When I first picked up a camera and decided that I was going to be a headshot photographer, I made the same mistake that many others make. I thought, “It’s just a headshot. How hard can it be?!” 30 minutes in I had found out. From there I spent years studying and practicing to become Louisville’s go-to headshot photographer, as well as Louisville’s first and only associate photographer and mentor in Peter Hurley’s Headshot Crew. Thousands of shots later, let me share a few things with you that go into making your headshots amazing.
There are people who look at my shots and think the solid color background is what identifies my work. Here’s the truth. The background does not matter. There are reasons I use white, black, or gray that I will dive into in another post. Check out why HERE!
The eyes are the windows to the soul, right? When you’re having a conversation with someone, they are normally making eye contact with you. That plays into my headshot work significantly. I want the viewer of the image to feel like they could be sitting and having a conversation with you. Your eyes need to look engaged and have life. We want your eyes to draw them in. Confidence comes from the eyes. Many times when people step in front of the camera, their eyes go lifeless, or they get HUGE like a deer in headlights. Neither of which gives the viewer any sort of idea that you are a confident person.
Nine times out of ten, as soon as I step behind the camera, the person in front of me goes straight to the “CHEESE” smile. We are trained from a very young age that is what you do when someone takes your picture. Pro tip: Stop it. Smiles are great. I love them. I will never say the “s” word to you, but I will get them. When I do they will be natural and genuine. We also want to get looks from you that aren’t big toothy smiles. We want that little hint of a smile like the celebrities you see on the red carpet. What we want to avoid is your mouth being tense or flat. More on that in a second.
Your Personality has to Shine Through
People looking at your headshot want to know you. You have a personality that is uniquely yours and it needs to come through in your headshots. The way to achieve that is by not trying in front of the camera. For example, have you ever been somewhere and seen someone trying to be cool? I’m guessing you thought they were anything but. One does not achieve cool by trying, they just are (…am I getting a little Yoda?)
Putting it All Together for the Perfect Headshot
So, the eyes will show confidence. The mouth will show approachability. Your personality needs to show. That is a lot to think about for this being just a picture of your head and shoulders. How the heck do you achieve it all?! It can feel really strange to step in front of the camera. Everything is now focused on you! This is where a great headshot photographer comes in. My job while you are in front of the camera is to coach it all out of you. I watch your mouth, eyes, eyebrows, head position, and will use things that I have learned over the years to draw out and capture your genuine personality. Often, when we start moving your eyes, eyebrows, and mouth, It is going to feel strange. Let it. In our day to day lives, we don’t think about moving our faces. Our brain just takes care of it. Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to let a shot leave the studio if you don’t look amazing.
Example 1: What you DON’T want in your headshot
Let me show you what I am talking about. In this first image of Alexis, who was kind enough to be a part of this demonstration for me, her eyes are huge and her mouth is flat. Quite frankly, she looks a little freaked out.
Example 2: what you DO want in your headshot
After that first image was created, we started working. I worked with and guided Alexis through the entire process. What we got were eyes that are engaged. An engaging smile, and an image that draws the viewer in. She now looks confident and still approachable.
I will show you how all of it works while we are working together in the studio see how here:
It does! However, I think it is secondary to the things listed here. Without an engaging shot, one that makes the viewer want to look at it, you’re just a mannequin. The clothes don’t matter. Your clothing and expression must be in harmony.
To wrap up, there are a lot of factors that go into making a great image of a very small percentage of you. We have to tell a lot of stories with just your face (and I love telling that story). It doesn’t matter if you are an actor trying to book the next gig, a business person, an entrepreneur, or you want to represent yourself the best way possible on your social media and dating profiles, your headshot has to convey the best of you.
Behind The Scenes: Putting It All Together During Ashley’s Headshot Session