Headshot photography: What makes for a good headshot?
A few out-takes mixed with a few keepers from this headshot photo session, and it helps illustrate some of the process of getting to a good headshot.
The lighting is key. Posing is important. But there’s another aspect that makes a great headshot – your subject’s personality needs to come shining through. So, yes, it is in the lighting. It is in the posing. It’s in the expression … but a very important key is the personality of the photographer – how to make your subject feel relaxed. How to make the photography not feel like an intrusion.
For most people, being photographed is a fairly vulnerable thing – we don’t want to appear foolish or unpresentable to the wider world. Although you could make a valid argument against that idea, with the bad snapshots that people post of themselves on social media. So there is that. Still, I’d say it is quite a vulnerable thing to do – to be photographed. And it is up to you as the photographer to make someone feel relaxed in front of the camera.
The key here – your personality. It starts with a warm handshake and a friendly smile. That handshake is important. Not limp, but firm. Go so far as to ask friends to honestly give you their opinion – a brutally truthful opinion about your handshake. Your body language needs to be confident.
By now your skills in basic lighting should be such that you don’t stress about that, but can concentrate on getting the best out of your subject. It’s up to you.
I did my best here to try and crack Nicole up, and have her lose a little bit of control. “Give me serious” … people generally can’t keep a straight face then. Being a little goofy helps. Be personable. Chat, and keep up an easy conversation. It’s all part of remaining warm and approachable.
This is what I wanted to show with this sequence – the photos where she cracked up a bit, and with that, loosened up in front of the camera. Then the expression and smiles are more real … and somewhere there in the longer sequence of images, are the keepers. I don’t aim for every shot to be successful. I want the shoot to be successful, and if we can pick out the best images and they work well, then we were successful.
Techie details about the photographs
So just to cover how this was lit, because I know you’re curious …
The setup is very similar to that when I had actor Mike Larose in my studio to photograph his headshots.
- I used three Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio lights for my lights.
- The main light on her was diffused with the huge Profoto RFi 5.0′ Octa Softbox
- Fill-light was via a Eye-lighter reflector below the subject.
- The hair light was via the second Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio light;
diffused with a gridded Profoto RFi 1’×4′ softbox
- The background was a grey paper backdrop, which I lit with a 2×3 softbox from which I had removed the diffusers, and instead had placed strips of colored gels. This gives the graduated pattern in the background.
Photo gear used in this photo session
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- (3x) Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws Monolight
- Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox
- Profoto RFi 1’×4′ softbox with a Profoto 50 degree 1×4 soft-grid
- Headshot photography in the studio (Mike Larose)
- 85mm f/1.4 portraits in the studio (Oktavia)
- On-location corporate headshots – Aiming for efficiency and speed
- Headshot photographer NJ
- NJ photography studio space rental