Professional headshots primarily show your face. This should be in a well-lit environment on a non-distracting background. The intent of the image is usually a commercial one - to market yourself.
Everyone needs professional headshots. Whether you're a business person, an actor, a real-estate agent, a manager, a therapist - to present yourself to the outside world, a headshot is crucial for your success.
Professional Headshot - a Definition
Headshots have become quite the buzzword over the past few years. There are lots of definitions out there. Some are accurate, many are more blurry and others are outright wrong. While many refer to headshots as any type of photo that shows a face, in most circumstances, this isn't actually what a headshot is.
In short, a headshot is a type of portrait photo, which focuses specifically on the face of the person in the photo (the subject). The subject will be aware that their photo is taken and usually face the camera directly. The crop of the photo tends to be tight - from the shoulders up to the top of the head or a little above. Lighting tends to be soft and even, although that varies between different headshot categories. For example, an actor might prefer a more dramatic look for their headshots. A real estate agent, on the other hand, needs to be very well lit and will prefer a cleaner look. You can read more about the professional headshots types in our blog.
Lighting for Professional Headshots
In short: headshots are well lit and the entire face is illuminated. Photographers often use and refer to headshot-lighting as soft or broad light. However, in some instances a more edgy and modern lighting setup may be used. This does not mean that lighting has to come from an artificial light source. Natural light is often the softest light you can find especially when the sun doesn't directly hit the subject's face.
In most cases, corporate headshots use a main or key light. This usually is aimed at the subject straight on, or at a slight angle. It's the "strongest" light if multiple lights are used and when it's a studio light, mimics the sun. Many corporate headshots will use a kicker or rim light when shot in the studio. This is the light hitting the subject from the opposite side of the key light.
While not the most common, some headshots will use colors with their lights, which is done by adding plastic gels over the strobe light to give the photo a specific look. If used subtly, this can enhance the headshot, especially for creative headshots.
Cropping for Professional Headshots
As the name implies, headshots show the head first and foremost. For classical headshots, the crop runs from above the chest and under the shoulder, up to the top of the subject's head, or slightly above on the vertical axis. Some photographers like to crop into the hairline, others give some space. This ultimately also depends on the usage of the photo.
On the horizontal axis, the crop can also be tight (meaning into the shoulders of the subject) or keeping the shoulders free and clean.
The eye-line usually is on the upper third of the headshot, which gives off a visually pleasing result. Always keep in mind, headshots are meant to show your face in most of the frame. 60% or more of the entire picture should be covered with your face.
Posing for Professional Headshots
If you've watched America's Next Top Model you might be familiar with the term "smise". It refers to "smiling with your eyes". While not everyone needs headshots to apply to become a model on popular TV shows, the general concept still applies. Smiling with your eyes instead of your mouth is the way to go for headshots. Your photographer should help you with getting that smile out of you.
Depending on the type of look you're going for, you of course might want to get some silly or more fun options. Especially if you're an actor and are applying for a specific role with the photos, this may apply.
In terms of the actual shot, most people have one better side that accentuates their jawline more and simply looks more symmetrical. Again, you can safely rely on your photographer to help you show your best angles. Keep in mind though that headshots work both front-facing or at a ~45° angle.
Backgrounds for professional headshots
The standard go-to option for professional headshots, especially corporate headshots or headshots in a business context, is white, a light gray, or black. The key point of the chosen background is to not be distracting and to focus the attention on your face.
Even if you choose to not have a seamless paper background or shoot against a monochromatic wall, you should choose a background that is non-distracting. Make sure that the entire area around your head is one color and texture, or that the background is blurred out.
Professional Headshot Retouching
How much you want your headshot to be retouched is your choice. As a general rule-of-thumb it's good to think: if it's still in the same spot in two weeks, keep it in. That's meant to say - stray hair, pimples, skin blemishes can always be retouched. You want to be sure though that if someone that saw your headshot still recognizes you. You can optionally choose to brighten your eyes, whiten your teeth, or have slight wrinkles removed from your images. Your photographer or their retoucher can often advise on the level of recommended retouching.
What is the difference between a professional headshot and a portrait?
The short answer: every headshot is a portrait but not every portrait is a headshot. Headshots are meant to market yourself and to show the viewer what you look like. This will be done with the lighting, crop, posing, and backgrounds mentioned above. Portraits do not require that you actually look straight into the camera and can be somewhat more candid.
The key difference is that portraits give you a lot more room. Both physically in terms of how tightly they're cropped, but also in terms of lighting and expressions you can use in your portraits.
Is a selfie a headshot?
In theory, a selfie can be a headshot, but in most cases it will not be considered a professional headshot. Selfies are, generally speaking, for personal use while professional headshots are for a commercial use. If you're a social media influencer or Youtuber that might of course be different. But professional headshots are normally taken by a photographer while selfies, well, they're taken by you 🤳🏼
We hope the above blog post helps you identifying a little better what a (typical) headshot is and what more creative headshots can look like. Always keep in mind, it's your face that markets yourself in a headshot. So go get one this season and update your Linkedin or other social media profiles and your website with a professional headshot from the SpeedyHeadshots Team.
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