With 20 years experience shooting headshot photography, I work to capture professional corporate headshots in line with my client’s brief. I’ve worked with a huge range of companies large and small including M&S, BP and British Airways.
Great Headshot Photography
Presenting a good business profile means having a great headshot in these digital times. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told by a client that they contacted me rather than another photographer because they liked my profile photo.
Getting the Right Headshot
If you know the kind of headshot you’d like, then that’s great. But a lot of people don’t realise that there are several different types of headshot, each of which present you in quite a different way depending on what you want.
I’ve always found that preparation and planning lead to much better photographs, not just for headshots, but also for my work as a London event photographer and for conferences too. So, I like to start by going through the type of headshot that would work best for you. Below I talk about the different types, with example shots.
Once we’ve talked about the type of headshot photography you’d like, it’s good to talk through the logistics of how we are going to actually get the shots. This isn’t just about planning, it’s natural for you to be apprehensive about how the shoot will go, particularly if you are arranging it for your team or staff at your company. So I like to go through everything so you feel confident it will go smoothly and we will get great headshots.
Types of Headshots
There are three distinct types of headshots.
As the name suggests, shot against a background, this is the most common type of headshot photography. As the photograph at the head of this article I shot for the Publishers Association shows, it is quite straightforward and can be shot in most locations, given a reasonable amount of space and time.
This type of headshot takes place against a background that adds something to the shot with the subject still looking to camera. That can be a workplace or event, in the street, or as in the photo above I shot for the ICS, on a roof top with the skyline behind. I often use a short depth of field to keep the subject in focus while blurring the background to varying degrees. This gives a feel for the background, without it being specific. For instance I can create a feel for a modern busy city, without it distracting from the subject. I’ve photographed chef’s in their kitchens and a doctor’s on wards and in labs. the options are pretty much endless depending on the feel you are after. This shot creates a far more professional feeling to the headshot.
This sort of shot is my favourite, though it does take some organising. In this instance my subject will often be in their own environment working. The most common example will be an executive in a meeting as in the photograph above I shot for Effie. The subject will be continuing with their work while I photograph them, looking engaged and professional. This type of headshot photography also has the advantage of taking the subject’s mind off being photographed and as a result they look the most natural while also looking very professional. There’s no need to smile or artificially try to create a feel to the shot, that is already there in the environment and activity.
What to Wear for a Headshot
It’s very important you wear something you feel comfortable in, though there are a few things to avoid. Stripes and busy patterns can draw the eye in a photo and white tops can wash out your complexion, unless they are under a jacket. Flesh colours and pastels aren’t great either, I suggest you wear something with a darker or mid tone colour to it.
The only other thing I would suggest you avoid is bare arms. Again, this can draw the eye and take away from the shot.
Here’s an entire article I’ve written about what to wear for your headshot.
Where to do Headshots
The location for your headshots depends ultimately on the type of headshot photography you’d like. Having decided on the type of headshot we can then discuss where we can do the shot. If it’s the most common type of headshot, on a background, a meeting room or canteen usually works well. It needs to be large enough for me to set up my lights and background and have plug sockets nearby. It’s important before the day to check that any tables or furniture in the room can be moved out of the way if necessary. With modern communications being an important part of todays meetings, it’s common for tables to be bolted to the floor so telephones and speakers used for meetings with remote delegates can be put in place without fear of them being moved.
If possible it’s good to be near a bathroom as that means people coming for headshots can have a quick look in the mirror to sort any stray hairs or apply last minute makeup before getting in front of the camera. I carry a mirror for just this purpose, but making adjustments before arriving is better.
For environmental portraits, it’s best to have a discussion about the background and possible locations. These sorts of shots often involve some element of natural light rather than being lit by me, though I do like to light my subject so the lighting is as sympathetic as possible.
For documentary portraits, again it’s good to have a discussion about this, but in my experience it’s good to get my subjects in to an environment they feel completely happy in. This means that sitting round a board table having a discussion might be the most natural and will take the subject’s mind off being photographed. It’s important that there is good light in the room, as although I can light this sort of shot, it benefits enormously from having natural all round light. So big windows in the room make a huge difference.
It’s important to talk through timings as I will need time, not only to set up my lights, or get myself organised for the shot, but also to get myself and my photographic kit into the location. It will usually take me about half an hour to set up.
Photographing my subjects is always a balance between consistency and efficiency. While wanting to take the photographs as quickly as possible, particularly as I often have large amounts of people to photograph in a short time, I also need to take account of the fact that initially many people are nervous of being photographed. As a result, it really helps to have a few minutes to do the shot so I can run the subject through a couple of very natural poses so they can find the position they feel most comfortable in. Trying to do headshot photography in too short a time can lead to a slightly rabbit in the headlights look. Just a minute or two longer per person can lead to a far more relaxed and comfortable looking shot. Since most people will have already had a headshot taken at some point in their career, or even just taken a selfie, they often have an idea of how they like being photographed. I can work with this to get a great shot that they will love, but only if I have a little time for them to communicate it to me.
Lighting for your Headshots
I try to use very sympathetic lighting for headshot photography. Most people benefit from soft flattering lighting. If I can I love using natural light as that, used well, provides the most flattering light of all. However, I often need to deliver a consistent set of shots so the headshots can be used side by side and natural light will vary with intensity and colour temperature as the sun moves and goes behind cloud. As a result, I light most of my headshots. Again I use soft, diffused, warm light which flatters my subjects.
I like to use a light grey background wherever possible. Lots of my clients want white backgrounds, and that can work well, particularly giving good consistency. However I also find it can wash out the subject, whereas light grey gives a depth which is far more flattering.
Choosing the type of headshot photography you’d like is the first and arguably most important first step towards getting the kind of headshots that will deliver the feel you want. Choosing the right photographer is key and then spending time discussing what you want from the shots and how to achieve that as efficiently and effectively as possible.
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to have a look at my blog, or check out my FAQ’s page. If you have any questions or would like to book me to take some headshots for you then please use my contact page.