Top Pro Headshot and Portrait Tips for Photographers and Clients
1. Finely Tune Lighting and Camera Setup
When the client arrives for a photo session, all gear needs to be setup, tested, working well, and ready to go. The photographer needs to be able to quickly make lighting and background adjustments according to the needs of the client. Even a minor technical difficulty can spoil the mood. The goal is to be so comfortable with your gear that you don’t have to think much about it, and can focus most energy on the subject.
2. Create Variety
Often the photo session is the first meeting with the client, and it can be challenging to pre-determine which combination of lighting, posture and expression will work the best, so create a variety of looks. Variety can be accomplished by varying expression, posture, lighting, clothing and background. After the session, upon later review, it will be easy to determine which looks hit it out of the park.
3. Use Playful Communication
Use playful communication to put subjects at ease and draw engaging expression. The goal is to help subjects forget about the camera. Subjects will likely mirror the photographer’s demeanor. If the photographer is relaxed and having fun, the subject will do the same, and it will show in the images. The opposite is true as well.
4. Guide Subject into Flattering Posture
Unless they’re a professional model, it’s very difficult for the subject to know what kind of image they are conveying until they look at the image in the camera. So it’s very important to guide the subject into good posture, and I like to occasionally show the subject images on the back of my camera during the session. This allows us to make any necessary corrections or change direction during the session.
Communication is very important. For example, often clients have a tendency to lean back away from the lens and this needs to be corrected. Sometimes they over-compensate and then lean to far forward, which again needs to be corrected.
5. Masculine vs Feminine Lighting and Posture
In most cases my style of lighting and posture is different for men and women. For women, I prefer less shadow, and I love to enhance their curves and figure using posture techniques I have perfected over the years. For men, I generally prefer more shadow, less up-lighting, and a stronger, more squared-off posture.
6. Find the most Attractive Angles
Often, only a very slight tilt of the head in one direction or another, or slight rotation of the face, is all it takes to turn an average portrait into a great portrait. This requires a trained eye and can only be developed by practice over time.
Finding angles that accent a person’s attractive features, and conceal the unattractive, requires concentration, and is usually achieved with tiny adjustments to the angle of the face or the way the light falls on it.
7. Clear Jawline
A clearly defined jawline is an important element. People normally stand with their chin slightly tucked in, and even people who aren’t overweight get something of a double chin. Extending the forehead and chin slightly forward improves a portrait considerably. Moving the forehead out and down pulls the skin taut around the jaw and generally reveals bone a more appealing shape of the face.
8. Top Crop
A popular headshot style among professional models and actors is cropping the top of the head away. I’ve been asked why this is done. It works in certain situations where you want to focus on the eyes. It moves the eyes above centerline, and makes the eyes appear larger in proportion to the face, and can produce a stunning look. However, I take my photographs leaving space above the head because it’s very easy to ‘Top Crop’ later. Most of my clients are not professional models or actors, and this cropping style would not be suitable for them.
There are various techniques used to create different expressions. When using playful communication, as described above, a variety of interesting expressions naturally evolves, however, there are more direct techniques as well. For example, a slight squint for the subject, often adds interest. This technique is used quite often by actors and models. Clint Eastwood perfected it! For some clients the slight squint works well, for others it doesn’t. Give it a try to add variety.
In combination with the clients wishes, an artist’s eye, developed over years of experience, will drive your lighting, posture and background decisions as a photographer. Your work will appeal to those who appreciate a similar look, and hence your style becomes evident. For example, a popular style of lighting among some, where hard rectangular highlights surround the pupil, creating almost ‘alien’ looking eyes is not appealing to me, so I don’t use it. Therefore clients looking for this type of work don’t contact me. I guess style can begin, in many cases, by knowing what you don’t like.
11. Keep the Energy Flowing
When the session starts to ebb, the perfect way to re-energize is to change the wardrobe. A little break, and a new set of clothes always brings the energy back into the photo session. This is also a good time for the photographer to review the images in the camera, and possibly consider a background and lighting change as well.
12. Capture a Look Unique to Each Person
After all these best practices are implemented, and sufficient variety is created, we should have created an amazing portrait reflecting a compelling image unique to each individual.
Starting out as a figurative and Portrait Oil Painter studying lighting techniques used in the old masters paintings, laid a strong foundation for my work. Portrait photography became a useful resource for my paintings, even though many were painted completely from life.
As the years went by, my photograph portraits became an affordable alternative to the paintings, and I received many requests for photographs. As the demand increased for great portrait photographs used for business, websites and social media, I became very busy at Mark Lovett Photography filling this need. Now, fifteen years and ten thousand great portraits later, I still enjoy it very much!
All the best,
“I needed headshots for my new work place and found Mark’s studio through Google searches. The whole process turned out to be very satisfactory and enjoyable. Mark was friendly, responsible, and professional. Although it says I needed to wait 4 to 5 days for the initial photos, he sent them to me the next day. He was also fast in delivering the finished photos. In my case he worked on the photo retouches on a holiday, which I did not expect and appreciated it very much. Of course the most important thing is that the headshots do look great!! I can’t wait to use them!”