Most people see the business end of photography, things like headshots and portraits, as a commodity. Most of us seem to think that anyone with a quality camera can point it at someone, hit the shutter, and be done.
That’s not really how it works. There is an interpersonal process of having your photo taken, a social and mental component, that is something more than just using the camera machine.
People want their true image to be captured, an honest portrayal of who they are. We all want that, of course. It’s a photo of ourselves! But we also want to see ourselves without flyaway hair, pimples, irritated skin, or any of our self-consciousness. Our culture has conditioned us through media that only images showing us in a state of perfection should be allowed.
I’ve spent probably the last ten years trying to figure out exactly what that means. Since my first foray into the professional space I’ve realized that just because something looks good doesn’t mean it makes the client happy. There is a middle ground somewhere between what I, the photographer, thinks a headshot of a given person should look like and what the person actually wants.
After those ten years, this is now a fun process for me. I really enjoy using conversation and interaction while I shoot to make sure the person is showing on their face what is best for them. There are so many details to any given image of ourselves — facial expression, skin health, clothing, hair, the list goes on. Photoshop can be brought in to solve many issues but there’s no real way to correct the appearance of unhappiness or emotional difficulty in a subject.
How You Feel Is The Most Important Part of a Headshot
That’s why my process of shooting a professional headshot starts with the comfort of the subject. I like to acclimate a client slowly to the bright studio lights and the idea of having a camera pointed straight at them — with conversation. If the environment can be made light and friendly enough, it becomes a fun art adventure instead of a business chore.
Getting people to express themselves comfortably is the majority of taking a solid headshot. Yes, lighting is important. Yes, the quality of your gear matters. Of course your technical knowledge as a photographer plays a role. But ultimately, whether the client is happy or not is going to be a reflection of their emotional state when they were being photographed.
Who My Clients Are
Tyler is a technology professional. I had a great time shooting his headshot because he’s a natural uplifting personality. We did a lot of serious, closed-mouth smiling but this shot of him laughing out loud was the one we liked best. It worked with his business brand — he has a motivational entrepreneurship blog — but it also looked the most like the natural appearance of himself.
Barney is an author. He’s a man of friendly spirit and humor, but he’s also serious. We worked in his library and office because he felt most comfortable there, most in his element. That’s probably one of the most important components of a successful headshot — comfort and confidence.
Asa is a finance executive in a large company. He’s one of my former clients with the most even temperament I’ve probably ever met. But he wanted to make his very serious work seem more friendly. We were able to get to that place of expression through conversation.
Richard is a contractor and family man. His family needed a portrait of him that would stand the test of time. He’s a great example of why smiling is not always the thing you need in a great photo of yourself. There’s nothing wrong with seriousness for some people, if it’s who you are.
Shooting a Portrait is Getting to Know Someone
Ultimately, what I really enjoy about shooting headshots is getting to meet people. Every single person is different and every headshot is as well. We all want to look serious and professional but we also bring unique things to the table as the people we are — and those should show up too, in the small details.
Feel free to check out some other headshots in my portfolio!