“Headshot” is a common photography term thrown around often, and it should be self explanatory. Stating the obvious, a headshot is a photo of a person, intended to show the person’s face. If you ask 10 people, you may have a lot of similarity, but I think there is still a vagueness about the term that leaves a lot of room for variability, and or style. So your idea of a headshot is usually different from his or her idea, is different from my idea… The final result is usually as unique as each individual.
If you hire a professional, the finished technical quality of the image will be high. The photo will be exposed properly, and have enough resolution for your needs. This is sort of the barrier to entry, so to speak. It is the minimum required element, and the first reason you should have a professional, and not your buddy with his iPhone. Don’t get me wrong, current smart phones are amazing, but it’s not the camera that creates the image.
I speak to all clients about the style, so they understand what we’re really trying to accomplish. A business usually has a logo to represent their brand. Most individuals don’t have such a mark. (Those old enough may remember the artist formerly known as Prince, but he’s an anomaly.) Your headshot will be used to represent you. This is your own personal brand.
So what is your style? No, I’m not asking if you wear a leather jacket or denim, high heels or flats, long hair or short. I’ll try to explain this with a variety of examples.
Larger businesses understand the concept of brand intuitively. Corporate head shots are always done in a professional manner. It is a shoulders up shot, typically business casual to business formal dress. The lighting is simple and flattering. Companies with more than a handful of employees are typically looking for this style. A certain level of uniformity is expected: clean, crisp, corporate.
The exception to the uniform headshots is when it’s time to shoot the CEO, or other high level executive. Depending on the specific reason for the shot, there is often the request for a bit more style.
I find as the business gets smaller, there is more flexibility in the look. We have a discussion to get the client thinking about what is possible, rather than what is “right” or “correct.” The brand in these instances is generally not as defined as the large organizations, but that doesn’t mean we fly blind.
Every business, in fact, every person, has a story. So we start there. What is the story, and who are we trying to reach? I often hear the “I just need a simple headshot”, but that’s the big box store version of a headshot. I look to find the uniqueness in every story, otherwise we’ve missed an opportunity. It’s like paying to go to Disney World, but not going on any rides!
Most of the time I shoot on location, so I first explore the environment to see what clues I can find to the person, and what options we have. When I entered the home of Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo, she had an amazing array of artwork on her walls, and big windows in the living room. She is a very empathetic person working to help those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The artwork on the walls became a nice backdrop.
When Dr. Coryn Vickrey from Whole Pet Veterinary Center asked me to photograph the hospital and staff, it seemed like a straight forward job. But this was a vet hospital, and since we are not only dealing with humans, things can get interesting. Dr. Coryn asked if we could have all the staff members bring their pets in for the photos. Wouldn’t you absolutely expect the staff at a vet hospital to all have pets?
This makes the process both easier and more difficult. It’s easier because now, the human subjects get to be close to their animal friends. Since most pet owners are very close to their animals, the people relax, and open up. Emotions rise to the surface. They forget about the camera, and bond with the animal. We end up with a more sincere expression.
Of course, and here is where the difficulty comes in, we are also dealing with the animals. They don’t exactly take direction very well! The look where they want, they move when and where they want. We use a little peanut butter to focus their attention, but the process can be hit or miss. A little patience is required, but with a little effort we can get great results. In this case we came out with a beautiful portrait of Dr. Coryn, and it fits in perfectly with her brand.
Michele is the owner and hair stylist at The Salon at 142. That could open up a lot of possibilities! In this particular instance, Michele was standing in as my model for a demonstration. I guess you could say that means we have no limits or constraints, but the demo presented just 2 very different looks in 1 location. These 2 images were created within about a 10 minute span, in the same room, with just the model moving about 10 feet, and a different set of lights.
This first style is a soft, almost nostalgic style. Just the standard head and shoulders, but doesn’t Michele look like someone you could trust?
After the classic head shot we moved on to something decidedly more commercial. I just added 1 more light on the background, and Michele is further from the wall.
Jessica was one of the models at a shoot for a boutique formal shop. We were shooting the cover ad for a local coupon magazine. The actual ad was a group shot with Jessica and some others, but if we can, I always like to take the opportunity to try some other ideas, for the models or my own portfolio, or just to experiment and learn. Jessica had a great time, and the unsaturated look brings a certain graphic look to this shot, accentuated by the patterned fabrics.
You don’t have invent or create some new style for your headshot. I’ve shown some different examples here, but the point is to show you as a person, and tell as much of your story as we can from the photo. Maybe that’s just a head and shoulders with the right expression, maybe it’s you surrounded by your environment.
I see this process as cooperative. I have some skills with a camera and some lights, but no one knows you better than you. Let’s talk and see what ideas we come up with. The more involved you are in the process, the more of you comes out in the image.