Professional Tips For The Perfect Headshot
Learn to Take a Beautiful DIY Profile Picture Every Time!
With the ease and access of smartphone cameras (not to mention the ever-increasing quality of them) it’s easy to believe everyone a photographer. When an employer wants a current headshot, though, that pretense can splinter! Documenting your daily life is one thing, but creating a professional portrait that will follow you around for years can herald the sudden urge for a close personal friendship with Annie Leibovitz.
For as often as a formal studio portrait session isn’t an option, here are some of the best ways to guarantee a gorgeous headshot.
Find the Light
Natural light is your best friend — specifically window light. Are you familiar with those fancy softboxes in photo studios? Similar effects can be achieved by stretching a frosted shower liner over a window, and for the investment of $2.99, it’s my favorite photo hack. This will diffuse the light to ensure your headshot has soft, even lighting without harsh shadows. (Make sure you buy a frosted liner – a clear liner won’t help at all.) While some photographers suggest you can stand facing the light to get a fast and easy image, I’ve seen too many photos with the shadows of tripods and selfie sticks cast across the subject to advocate for the same.
A better solution? A bounce. (It’s all the fun of a pogo stick without any of the cardio: stay calm.) Formal studio bounce solutions feature durable materials, collapsible designs, and hefty price tags. A quick and affordable alternative? White foam core poster board. Once your window is wrapped in the frosted shower liner, prop a piece of white foam core about three feet from the window at a similar angle and height. This will bounce the light onto the side of your face that isn’t directly illuminated. Again, this is in the name of soft, even lighting without harsh shadows.
If your facial features are strong and you’d like to diminish the severity of under eye shadows or other angles, a second piece of white foam core positioned perpendicularly between your light source and your bounce, placed below your image boundary and positioned slightly towards you, will help fill those features with light. Think old-school trifold tanning reflectors. Position it just like that.
Set the Scene
Use your eyes as your camera to read the scene. Imagine yourself positioned between the window and the poster board. Is the backdrop neutral? Is it a blank wall or a bright light source that will wash the background to a crisp white? If it’s not, take the time to either reposition the scene or hang a makeshift backdrop. This doesn’t need to be a challenge — get creative! Is the light in your bathroom perfect but your shower curtain looks, well, …too much like a shower curtain? Use push pins to stretch it tight and secure it to the walls. Still not going to fly? Hang a clean white bed sheet in your kitchen or living room. Close but no cigar? Change the height of your camera by using a tall stool or maybe sitting on the floor instead. There are easy (and free!) ways of setting the scene.
Take the Shot
It’s go-time. If you’re using a camera, grab your tripod and set your timer. If you’re using your smartphone, either use a selfie stick or position the phone to an appropriate height and set your 10-second timer. Remember: your place is between the light source and the bounce. You’re the delicious Oreo filling in this photo. Make sure you’re shooting a scene that’s wide enough you can crop it later: your photo edges should be free of poster board, frosted shower curtain liners, and environmental details before cropping, but it should be wide enough to feature more than just your face. Mojo suggests all their headshots be chest-up photos, so position yourself accordingly.
Now, take as many as you need; there’s no shame in being prolific here. The final product should show who you are as a person, so take as many photos as necessary to feel and look like yourself. On that same note, I always recommend your hair, makeup, and wardrobe are the professional versions of what you do any other day. No shirts with writing on them but no elaborate up-dos, either: keep it basic and keep it clean.
Ladies, you tend to look best with a soft angle to the camera. Turn your shoulders and hips slightly so you aren’t straight on. Gents, you tend to look best straight and square with the camera. Now, if you think, “…wait, that doesn’t look like me anymore,” prioritize your comfort and identity over the art school rhetoric of angles. They’re good to note but equally fine to disregard.
Edit to Taste
Once you’ve chosen your favorite photo, it can be helpful to apply a few edits. Avoid using heavy-handed filters, but adjusting brilliance, highlights, shadows, and color temperature — I'll review these techniques in a future article — are useful tools for creating a more flattering profile pic. In a smartphone, you can use the editing features within your photo storage app. If you want to step it up a notch, I recommend the free app VSCO for easy to use, easy to apply, and easy to adjust photo edits.
Export your finished product, and you’re good to go – no pleading postcards to Annie necessary.