Why Some Headshots Fail & Others Succeed

As a professional, you need a headshot.

A decent headshot may help get you get noticed. A professional quality headshot though, that might just help you be remembered. What impression do you want your headshot to have on… a potential employer… a possible partner… a colleague? A headshot taken by a professional puts you in an ideal position to stand out in a positive light.

Why do most self-made headshots fail?

Do-It-Yourself “selfies” often stand out, but not in a good way… especially when taken with a smartphone camera.

  1. Your camera angle is too low or too high.
  2. One of your arms is positioned oddly, throwing your pose out of whack.
  3. You’re not sure how to find beautiful natural light.
  4. The background isn’t given much thought.
  5. Your photo may turn out blurry or hazy (from camera shake or smudged lenses).
  6. The perspective is way too close for true proportions.

You can’t get a professional looking headshot when taking a selfie. But anyone can learn to take better photographs and portraits, even with a smartphone camera. Flip these 6 bullet points around and you have your a professional photographers checklist for making beautiful headshots.

  1. Position your camera near eye-level.
  2. Don’t hold the camera yourself: use a selfie-stick, tripod, or ask a friend.
  3. Find the best, soft natural light possible.
  4. Seek out a clean, simple, or distant backdrop (and optionally shoot in Portrait-Mode so the background blurs)
  5. Make sure your camera is steady, take several shots, and be sure to clean the camera lens before starting.
  6. Put at least 6 feet between you and you camera. You’re too small? Zoom in!

Check out the graphic below (I made it just for you). A professional photographer is always contemplating how to enhance your best features, as well as the intended use of your new portraits. Let’s touch on each point in the blow graphic, so you can share in my thought process.

Headshot Layout Basics from Kelly Heck Photography

Find a natural light source.

As a professional photographer, I have access to all kinds of lighting equipment. But you do not! You have to find natural light that is ideal for headshots and portraiture. Most often, you will want soft overcast and bounce light. In other words, we are looking for cloudy or partially cloudy daylight. Alternatively, or in combination, we are looking for a shady spot that is facing a light source. Sunshine bounces off of surfaces – walls, driveways, parking lots, grass. A shady spot facing an area that receives direct sunlight will illuminate you softly. While avoiding direct sunlight, you can still take full advantage of the sunlight.

Find a solid or lightly textured backdrop.

For headshots, typically you want a nondescript background. This is because the main subject – YOU – is the only important element. A clear picture of your face, head, and shoulders is all that matters. Walls are great backgrounds, and pretty easy to find almost anywhere. An alternative background could be a simple outdoor landscape.

Distance adds depth.

Distance between you and a background changes the look dramatically. More distance pulls you off of the background, allowing for a softer, out-of-focus background. (Camera phones usually take 100% sharp images, but many smartphones now have “Portrait-Mode” which will blur your background. Distance will help your camera’s programming decide what should be in focus and what should be blurry.) Alternatively, if you love the texture behind you (for example, a cool wall) staying close to that wall will help retain that texture in your final portrait.

Position your camera at eye-level.

Take portraits from a variety of angles. For headshots, I like to photograph my subjects at eye level or slightly lower. This gives my subjects a longer and more powerful stance – I am always looking to elongate the figure, especially the neck. Eye-level is also a more real-world view, and will help your viewers connect more emotionally.

Give yourself some space.

Find a friend to hold your camera. That friend can be a human or a tripod sort of device. You cannot hold the camera for two reasons – the camera will be too close to you, and it will throw off your pose. A friend can give you the distance you need for a flattering perspective.

Now, go have some DIY photo fun! I would love to see your results. Text me. Tag me. Email me!

And if you decide being your own photographer is not for you, I’m always here and looking forward to creating photo magic with you!