Boston photographer shares his best secrets about headshots.

Boston Photographer

Do-It-Yourself Headshots

If you have a limited budget, it may be better to shoot yourself than hire a low priced service, because you care more about the outcome than people who charge little. There are many bad “photographers” out there, and people burnt by them become our great clients.

This article describes the secrets of how to set up your headshot session like a pro! Most other people who write such an article are total gear heads. They talk about cameras, lighting equipment and they are motivated to show off their gear, or even sell some piece of hardware. I could talk about my gears all day, but this article will focus on what matters.

A few things you need

You probably own, can borrow, or create everything needed to take headshots at home.

Friend or family member (“photographer”)

You might think you can do a selfie, but not for a great headshot. Selfie makes an awkward or emotionally blank face, and you won’t be making a positive impression. You need a live human to interact with, a person who can keep your brain spinning while pushing the button on the camera. That’s the job of your “photographer.”

Choose your photographer carefully. S/he must be someone who knows you well and can encourage you to go one step outside of your comfort zone. Someone who you can be comfortable discussing a potentially sensitive topic that may make you insecure. Don’t choose an awkward, impatient, sloppy or overly critical person. Many people feel nervous or uncomfortable being photographed; some even behave unreasonably. You won’t know if you are such a person until you try. You want to work with someone who is a bit inspiring and knows how to handle stressful moments.

Your headshot session will have you and your photographer, and no one else.

Space

The easiest and perhaps the best way to take great headshots at home is to use window light with no direct sunlight, either northern sky or overcast day. If you look at the shadow of your hand, and if you can easily count fingers, the light is too harsh. If you can’t avoid direct sunlight, cover the window with white bed sheets. If the window isn’t tall enough, you might have to sit on a chair or floor. The camera should be positioned next to the window, pointing away from the window. You want to stand toward the window, but looking at the camera. Behind you should be a backdrop, like a wall or a door or something simple and not too distracting.

When working with window light, turn off all room lights, as they do not provide light in matched color. Mixing lights of different colors results in uneven, unprofessional look.

Outdoor is also a good option, but shoot an hour before your sunset time (be ready early, the good light goes away fast!). If you find a large shaded area, you can shoot a bit earlier in the afternoon, or early morning, but never shoot in direct sunlight. Also, make sure the weather is comfortable to be outside for a long time. If below 10C or 50F, or if too windy, or too hot and humid, your facial expression will suffer a lot. Weather is a major limiting factor in doing an outdoor shoot in summer or winter in Boston.

Makeup

Do you need makeup tips?

Camera

You need a camera, but for this level of a do-it-yourself project, you can use most basic cameras. If you have a digital SLR that’s good, but a decent point-and-shoot or even phone camera might be sufficient. High image quality is desirable, but your expression and personality are of top priority. Make sure to place your camera at a distance of about 5 feet or a bit farther. (If you are taking half-length or full-length photo, you need to step back a lot farther.) If you can change the focal length of the lens, set it such that your head and chest fills the frame. (If you are using 35mm full frame, it’ll be about 80 to 100 mm, if APS-C format camera, 50 to 60mm.) If your camera has a fixed wide angle lens (such as with phone cameras) your face will be a small part of the image, and you will have to crop. Taking pictures from less than five feet will result in a big nose, round face, and the like.

Positive attitude

You should stand at a slight angle to the camera for body slimming effect, but you get this effect only with a right amount of shadow on one side of the body. You want to adjust the position of the camera and where you stand, about the window, to get about half of your body in shadow, and not too darkly so.

You want to style your clothing, hair and makeup nicely, but focus more on your posture and facial expression. Don’t be obsessed with perfection. Perfection comes only with experience. People know you are good at something because you have a little attitude and don’t look like trying hard. That’s exactly how you want to look in the picture.

Emotional Intelligence

Now you have a lot of pictures. Choose the winner carefully and rationally, with your audience in mind. People usually look at your headshots only for a few seconds before they make their opinion about you. In the few seconds, people read your eyes, lips, posture and facial expression as a whole.

While choosing the best image, some people continue to be defensive. Wrinkles, under eye circles, blemishes, uneven eyes, cricket tooth, double chins,… yes, avoid them if you can. But don’t let these things kill a picture that’s otherwise excellent. These little flaws are what make you critical of yourself, but most other people don’t recognize or care. Blame the camera, your friend, the window, the angle and the distance of the sun, BEAUPIX website, the prime minister of a foreign country, whatever…. but choose pictures that project your strengths and not those minimizing flaws.

Also, many headshots are used on LinkedIn and other online bio pages in a size. Consider choosing pictures that are slightly over-expressed when viewed in large size, because in smaller sizes, your expression looks toned down a bit. (Don’t do this if you are shooting actor headshot for 8×10 prints.)

Your friend may also be able to help you establish a good attitude and boost your emotional intelligence. That’s the art of creating awesome headshots. If that happened to you, please send us a success report, with that person’s contact info. We might want to hire him/her until we develop an app that replaces another intricate human skill.

Disclaimer: BEAUPIX does not offer free consulting or help on DIY headshots. What you see on this page is all you get for free, and you use the information at your own risk. However, if you are a writer for a credible website, we are available for expert interview.

Natural portrait taken with window light only. Boston photographer BEAUPIX/SILVERGRAIN for personality portraits

Best corporate photographer for professional headshots in Boston
Best Boston photographer for rich natural portraits