What Makes A Good Headshot?

Whether you’re an actor, a businessperson, a headshot virgin or veteran, everyone could benefit from a little advice on taking their best photos with ease. Many people ask me, “what goes into making a good headshot?” There are many aspects that make a good headshot and since I get many of the same concerns from my clients, I thought it would be good to post some easy and direct tips on getting your best shots.

EXPRESSION

There are only three ways a person can show facial expression. 1) Eyebrows 2) Eyes 3) Mouth

Actors need to learn how to use these specific points on their face in order to express emotion in their roles and in their headshots.

It’s my responsibility as a photographer to watch for the right expressions, to make the client aware of their own expressions and to make them feel comfortable in front of the camera.

For those clients who come in for headshots and don’t have acting experience (I'm talking to you business people), no problem! It’s my job as a photographer to direct the client and to make sure they get the right expression, every time. A lot of times clients don’t even realize they are making certain expressions and the last thing I want is for people to feel pressure to come up with a flattering pose or to overthink in front of the camera.

Your eyes communicate the most. When having your picture taken, whatever you’re thinking about is going to show. If you are worried about how the pictures are going to look - that’s what’s going to show up! If you are thinking about picking your kids up after the shoot, it will translate in your photo. It is my job to put you at ease, to make the experience fun and to get that “duchenne smile” or a genuine expression.

SMILE is a four letter/dirty word in my studio. If I’m taking a picture and I want you to smile, you will never hear me say... “smile.” The less the client has to think about the better, and a good photographer will get you to smile before you’ve even realized it!

Use your eyes to communicate emotion. Squinting, something most people only do it in bright light, is a great way to appear smart, confident and ready for anything. Try it! It can take a try or two to get it right, but well worth it.

Feel free to let loose! This is a good thing! Often times when I am shooting clients, I will get them to laugh only to have them immediately stifle their laughter. Shameful! Go with it!

APPEARANCE

Clothing

  • The safe thing to do is go with solid dark colors (everyone looks good in black) so bring at least one black item. White looks great on a lot of people in person but it takes a skilled photographer to make it work for a headshot. For fair skin try baby blue and pinks. Dark skin looks good with bright colors, esp great with red (not necessarily jewel tones).
  • Stay away from neon colors, pastels can sometimes wash out those with fair skin and gray looks horrible on most people, ew.
  • Generally, if you don’t love it, I don’t want to shoot you in it.
  • If you’re not sure about an item, bring it anyway. If it’s in the studio, I have the option of photographing it or not. If I don’t have it here, we don’t have that option. Options are good.
  • If you must wear jewelry, keep it very minimal.

Posing

  • Some clients tend to overthink their poses. The #1 question I get asked about posing is “what do I do with my hands?” (many times you’ll have your hands in your pocket or cross your arms, in case you’re wondering.) I make it really simple and give you all the instructions you need to look your very best.

Grooming

  • The hair and makeup in an actor headshot should be simple, polished, professional and most of all natural. If you are getting a business headshot, you can look as glammed up as you want but if you are coming in for an actor headshot you want to look like yourself. That means no self tanning or dramatic hair straightening/curling (unless this is how you plan on coming into auditons) The you in your headshot should look like the you the casting director sees.
picking the right headshot
picking the right headshot

PICKING YOUR PHOTOS

  • A great headshot is a great photo but a great photo isn’t necessarily a great headshot (i.e. great photos don’t necessarily make great headshots). You want your headshot to be authentic, to have a spark behind the eyes (you’ll know it when you see it) and that pulls people in and makes them want to learn more about you.
  • Never let your family pick your photos! Family members tend to pick pictures where you look cute, whereas a pro will help you pick the photo that gets you hired. Let your Mom pick a shot, print it out and hang it on the wall. DON’T pick it as your headshot.
  • Think about the use of the image and the how you want to come across to the person looking at your headshot. People often meet your photo before they meet you so pick the shots that put your best foot forward and have impact.
  • The biggest mistake clients make when picking the photos is to pick based on their complexes. Being in front of the camera can make people feel vulnerable and so they pick the photos that aren’t necessarily the best headshot but that they feel downplay the features they are most insecure about. No one else might even notice this “flaw.”
  • A good photographer should suggest the best shots from your shoot. Not give you a disc of 200 photos to choose from. Talk about overwhelming! Remember, headshots aren’t necessarily about being attractive per se (although my team and I will bring out your best). It’s about sending a message. It’s about creating images that show genuine expression and create curiosity in the viewer. Remember you want the person looking at your photo to want to learn more about the person in the headshot.

The biggest tip I can give all clients is to have CONFIDENCE, it will make the biggest impact in the quality of your photos. Do what you have to do to be confident in yourself and to be confident in your photographer. Study their website ). Ask yourself not only if you like the pictures but if you like the design of the website and if the photographer’s personality is in line with yours. Look at his/her blog and client testimonials to see if they seem knowledgeable. Investing in a photographer that you trust and respect will benefit you again and again.