The Pharmaceutic

The Pharmaceutic

8 Secrets to Shooting Professional Headshots Your-self!

Knowing how to take headshots is an exceptional photographic skill. From Instagram bloggers to businessmen and actors, everyone needs a professional photo to strengthen their image.

Where do you start when it comes to headshots? We have all the information in this article.

  • Table of Contents
  • Know your customers
  • Keep the Shot list simple
  • Determine usage rights and fees
  • Discuss the dress code
  • Pose your subject for better headshots
  • Equipment and setup for the best headshot results:
  • Work in natural light for flattering shots
  • Edit your headshots for a polished look
  • Conclusion

 Know your customers


Taking a professional headshot starts before you even pick up a camera. Knowing the needs of your client is essential to do a good job! It also lets you know the location and the necessary equipment.

Is your client a lawyer or a fitness instructor? Are you looking for business portraits or corporate photos? A lawyer will most likely need a traditional headshot. This means a solid background and a business suit. And a studio would be a safe location option.

A fitness instructor would want something more casual. They will be wearing some sort of sports outfit. And the session could take place in a gym space. You could even include little accessories to show what kind of exercise they teach.

They are very different needs! I recommend having this discussion before you commit to doing the session. Sometimes the client wants something that you are not equipped or willing to shoot.

The more questions you ask, the better. You will feel more comfortable and your client will know that they are in good hands.

Over time, you will develop your own questions. Some good ones to ask include:

What industry do you work in and how would you describe your brand?

Do you have a concrete idea about the headshot?

Where will you use these photos?

Do you have brand colors we should work with? Already have a location in mind?

A portrait of a woman in green sitting at a cafe table.

Keep the Shot list simple

The term “headshot” applies to professional portraits of all kinds. Gone are the days of traditional headshots that showed only the shoulders and head.

Lots of people want a variety of shots that show everything from portraits to the full body! It’s easy to get carried away with a long list.

Headshot sessions have lower prices. They also include far fewer photos and the variety is a bit more limited. I recommend the following list of different headshots:

Headshot in outfit #1. #1; smiling and serious

Upper body in outfit no. #1; smiling, serious, and looking off camera

Headshot in outfit #1. #2; smiling and serious

Upper body in outfit no. #2; smiling, serious, and looking off camera

Full body (if requested); leaning, walking, power pose

Each client’s needs will be a little different. Add or subtract from this list as needed for each specific session. Returning to the example of the fitness instructor. They may want a photo that shows them jogging or sitting on a weight machine at a gym.

A great idea to get the ball rolling on headshot poses is to create a joint Pinterest board with your client. You create the board and then add them. This way, you can pin images and share ideas for the session.

Let them know that the pins can reflect whatever they want. This includes lighting, costume, pose, and facial expression. They can edit the caption so you know what they like about that image.

This is also a great tool to involve the client in the process. It will make them feel more comfortable with the next session.

Diptych Portrait photography of a girl posing outdoors

Determine Usage Rights and Fees

As a professional photographer, you need to work with a signed contract that covers all the basics. For headshots, make sure the client’s use rights cover all your needs. This includes marketing, social media, and everything in between.


Ask permission to use their image in your marketing. You can do this through a separate model release or in the contract.

When you talk about the needs of the contracts, you will also talk about your fee. Rates may vary depending on the market in your part of the world. Headshot sessions tend to be faster. This means lower rates and fewer final images.

Be sure to search online for headshot packages in your area. And consider reaching out to other headshot photographers near your base.

A headshot of a woman wearing glasses by a blackboard

Discusses the Dress code


You can’t make great headshots without a proper outfit. Your client may have a stylist that they work with for their wardrobe.

But often your clients come to you for advice! I recommend keeping the outfit classic and timeless. In this way, the photos have a longer lifespan.

Keeping things classic and simple means avoiding busy patterns or unflattering colors.

Black is a classic neutral, but it can often wash out a person’s skin tone. Fire engine red sometimes appears oversaturated. A red with a deeper hue is better Will Smith Net Worth.

Anything that brings out your eye color is a great choice.

You can break these rules if your customer loves an item or feels amazing about it.

If the client’s brand requires certain colors or clothing items, you will need to incorporate them. A chef may want his white jacket over her clothes. But a life coach may want to appear relaxed and casual.

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure the client is comfortable in the final clothing. A person who is too self-conscious will not feel comfortable in front of a camera.

Outdoor headshot photo of a young woman

Pose the subject of her for better headshots


The days of formal posing and rigid subjects are long gone. However, this doesn’t mean that your clients don’t need posing instructions! To maintain a relaxed mood in any pose, I like to give clients gentle guidance on body position.

Keeping your client engaged will prevent them from holding a pose for too long.

Here are some tips for getting closer to posing:

Posture is key – Most people will need reminders to check their posture and straighten up.

Have them look away until you count to three – I like to have the customer look away while I set up my camera. Once I’m in position and ready, they look at the camera on the count of three and give me a new smile.

Chin forward and slightly down – I found that most people tend to tilt their heads back and up. Especially if they are straightening their posture or laughing. Play around with your client moving their chin down and pushing their face out. This can often help define your jawline, prevent a double chin, and make your face stand out from the rest of your body.

Shoot just above eye level – You’ll want to be slightly above their eye level. However, make sure you don’t go too much above your eye level. It should feel natural and not like an extreme perspective.

Take a few shots between poses – Capturing candid shots can help you get better results. I am one of those photographers who like to sneak in a few frames without the client expecting it. If you take a few minutes to tell a joke, you wind them down before continuing to shoot. Or ask them to watch something happening nearby. Often these can be the times when the client’s face looks most natural and smiling.

Have them walk – If you are looking for a casual style to wear, have your customer walk. Walking creates movement in your body and relaxes your muscles. For women, you can also let your hair fall back and out of the face.

Don’t forget your hands – Knowing what to do with your hands can be tricky. But they can ruin a photo if they are in an awkward position. When folding your arms, be careful not to have them too tight and pull on your shoulder. If you place your hands on your hips for a power pose, let your hand fall to your mid-hip area and drape limp. And when the hands fall closer to the camera, make sure they aren’t too distracting in close-up.

Pinterest is also a great tool for posing ideas. If you search for the type of headshot session you’re doing, you’ll find plenty of images that are sure to spark ideas!

Equipment and setup for the best headshot results


You’ll want to be clear about the equipment you need and how to use it before shooting. Let’s start with the camera lens. There is no lens designed for professional headshots. But generally, you’ll want to shoot with a 50mm or larger lens.

This is because wider camera lenses are more distorting and unflattering to the body and face.

Also, you’ll want a camera lens that can open up to a wide aperture. Something like an f/1.4 or f/1.8 is great. A lens that opens to f/2.8 can also be wonderful.

When taking headshots, you often want to be able to blur the background to draw attention to your subject.

To do this, lower that f-stop so you have a shallower depth of field and the subject is the only thing in focus.

One note of caution with very low f-stops is that if you shoot with f/1.2 or f/1.4 the depth of field is very shallow.

You have to make sure that your approach is perfect! You want your customer’s face to be sharp. To take headshots, you should always focus on the eye that is closest to the camera.

Don’t be afraid to take a few minutes to look at your camera screen. Zoom in to make sure your image is in the right focus.

Make sure you have a high enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur. The general rule of thumb is that you need to double the focal length to be sharp. This means that when you shoot with a 50mm lens, you need 1/100th of a second. If you’re shooting at 70mm, you need 1/140th of a second or faster, and so on.

I do not recommend shooting in the automatic mode of the camera for professional photographers. You can start with Aperture Priority mode until you feel comfortable enough to use Manual.

A relaxed headshot of a woman

Works in Natural Light for Flattering Shots


You rarely need a studio to pull off big headshots these days. Unless you are dealing with corporate clients, formal professions, or very specific requests. But headshots are best when taken in natural light.

When shooting outdoors, find a light source or spotlights that you can use to draw attention to your face. Also, keep an eye out for areas of bright shade that provide even light. Strong architectural elements or textures can serve as interesting backdrops.

Avoid shooting in direct sunlight. It makes people squint and uncomfortable when being in the sun for a long time. Direct sunlight can also cause strong shadows.

If you work indoors, shoot near a window. You can diffuse the light with a white curtain or a reflector.

In case you are shooting in a studio, try to make it look like you are shooting in natural light. This will result in flattering yet professional photographs. A studio is also the place to take professional headshots in spectacular light.

Be sure to discuss all of this with your customer up front to ensure logistics.

Headshot of a man in a suit

Edit your Headshots Photos for a polished look

Before you start editing headshot photos, you’ll want to sort your photos. Check the ones that look the best and that you want to use to present to the client. This process is called culling, and it can be crucial to do your best work.

Note that the client does not need to see 5 versions of the same image. There must be a noticeable difference in expression or pose for similar images.

This is where having that short and specific shot list can come in handy.

After selection, you are ready to edit! For most headshots, you’ll want to achieve a clean edited look. This means you’ll use fewer effects in your edit.

The headshots are intended to introduce the viewer to the subject. This is best done when the image is sharp, has a good amount of contrast or clarity, and feels sharp.

Extra touches like teeth whitening and skin smoothing are often welcome! While you want to keep those edits subtle, the idea is to present your client in a fresh and polished way.

Headshot photo of a woman indoors


Headshot photography can be a fun way to get started with portraits. Or you can use it to reach corporate customers.

Incorporate these headshot photography tips, grab your camera, and you’ll have a solid client list in no time!

For everything you need to know about starting a portrait photography business, read our eBook: Profit From Portraits!

Leave a Comment