Photographing headshot portraits is a simple concept at the outset: Get in tight, fill the frame with the model's face and shoot. However, you should be aware of several things when taking headshots -- including angle, composition, lighting, exposure and depth of field -- that further complicate the process. All of these aspects of headshot portraiture must be dealt with before pressing the camera's shutter button.
Items you will need
- Lighting equipment
- Step stool
Location and Model SetupStep 1
Turn off the camera's on-board flash and use on-location lighting. Front lit flash is unflattering and causes harsh light and shadows on the subject's face. If you are taking portrait photos in an indoors, underlit location, use a strobe or floodlight with diffusing filters installed to light the face. The key is soft, diffused lighting.
Move the model to a spot without harsh shadows. If you are shooting outdoors, make sure that the sun isn't in the model's eyes -- squinting is never flattering on a portrait.
Pose the model. Although headshots are framed from the shoulders up, a comfortable body pose will relax the model, and help to ensure a natural facial expression.
Photographer and Camera SetupStep 1
Attach a lens with a long focal length, if possible. Shorter focal lengths will distort the central focus point, exaggerating the nose or chin of the model. Long focal lengths also result in a much shallower depth of field, which blurs out the background, emphasizing the model's face. An additional perk of long focal lengths is that the photographer can shoot much further away from the model -- a camera 10 feet away can be more relaxing to a model than one only a few inches away.
Stand on a step stool or other sturdy object. Depending on the model, a high angle shot may be more flattering than one taken from ground level.
Set your camera to a fast shutter speed. A faster shutter speed eliminates blur from hand movement. If lighting is inadequate for a fast shutter speed, increase the ISO or aperture size to compensate.
Taking the HeadshotStep 1
Communicate with the model with verbal cues and gestures. Constant communication ensures that you get the pose and facial expressions that you want.
Compose well. When framing the shot, don't cut the model off at the neck, or chop off the top of the head.
Shoot continuously. You can weed out the bad shots later.
Experiment. You may shoot a gem when trying a different angle or pose. For example, try a vertical shot or an over-the-shoulder angle.
Tips & Warnings
- Take breaks during long shoots. Breaks give both photographer and model time to recharge, both physically and creatively.
- "Bryan Peterson's Understanding Photography Field Guide"; Bryan Peterson; 2009
- "Understanding Exposure"; Bryan Peterson; August 2010
- Digital Photography School; "How to Take Perfect Headshots: Six Tips"; Christina N. Dickson
- "Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers"; Christopher Grey; 2004
- AdvancedPhotography.net; "Headshots 101 -- How to Photograph Headshots"; June 2011
- "The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos"; Michael Freeman; 2007
- Digital Photography School; "10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits"; Darren Rowse
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images