The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

Capturing headshots is probably the best way to define the personality of your subject. It also seems pretty simple as you only need to concentrate on one person standing or sitting in front of you. But the truth is that if you don’t follow the right headshot photography techniques.

If you’re a portrait photographer, then learning how to capture high-quality and professional-looking headshots is critical. That’s why we have come up with this guide that contains the 20 best tips for capturing stunning portraits. So, let’s get started.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

1. Communicate with Your Subject

There’s nothing wrong in saying that headshot photography is about socializing – communication is the key. Having a pre-consultation session with your client to understand their personalities, needs, and goals, is a must.

It’ll allow you to prepare for the photoshoot accordingly, and it’ll also provide you with time to make your client feel comfortable.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits
Contrastly - Tools and Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
Modern Approach to Composition Ebook

Learn all about photographic composition with this ebook loaded with advice, techniques, and concepts to help you create stunning images that wow viewers.

A Modern Approach to Photographic Composition - Ebook

2. Understand Expectations and Define Clear Goals

Other than understanding the personality of your client, you should also set concise expectations and clear goals. You want to make sure that the entire shoot goes seamlessly, and you can ask the following questions from your client to achieve that.

  • What style do you prefer?
  • Have you looked at my previous work?
  • What did you like the most?
  • What are your expectations?
  • Why do you need this photoshoot?
  • What color tones and environment are you looking for?
  • Where do you want to use these photos?
The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

3. Choose the Right Background!

Keep in mind that the background is as important as your subject when it comes to portrait photography. You don’t want to have a busy background that distracts the attention of the viewers. Generally, you’ll need to have an uncluttered and simple background.

However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be plain. You can have an interesting fence or wall with an interesting texture or pop of color to add more character to your headshots.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

4. Object in the Background

You can also be more creative by placing an interesting subject in the background. It’ll add more context and interest to your photo. For example, if you’re capturing portraits of a cyclist, you can place a bike in the background or a guitar if your subject is a musician. You won’t need to focus on the background as the blurred object will deliver the context and hidden messages.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

5. Background Separation

It’s rarely a good practice to blend the subject while capturing portraits into the background. You’ll need to make sure that you set up the lighting like rim lights to create separation by illuminating the face’s edge of your client. This technique will work if you’re shooting indoors. But if you’re capturing headshot photos in natural light, then you’ll need to have enough distance between your client and the background to create separation.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

6. Understand Exposure Triangle?

You’ll have complete control over your portraits if you understand how your camera’s ISO, aperture, and shutter speed works. It’ll also open new doors, and you’ll be able to capture headshot photographs that you couldn’t shoot before.

  1. ISO: ISO determines how dark or bright your image will be. A higher ISO simply means that your camera will brighten or darken your image.
  2. Aperture: Depending upon the focal length of your camera, you’ll have a shallower DoF (Depth of Field) if you shoot by using a wider aperture setting such as f/3.2 or f/2.0. It also allows you to capture your subject by blurring the background.
  3. Shutter Speed: Shutter speed, along with the other two aforementioned concepts, make the Exposure Triangle. Shutter speed allows you to create different types of effects, such as blurring the action or freezing the motion. It also helps you to change the brightness of your frame.
The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

7. Exposure Compensation

Most modern cameras come with built-in exposure metering. It means that they can determine the amount of light that’s needed for a particular frame. So, the camera balances the dark and the bright parts of the photo automatically. While this functionality comes in handy, it can create too dark portraits because the camera will always consider the background.

That’s where the exposure compensation comes into place, and it plays a vital role in headshot photography. It allows you to change the exposure manually to have the image with just the right brightness level.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

8. Lens Choice

Choosing the lens wisely to capture portraits is one of the most important factors that can make or break your experience. You’ll need to determine your style and then choose the right lens according to your needs. Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are so many types of lenses available in the market.

However, professional photographers most commonly use 85mm lenses for portrait photography. This lens typically comes with an f/1.8 or f/1.2 wide aperture, which works the best for portraits captured in natural light.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

9. Keep Focus on Eyes

Most of the time, you’ll be able to capture the best portraits if you focus on the subject’s eyes. Not only does it improve the eye contact sense between the viewer and the subject, but it also allows you to create engaging and powerful photos. It’s especially true if you’re capturing by using a shallow DoF.

We recommend you use your camera’s viewfinder to check the focus before pressing the shutter button, and it’ll help you a great deal to capture sharp focus versus using the camera’s LCD screen.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

10. It’s Not All About Eyes

Most portraits look best when you focus on the eyes, but it’s not the rule that you can’t break. Remember that you’ll need to focus on the part of your subject’s body that you or your client wants to emphasize. For example, if it’s a photoshoot for a lipstick advertisement, then you’ll need to focus on the subject’s lips.

It’s all about your goals and your client’s requirements that you’ll need to determine before the shoot.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

11. Play with Lighting

Regardless of the type of photography, lighting plays the most vital role, and you can’t overlook it. You should perform experiments with light as you can convey different emotions and messages by manipulating them. Not only will it allow you to be more creative, but you’ll be able to tell stories and add more meaning to your photos.

Different lighting conditions and their intensity will suit different environments and scenarios. You’ll need to identify what needs to be conveyed and how you’ll need to play with light to achieve that.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

12. Place your Subject Properly

Many photographers, especially those getting started, never go beyond the golden rule of thirds while determining where you want to place your subject. They never try to put their subjects other than right in front of the camera.

If you follow the same technique, then we recommend you change it. It’s advisable to determine how to capture the most important features of your subject rather than spend time figuring out the spot to place them.

For example, if you are capturing the whole body of your subject rather than just the face, you’ll need to determine how the posture of your subject and the background will affect the overall image.

Filling the frame is also a great way to keep your viewers engaged because they won’t have anything else but the subject in the frame. So, the viewers will immediately look at the most important part of your photo. Filling the frame also allows you to add a feeling of intimacy to your photos.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

13. Pay Attention to Small Details

Keep in mind that you’ll have the least amount of information to display, and that’s why paying attention to details is critical. It’s one of the most important factors that makes you a good photographer. You’ll also need to knock off some important details such as asking and helping them straighten up their posture, knocking off dandruff, soothing out collars, and avoiding double chin.

These little details might seem unimportant, but they make a huge difference, and you should always pay attention to them.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

14. Capture Candid Photos

Sometimes you end up with less optimal results when your subject is actually posing.

Some people just don’t know how to pose for the camera, which is understandable. That’s where the magic of candid photos comes into play. It’s especially true while capturing portraits of youngsters.

We recommend you always carry a longer zoom lens and use it while vanishing the subject’s proximity. This way, they’ll lose their shyness, and you’ll have great opportunities to capture some interesting candid photos.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

15. Capture Expressions and Emotions

Incorporating expressions and emotions in your portraits is yet another great way to make your photos look more interesting and livelier. You’d want to avoid bank looks and fake smiles because the recipe of a great portrait has a confident expression, a faint smile, and sparkling eyes as ingredients.

You’ll need to talk to your subjects to provide them with enough time to relax, and they’ll get into the zone.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

16. Getting the Rise Pose

You’ll need to figure out the poses that complement the personality of your subject. The best way is to start experimenting by teaming up with your subject. You’ll need to try different combinations of angles and poses to capture perfect photos.

We recommend you keep a set of some of the best poses on your mobile and ask your subject to try them out. Not only will it help you to save time, but it’ll also provide your subject with visual examples for better communication.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

17. Try Multiple Angles

Keeping the camera at eye level of the subject is a great way to capture portraits. But you can also go for an unconventional angle to stand out. For example, you can capture a photo by looking down from high up, or you can get as close to your subject as possible to capture a shallow position.

The possibilities are endless, and the only limitation is your imagination and creativity. Think out of the box and experiment as much as you possibly can if your subject is comfortable with that.

The Headshot Photography Guide: 18 Tips for Shooting Stunning Portraits

18. Post-Processing

Post-processing has become an integral part of professional photography. While it’s critical to capture the photos with the right setting in the first place, post-processing allows you to get rid of little imperfections. You can use programs like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom for this purpose.

Conclusion

Capturing portraits is a great way to tell a story, and it can also be easy if you keep these tips in mind. We hope this guide will help you improve your headshot photography, and you’ll capture better portraits.

Ready to seriously improve your photography?

  • Join thousands of photographers
  • Free presets and resources
  • Articles and tutorials
  • Exclusive deals and discounts
    Previous Article

    Family Photoshoot Ideas You Need to Try

    Next Article

    The 12 Best Horse Photography Tips and Tricks