By AJ Lamarque
I’ve been in the Arts & Entertainment industry for more than 8 years now. In those years I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands of headshots. From annual reports, show programs and campaign imagery to websites, talent decks and social media assets. I’ve seen the best (but predominately the worst) of people’s headshots.
The power of a great headshot can be quite career-changing. When you have to select which headshots get notoriety in a campaign, you’ll go to those that are easy to use and are well made. Terrible headshots on the other hand can add hours to the job of a producer in trying to correct them and, we’re more likely to ditch using them altogether if possible. Trust me on this.
Having a good headshot need not be about throwing money at a photoshoot either. Sometimes great photographers miss the mark because their skillset is in the final image and not about how it will be used in the future.
So, I thought I’d create a handy guide that you can use for getting your headshots. Whether you’re the subject, the photographer or just reading for awareness, this guide will help you make better use of your next photoshoot and increase the chances of your beautiful face reaching the masses!
Note that this guide is genre-agnostic. An acting headshot may require different expressions than a comedy one, but all the baseline points still apply!
1. Get Comfortable with your Photographer
Getting headshots can be a bizarre experience, especially for introverts, but it’s easy to tell when the subject of a photo is uncomfortable. Minor body language cues are very hard to hide.
Meeting your photographer ahead of time for a coffee or chit-chat to get comfortable in their presence will make the world of difference. If you’re a nervous model, bring a friend to the shoot to help you ease into the process. A good photographer will be excellent at taking snaps and also making you feel relaxed during the shoot.
More people are uncomfortable in a photoshoot than pop culture infers. Your nerves are valid and not a problem!
2. Keep your Arms and Head in the Shot at all Times!
Much like being on a rollercoaster ride, keeping your limbs and head in the shot is highly recommended.
Generally, you’ll want to be taking a mid-shot for your main headshot. This is roughly from your waist up with adequate spacing around your body so you can be seen clearly against the background.
Oftentimes an event may want to crop your photo, cut your image out to put on a poster etc. If you’re missing part of your arm or forehead, it’ll result in you losing opportunities to be seen. The image below of the man in the white top shows where you may run into trouble! It’s a lovely photo but, if I want to crop him out, I’ll have to either photoshop his hair and arms back in or find some other fix.
The woman on the other side of the photo has great positioning. There’s enough space around her whole body for editing and all limbs are accounted for. And it’s an equally great photo!
3. Leave Black & White Photos in the Past Where they Belong.
The same goes with sepia and other dramatic filter choices. Unless you’re looking for your photo to be placed on the wall of a barbershop, headshots you send to producers should be in full colour.
If you’re working on a project where the designer is making a stylistic choice for the whole brand, they can edit a full colour photo to match. What they can’t do is give your black & white photo colour again.
4. Image Resolution is King – But How you Send it to a Producer is Queen!
High-quality photos are a given. That’s why you’re going to a photographer and not using your iPhone. So make sure you ask them for the highest resolution export of the files after the shoot. They’ll do this anyway but good to double-check.
The secret follow-up to this is how you save the file and send it to producers. Sending photos via messenger or trying to screen-grab from your Instagram grid will result in extremely low-quality files. It’s surprising how many people send photos this way. Don’t be one of them.
My advice would be to keep the full-resolution file in your Google Drive and send producers the (unrestricted) link. Or, send it as an attachment via email (always the best option). Higher-quality photos will get you more air time!
5. Be the Star (and don’t be Upstaged by your Background)
Generally, you’ll be taking your photos in front of a plain colour backdrop. But depending on what your headshot is for, you may be shooting outside or in real settings. Either option can produce great photos but if you’re shooting in a place that has a lot going on in the background, you don’t want to get lost in the image.
If you’re shooting on location, ask for the details ahead of time to dress accordingly. You don’t want to wear all red shooting in front of a red curtain for example. You’ll get lost. Contrasting colours to the environment always helps and keeping your outfit plain will do the job as well. Wearing plaid against a brick wall will confuse the eyes with too many lines.
In the examples below, I bet most of you look at what’s on the shelves than the image of the male model. Additionally, the clothes he’s wearing blend somewhat into the background too. In contrast, the woman in the dress stands out and draws your attention first. The objects in the background are still visible but they don’t compete for your eye’s attention.
6. (For POC) Ask your Photographer if they Know How to Light for Melanated Skin
Photography, videography and image recognition technology are designed for Caucasian features. An experienced photographer or someone who is a POC will understand that you need to light and edit photos from melanated models different to others. But it’s always good to ask ahead of time so you don’t waste money on photos that don’t make you look amazing.
7. Here if you Need! – Bring a Friend to look for the things you may miss.
Much like netball, doing a photoshoot should be a team sport. Bring a friend along who can help spot things in the shots as they’re being taken. Flyaway hairs, a necklace that’s bunched up, when your make-up needs a touch-up etc. If they’re good at taking photos, they can even help you pose and get you to laugh authentically for that perfect candid shot.
Great photographers will direct you and do that inherently, but no one is perfect at noticing everything, so why not make it an occasion to hang with your bestie!