Headshot Photography Tips

As a photographer, you must utilize a myriad of different techniques. If you are a professional, you must have a diverse offering.

For example, you could provide wedding photography, studio shoots, and product branding shots.

One type of photograph that is sometimes overlooked is the headshot.

Headshots are relatively easy to take. You could offer a headshot service as an additional source of income. Whilst headshots are straightforward, they still require a specific skill set and approach.

In this article we look at some headshot photography tips; these will help you deliver a fantastic service and diversify your portfolio as a photographer.

Overview: 10 Tips for Shooting Great Headshot Photos

  1. Understand Your Client’s Requirements
  2. Choose the Correct Camera Lens
  3. Ensure Your Camera is Setup Beforehand
  4. Consider Alternative Locations
  5. Consider both Natural and Forced Lighting
  6. Reinforce your Client and Give them Encouragement
  7. Take Multiple Shots and Try Different Compositions
  8. Ensure Your Focus is On-Point – Review Your Shots!
  9. Edit Photos Afterward Using Post-Processing Software
  10. Practice Makes Perfect!

What is a Headshot Photograph?

Before we share our headshot photography tips, let us ensure we are clear on what a headshot is. A headshot is not any type of photo – it meets specific criteria and has a specific purpose.

By definition, a headshot image is a portrait of one single person; the primary focus should be on that person, and no one else should be in the shot.

Typically, headshots only include the shoulders upwards of a person but there are many variants. Headshots are often used as promotional material or for business purposes.

Headshot Photography Tips - Example
Example of a headshot – this could be used as a corporate headshot

Different Types of Headshot Photograph

Headshots can actually be split into several main categories – entertainment, modeling, corporate and branded. In the below text we will explain briefly what each category encompasses:

Entertainment Industry

This type of portrait photo is frequently used in the entertainment industry. Specifically film, TV, theater and other roles that require acting. Within this industry, it is commonplace to include a headshot with your resume.

If you apply for an acting role, you will need a headshot so that casting staff can see what you look like – it is a form of identification. Furthermore, a headshot can be used to show the range of emotions or styles you can portray.

Modelling Industry

The modeling industry revolves around physical appearance. Due to this fact, headshots are obviously important. Modeling headshots are also known as tear sheets and comp cards. The primary purpose is to show what a potential model currently looks like. The emphasis is placed on currently – outdated headshots are not useful at all. Why would a casting company care what you looked like 5 years ago?

Modeling headshots are usually retouched to remove blemishes. Other facial features such as scars or moles would be left untouched, however.

Corporate / Business

If you look at the “about” page, or “meet the team” of any business, they will have headshots. Corporate headshots are used in various digital outlets such as company websites, social media, and promotional material. This type of shot is used to give a face to a corporation – to make them appear more human and approachable.


Finally, we have branded headshots. This type of headshot is a corporate photo that uses specific company branding. For example, the headshot may include a particular color scheme that relates to the corporation stylesheet. Alternatively, it could include a digital background that identifies with the company brand. This form of headshot may require graphic design skills as well as photography skills.

10 Awesome Headshot Photography Tips

You should now have a clear understanding of what a headshot is. This type of photo can be hugely beneficial to your career as a photographer. You can easily build a portfolio of clients. Furthermore, if you work with models and actors, they will often require new headshots – this gives you repeat work and helps build your skill in the craft. In the below paragraphs, we provide 10 awesome headshot photography tips for your benefit:

1. Understand Your Client’s Requirements

This is the most important of our headshot photography tips. Listen to your client! If you don’t understand what type of headshot your client requires, the end product could be a disaster. Headshots are specific and personal. Your client will have a clear idea of what style they require. They will have a pre-conceived notion of the end product before you even take your lens cap off. Ensure you understand this notion!

Before you even walk into the studio, contact your client and obtain important info from them. Consider creating a standardized list of questions. This could help set the groundwork for the headshot photo shoot. Questions to include could be:

  • What is the headshot purpose?
  • What color format? (Full color/B&W etc.)
  • What type of background? (Block color/natural surroundings etc.)
  • What style? (Formal, creative, candid?)

Gather as much info as possible beforehand – this will make the process easier. It will also ensure your headshots are accurate.

2. Choose the Correct Camera Lens

The lens you choose can have an impact on the quality of your headshot. It is true that any DSLR lens could suffice (obviously not a macro lens!). However, a specialized portrait lens will yield better results. Fixed zoom lenses are usually a great choice. They usually offer higher apertures. Furthermore, they invite creativity as you have to think about positioning and composition more.

The following are some lens types that are suitable for headshot photography:

  • 50mm Fixed
  • 80mm Fixed
  • 135mm Fixed
  • 24-70mm Zoom
  • 70-200mm Zoom

When choosing a lens, ensure to check the aperture. Ideally, you want a higher potential aperture – this will allow you to create that excellent out of focus background that is so desirable (If that’s what look the client wants!). An aperture of f/1.2 – f/2.8 can provide excellent headshot photos.

Related Posts

Headshot Photography Tips - Lens
You can tell this headshot has been taken with a suitable lens – the background is out of focus perfectly and the subject really “pops”

3. Ensure Your Camera is Setup Beforehand

How many times have you started taking photos, only to realize your camera has the complete wrong settings? It is frustrating. It also wastes time. Before your headshot photoshoot, check your camera.

  • Are the batteries charged?
  • Is the memory card present?
  • Is the memory card clear?

Once you have done this, check the camera settings. Ensure to look at the following settings and either revert them to default or change them to the desired setup for your headshots:

  • Exposure
  • Photo quality (I.e. Megapixels)
  • Aperture
  • Shooting mode (Single shot, burst etc.)
  • White Balance

Finally, ensure you have any equipment ready such as a tripod. As with any photo shoot, adjust your camera settings as you progress. If something doesn’t look quite right, such as the focal length, don’t simply plow on – have a respite, review your camera settings, and take more photos.

4. Consider Alternative Locations

How many times have you seen a headshot like this? The subject is staring straight ahead into the camera – should square. Behind them, is a blank grey background? This screams *yawn*. This is possibly the most overused type of headshot, especially for corporate photos. Consider this:

*A headshot does not have to be taken in front of a blank background within a studio*

This fact may shock you, but it’s true! Depending on your client’s requirements, take the shoot outside of the studio! Experiment with different locations. You could give your client a list of locations beforehand and see if they like any of the suggestions. We have listed some potential locations below:

  • Outdoors in a public park
  • Within an office setting
  • In a street in front of buildings
  • In a doorway
  • Within their own home

These are just a few ideas – the most important factor is to match the location with the purpose. For example, you wouldn’t take a serious corporate headshot in the middle of a public high street – may be an office would be a better choice?

Headshot Photography Tips - Alternative locations
This headshot has been taken at a beach – no grey background in sight! – make sure to also read our outdoor portrait photography tips.

5. Consider both Natural and Forced Lighting

Lighting can change the whole look of a headshot. When looking at headshot photography tips, lighting is right up there. If you can, always try and use natural lighting – it creates a more appealing end product. Consider how light is falling on your subject. Also look at the shadow it creates. Headshots generally do not want to be mired in shadow – it can hide your client’s features.

Headshot Photography Tips - lighting and shadow
Yes, this is artistic, but where is the other half of this guy’s face?

Related Post: Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

If you do use a flash, consider turning down the power rating. The flash should create a natural light – it shouldn’t look too harsh or glaring. Alternatively, you could use a diffuser instead.

Headshot Photography Tips - Lighting
Although there is still a small amount of shadow; this subjects facial features are clearly visible through artificial lighting

6. Reinforce your Client and Give them Encouragement

Most photographers will find this difficult. It is one of our most important headshot photography tips, however. During the shoot, you must give positive reinforcement. Consider this. Both you and your client will be nervous. You will be nervous as you want to give your client a perfect service. Your client will be nervous and self-conscious as they are the photo subject!

To help ease tensions, you must remain positive. Crack a joke. Have a laugh. Make the headshot photoshoot fun! Try to make your client feel at ease. Show them that you are approachable and easy-going (even if you don’t feel it!).

As you take shots, give them positive feedback – let them know they are doing a good job and that the photos are quality (again, even if they aren’t!). The worst case scenario is if both you and your client feel awkward. This can make the headshot pics appear contrived and unnatural.

7. Take Multiple Shots and Try Different Compositions

As you are using a digital camera, you don’t have to worry about how many photos you take. Don’t leave yourself short. Take as many shots as possible. Snap your camera at every opportunity. Remember that once your client has left, you cannot take any more photos.

Headshot Photography Tips - Composition
This composition offers a different perspective on the traditional headshot

What happens if you only take 10 photos, and they are all out of focus or poorly composed? By taking multiple shots, you can give yourself a greater variety of headshots to work with. This will increase your chances of having a satisfied client.

Furthermore, ensure you experiment with different compositions. Creativity is one of the best headshot photography tips we can give. Your client may have asked for a specific type of shot, but you can still take other compositions – they make love your creative choices.

Headshot Photography Tips - Composition
This composition of a headshot gives us something different than the standard face-forward style

8. Ensure Your Focus is On-Point – Review Your Shots!

There is nothing more irritating than uploading a photo to your editing program, only to find out that it’s out of focus! The focus is everything when taking headshot pics. You have to get the aperture and focal length right to ensure that you are focused on your client. In most cases, you will want all of their face and shoulders in focus. This is not the type of photo where you would simply focus on their eyes or one single feature.

Headshot Photography Tips - Focus
This headshot is perfectly focused – the subject’s face and features are sharp and crisp

Take time to nail the focus beforehand. Also, review your shots! Look at the photo closely on your DSLR screen and zoom in on your client – are they in focus? Is the shot crystal clear and crisp? If not, re-adjust and take the shot again! Headshot photos allow no room for sloppy focusing.

9. Edit Photos Afterward Using Post-Processing Software

Post-processing is an integral part of headshot photography. Even if you take a perfect shot, it may still require retouching.

How you edit a headshot will depend largely upon your client’s specifications. For example, modeling shots are often preferred in black and white – you may have to remove the color in post-processing software afterward and play with the contrast etc. Alternatively, a branded headshot may require a company logo inserting, or the background color changing to match a corporate schema.

Editing can also be used to change the core temperature and white balance. You should ideally have addressed white balance and temperature before taking the shot. If it still looks too warm or cold, however, you can easily modify this afterward. Finally, editing is also important to remove any blemishes or skin imperfections that your client does not want to show. Always check with your client how they want the shot edited, and what they do or don’t want to remove!

10. Practice Makes Perfect!

As with any technique, you must practice! Practice allows you to refine your technique. It also allows you to explore new compositions and camera settings. This may be one of the most obvious headshot photography tips, but it is important! If you don’t practice, you will lose knowledge and your creativity may take a hit.

Related Post: How to Create the Perfect Profile Picture

If you have free time, try out some different headshots – you could ask your family to oblige! Surely your beloved, children or siblings wouldn’t mind helping? The trial shots don’t have to be uploaded anywhere – just use them to practice the techniques, and also to test different post-processing settings. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

As you can see, headshot photography is straightforward – you just have to know how to take this form of the photo! Once you get into the flow, these headshot photography tips will become second nature. Your technique will improve and your headshot photography will shine. Why not give headshot photography a try and expand your resume today?

About the Author
Paul Skidmore

A seasoned content creator at PhotoWorkout, Paul merges his love for traveling and photography to craft insightful articles. With a solid grasp of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, he enjoys testing new photo software, apps, and gear. His background in web development further enriches his photography endeavors.
Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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1 thought on “Headshot Photography Tips”

  1. I’m learning photography, also I would love to learn more about photography and possibly to become professional photographer. I hope through you I will learn more.