Portraits: A Headshot Session

Yep, I do shows, urban photos, family portraits, weddings… and you can add to that list… headshots!

A friend and up and coming actor contacted me a few weeks ago to get a series of actor headshots done.   Headshots are different from your normal portraits as you are trying to pull out various looks and styles, all the while making it true to the person in front of the camera.  You can’t get all creative with lights and backgrounds (well, you can, but typically don’t), you need to get creative with the model’s facial expressions and posing.  As the name implies, they are about the head with some shoulders.  You have corporate headshots which can sometimes include more of the body, but for actors, it seems that casting directors want to see the face.

This was his first time posing for headshots and wanted some classic solid background style shots.  People can be naturally fun and expressive but then totally clam up in front of a camera.  Thankfully this was not the case.  Took a few shots to get comfortable, and then we were off.

I typically do a headshot session in 1-2 hours.  This allows for a couple of clothing changes for the model (and thus extra headshots or looks).  This particular session was at his apartment.  You don’t need a lot of space for some good headshots, you just need a clean background and room to set up your lights.  I use a collapsible backdrop which is really easy to carry, but can be a pain (and pretty damn funny) to try and fold up.  The particular one that I use opens up to be about 7 feet high and 4-5 feet wide, but collapsed, it’s in a small circular bag.  Yeah, I’ve been made the fool quite a few times in front of clients not being able to close this thing up.

The key to any type of photo session is having fun.  You have to laugh, you have to goof off, and in longer sessions, you have to take breaks.  If someone is getting tired, it shows through in the images.  At the end of the hour, I will have shot about a hundred images and I usually end up with 30 or so images to present the client in the form of samples.  These samples are very very slightly ajusted, but nothing major.  In this case, the total shot was 83 and presented to the client was 28.  Here is a quick look at the presented images


The images vary in colour, background light, facial expressions, clothing, poses.  Do all of them work?  They could.  But what you are doing when shooting headshots is looking for little details and angles to position your client to get the best images possible.  It could be a slight tilt of the head, or their left side could be better than their right, uneven eyes (which many many people have!).  I also like to chat with the client ahead of time to know if they are going for a certain look or role and if we can focus a few headshots on that, let’s go for it (hence the ones with the funnier faces hehe).  The red flagged images are the ones chosen by the client and then fully edited and processed.




It is so very important that the processing on the images be minimal for headshots.  You can’t go all wild, as then it becomes more editorial than factual.

The images above were made with 2 flashes and a reflector.  Below is how the gear was setup


For the first image, we wanted a little bit more of a dramatic look (which isn’t too headshotty, but still works), so the only light used was the softbox on the left.

For the second image, I turned on the flash in the back, which I love doing for men as it creates a slight light on the dark side of the face that helps define the jawline.

The last image is the more typical one softbox and a reflector (which was slightly more angled to fill the shadows more).

So there ya have it, a little breakdown of a headshot session with a fresh face.  Got a little technical and wordy in some cases, but hopefully it will give some insight to what I do.  Thanks for reading!

… and if you need to have some headshots done, feel free to contact me!  I will be a pleasure to go over your needs and get you some quality shots!