PhotographyLighting

Making a New Headshot

Everyone needs a headshot. A professional headshot that captures a person’s personality is an important asset for LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media sites. CEOs and business people need headshots for their annual reports and company profiles. Actors and models need headshots for casting screenings. Real estate agents, doctors, lawyers--everyone needs a headshot.

My new headshot

I needed a new headshot. Until recently I used a self-portrait of myself holding one of my photographs, but I was never really happy with that picture for a few reasons. The light was not good. I had a difficult time balancing the color properly. There was a large reflection in my glasses. The background was only fair. Technically, it just was not a great photograph. When I look at that picture now, I also don’t like the way I look, which is the most important aspect of a headshot. It just doesn’t look like me. I have this goofy expression on, probably because I was trying to force a smile out of myself, and I just didn’t know how to do that properly.

My old headshot

So I wanted a new headshot. I could have gone out and hired someone to make it for me, but I decided to give it another try myself. I took my cues from Peter Hurley of New York, probably the best known (and best) headshot photographer in the world. First I needed to fix the technical issues. I needed some good light, and I needed to choose a proper background for my photograph rather than the distracting one I chose for my first self-portrait. Good light is expensive, unless you have access to the best light of all--diffused sunlight coming through a window. Every artificial light for photography out there, many of them costing thousands of dollars for a full setup, tries to recreate window light, and all you need is the right window and you can get it for free.

I have the right kind of window. It faces southwest, and my blinds diffuse and soften the direct sunlight into a beautiful light for portrait photography and headshots. Next I had to fix the background. I chose to follow Peter Hurley and go with a plain white background. It’s simple, clean, and does not distract from the subject. That’s why Peter uses it, and I like that reasoning. For my white background I simply propped up behind me a piece of white foamboard that I use for mounting my fine art prints.

With the technicals taken care of, I now had the much more important and difficult part of actually capturing an image of myself that I liked. It’s difficult enough to do that for someone else. As the photographer you have to direct the person, coach them, and guide them into a natural and interesting expression that is genuine and reveals something about them. I didn’t have a director. I had to be my own director, and it was not easy! I tried several tricks to coax a natural expression that conveyed what I wanted from myself.

I know I did a good job technically because these photographs required almost no retouching. This is pretty much how it came out of camera. All I needed to do was lighten the background to pure white since I did not use any artificial lighting to do that, balance the color slightly, and do some very minor skin retouching. So technically, I was satisfied. More importantly, I needed to choose which looks to use. I went with the more serious expression for my main headshot, but I also like this second headshot where I’m smiling. This is no fake smile. It’s a genuine expression that I got out of myself and captured. I’m using this second photograph on some of my social media accounts.

Alternative headshot look

For my first real headshot photography, I was pleased with my results. These are among the best photographs I think have been taken of me recently, so that makes me happy. Are they the best headshots possible? Probably not. But it was a great experience for me, and I learned how difficult this kind of photography is to do well. I enjoyed the challenge, and I would love to work on it and further develop my skill.