How can I make headshots look more interesting?

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Q. I find it hard to do more than one or two poses when taking headshots, and not make them look like passport photos. Can you help?

J.G. Barcelona, Spain

A. I am often asked to take some simple headshots for people for their profiles, business cards, website, etc. You don’t have to stand some one up or sit them on a chair and just photograph their head… it’s better to think about their body position first, because getting that right, can create a much more flattering head shot. Here’s a few tips to help you:

5 ways to create more interesting headshots

1. Sitting on the floor, sideways on

Position your subject sitting on the floor facing to the side (imagine a clock in front of you, and her legs would be pointing to 4), and then ask her to turn her head back to you. This often results in a very flattering shot, particularly if the subject has a fatter face (not a problem here, but a rounder, fatter face will always look slimmer if you turn the face sideways, rather than shooting straight on).

Once she is in this position, you can then zoom in for the head shot, or take a series of shots which she can use as they are, or crop in for profile shots.

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Turn her head different ways until you see the look you want to achieve. Some people look good from lots of different angles, others look better at just one angle – experiment and see.

2. Body completely turned to the side

Imagine her legs are now at 3 o’clock. Her body is facing sideways, but then I ask her to turn her head back to me, resulting in an unusual composition that really works. This is a great way to show off her beautiful long hair.

This is a useful tip also for photographing people with bigger arms (again not necessary here) but if someone is larger, cropping part of them off, gives you the illusion of slimming down the body/arm/leg or whatever you are cropping.

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Turning the body completely to the side creates an unusual headshot which is really successful.

3. Facing straight on

This can look good with the right person, but not so good with others – again, experiment and see what your subject looks like. Here, she is facing straight on to me and I’ve asked her to lean on her knees and fold her arms, or rest on her hands. NOTE: If your subject does not have toned arms, it’s essential to use sleeves, or she is unlikely to like the shot. I usually ask people to relax their shoulders before taking the shot, as people naturally tend to scrunch up their shoulders when they are nervous about being photographed.

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Some of the above shots are taken on an angle, as you can see by the lines in the floor behind her.

4. Lying on the floor – sideways

Most people would not expect to lie on the floor for a headshot! But it can be really flattering. I love shooting down on people, because it makes their eyes look bigger and it’s a great technique for slimming the jaw. Most people taking selfies on phones have now worked this out!

As you can see from the centre top shot, she is lying across the floor at an angle, I then zoom in and take different shots to get a variety of head shots.

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Lying on the floor is a great position for headshots – she is comfortable and you can shoot from above which makes her eyes look bigger.

5. Lying on the floor – straight on

Still in the same position as above, I have now moved around her to be able to photograph her straight on. The first shot below is completely straight on to me, which works with the very direct expression on her face. I then moved slightly to photograph her almost straight on, but very slightly sideways, as I felt it was softer. Both work well, depending on the expression on her face. I prefer the slightly sideways on position if I’m looking for a softer face shot, and for the more direct strong look, I prefer her facing directly towards me. Again, it’s all an experiment – I just move around and see what I think looks best!

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Always ask her to lift herself up, and “sit up straight” even though she is lying down, it will make a big difference to the shot. Slumping doesn’t look great! Ask her to lift her shoulders, and then relax them – sounds weird, but it works!

The key thing with headshots is to remember how important the body position is, even though you only want to photograph her head and shoulders. Position your subject, and then walk around her, to see which angle she look best from. Try turning her head different ways and you should see when the shot looks good.

Experiment!

Hope this helps,
Annabel x

Many thanks to the gorgeous Melinda Jacobs for letting me use these shots of her to illustrate this blog.