow the rule of thirds by keeping the subject’s eyes above center level and the face out of the middle of the frame. Know how the images will be used and allow for flexibility. In most cases, it’s wise to include a lot of negative space so that the final image can be displayed and cropped in many different ways.


Alyssa P. by Philip Odegard

Post Processing

It’s not uncommon for photographers to go overboard with post-processing. But too many adjustments to eyes and skin can leave people looking like plastic. Err on the side of minimal retouching. Clean up hair and clothing that’s out of place, minimize blemishes, and even out skin tone. You can always make more adjustments later if the client requests them.

With all of these tips in mind, the key to taking great headshots is still experience. Don’t expect to create amazing headshot portraits on your first try. Practice with lighting and photographing as many people as possible. Try different lighting patterns, poses, and direction styles until you get a good sense of what works for you and your clients of all shapes, sizes, and personalities.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit for more info.

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