Head Shots

Everyone should have at least one recent good quality head shot. Almost all social media sites have provision for uploading head shots. And, for business sites such as Linkedin, or acting and model sites, it is vitally important that these head shots are of a high quality if you plan on those viewing your photos seeing you as a positive and professional person. First impressions tend to be lasting in people’s minds, and very often the first impression someone may have of you is from your head shot on a social media page.

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What makes a great head shot? Below I have listed ten important pointers.

1. Your head shots needs to look like the natural you, not an air-brushed glamorous version of you.
2. Your face is the most important part of the head shot, and your eyes are the most important part of your face.
3. A great head shot photographer will spot focus on one of your eyes so it is bright and crystal clear.
4. Your head should almost fill the frame, sometimes with part of your upper body.
5. The background or the environment you are in is not important and should not distract from your face.
6. Lighting is important. Studio lighting is okay, but natural lighting tends to give a more natural, real look.
7. The lighting should also be soft, avoiding harsh shadows. Nothing should distract attention from your face.
8. Go easy on the makeup and avoid flamboyant clothing. Wear something conservative for the shoot. No props.
9. You need to feel relaxed for the shoot. A natural environment and a photographer with whom you feel comfortable.
10.Quality equipment in addition to an experienced photographer are both important for quality head shots.

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Regardless of your line of work, if you are promoting yourself you will need a good head shot. If you are an actor or a model, your head shot can be your single most important marketing tool. You need to be seen as a professional, not an amateur.

Let’s look in more detail at the ten points I have made above.

The old saying that, “photographs don’t lie” is no longer true. They can and they do lie. With modern software it is easy to airbrush away acne and wrinkles, and even make obese people look less so. Head shots are not about you looking pretty and glamorous. They are about you looking like you and even showing aspects of your personality. Post processing should be kept to a minimum.

Points two, three and five in the above list can only be achieved with a quality camera fitted with a lens designed for head shots. An iPhone is not capable of giving these results. Let me explain. A phone camera can produce a reasonable snapshot with everything in reasonable focus.

But, you do not want that.

A good head shot has what is referred to photographically as having good bokeh. Bokeh means there are areas that are out of focus. Why have areas out of focus? Well, because that draws the viewers attention to the area that is most in focus. And, that area is the model’s eyes. Or, if both eyes are not exactly the same distance from the camera’s lens, it will be one of the model’s eyes.When we look at someone, we tend to look at their eyes. Next time a baby or young child looks at you, you will see that they are not looking at your ears or mouth, but directly at your eyes.

A good camera lens will be a prime focus lens that can be set to a very low f-stop giving a very short depth of field. This means that the focus point, normally the nearest eye, will be crystal clear and everything else closer to or further away from the lens will out of focus. The further the difference in distance from the lens, the more blurry will be the focus. The background therefore will be just a soft blur, with nothing recognisable in it. For my head shots I usually use a top quality Nikon Prime 85mm lens set to an f-stop of 1.8 that is fitted to my Nikon D800 full frame 36 megapixel camera.

Point four above states that your head for a good head shot should almost fill the frame. Sometimes part of the upper body may be in the shot as well. A businessman’s head shot for LinkedIn for example may show him with his tie and suit coat in addition to just his head. But, too much space, particularly above the head needs to be avoided. It is even okay to sometimes cut off the top part of the model’s head so once again all attention is drawn to the face.

Points six and seven above refer to lighting. In a studio, a photographer can have total control over the lighting and great shots can be obtained. The background can be a plain grey, black or some other colour. Although studio head shots are often preferred by many, I prefer the more natural and relaxed look that can usually be obtained using natural light outdoors. Provided the background is a reasonable distance away from the model, it will appear as a soft merging of colours in the finished product, which looks more natural than studio backdrops.

In point eight I mention makeup. Avoid using it, or at least too much of it. This is not a glamour shoot, it is a shoot which is trying to show you as you are as much as possible in real life. Mid-tone conservative clothes should be worn so that undue attention is not drawn to them. Props in the head shot should not normally be required.

Being relaxed and feeling comfortable for the shoot is important. A good experienced photographer should be able to help here. Also, as I have already mentioned an outdoors location is usually more conducive to putting you at ease than a studio setting. If an indoor shoot is a preferred option, an indoor studio set up in your own workplace or home, is more desirable than attending a photographic studio with which you are not familiar.

Head shots are different from comp card shots or portfolio shots. Comp cards are normally a small set of A5 size cards, or a couple of pages of A4 photographs showing different aspects of a particular model or actor. A portfolio is generally more comprehensive showing the model or actor in different outfits, settings and environments, with or without others and props. A head shot is normally used as the image of the model/actor/business person that will be seen first by others on social media sites and elsewhere.

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Currency of your head shots is important. They should be replaced at least every two years, or more frequently if your “look” is changing. They should show you as you are now, not how you were ten years ago.

You are welcome to visit my new web site Ahead Foto and contact me if you have any questions regarding what you have read. If you have a firm in south east Queensland and would like headshots for your entire staff, or some of your staff, I would be happy to discuss arrangements with you.

The website link I have given is specifically for head shots. However, I am also involved in other aspects of photography, portraiture being my preferred genre. Contact me if you think I can assist in any way.