Today I’m really excited to be sharing a guest post from the fabulous Carla Watkins of Carla Watkins Photography.
I was lucky enough to meet this beautiful mermaid/ lady when I went up to London last year to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk. Carla and her group were so incredibly friendly and inviting when they’d never met me before, and I was blown away by the creativity & sparkle Carla has in both life and business. So, when I was looking for a professional to write for us all about business photography, Carla was the perfect choice!
Below she shares with us her top tips to take the perfect head shot. Such great advice – I don’t know about you, but I’m off to get snapping, and I know this is one I’ll keep coming back to again and again! Take is away Carla…
The word generally conjures up two things – actors’ portfolios, or dreary, identikit shots of suit-wearing people, with a forced smile, against a white background.
And then you’re asked for one to go with a guest post or testimonial, or maybe you just want a photo of you, for your About page or social profiles, that isn’t a snapshot from your last night out.
What to do?
Here’s your guide to getting a decent headshot without melting into a puddle of “argh!”…
Location (and Light, part 1)
Not location as in hiring a hotel or studio (though if you want to, by all means), but location as in finding the best combination of backdrop and light in the places available to you.
You’re looking for somewhere which looks nice through a lens, has a decent amount of available light – daylight really is best, so if you’re indoors you need to be either in a conservatory type area or near a big window. If you’re outdoors, somewhere that has some shade is a good call in case the sun is too strong.
You’re also looking not to have strong shadows (indoors, blinds are a key suspect for this. You have what looks like a perfect space, then you take a test shot and realise there are shadow lines all across your face & body.)
* The sunshine is lovely but the shadows & squinting are dreadful
Remember that you won’t be able to see exactly what you’re photographing when you’re in the shot yourself, so do as much observation as you can at this stage. Keep an eye out for telegraph poles, wires, gutters, branches, trees and other things that might be sprouting from your head/ears/shoulders if they’re in shot.
Your background needs to be either:
1. Appropriate to use by itself without detracting from the main subject of the picture (you!). Examples: brick walls, indoor walls, beautiful doors, wooden buildings, beach huts…
2. Far enough away to be blurry when the camera is focused on you. Essentially, the further away it is, the blurrier (in a good way) it will be once the camera locks focus on you.
Examples: fields, dense foliage, trees in the distance, graffitied walls (the colours all blend nicely in the blur)
3. Flat enough & high enough to hang your own backdrop up. For my most recent set (centre, above) I used a polkadot bed sheet clipped to my conservatory blinds. What do you mean, photography isn’t glam?!
A camera. Any camera will do, even your smartphone (digital is handy). You *do not* need a fancy schmancy DSLR and expensive lenses to take a decent photo of yourself for this purpose. I promise.
Something to prop it on. I have been known to use my cats’ scratching posts despite owning two perfectly good tripods. Use what works and what’s available.
A remote, the self-timer function or a patient friend. (Note: if propping up or using a tripod for your camera, please shut all pets out of the area first. I have almost lost my camera & lenses on numerous occasions to high speed kitties at home and overexcited doglets on client shoots).
Something to stand in for you while you set up the shot. I generally use a colander propped on a table, so don’t worry about being too artistic with this!
Optional but useful: a mirror, a fabric backdrop.
Clothes, hair and makeup
Generally my advice is to be as you as possible, and to do your hair & makeup as you would when meeting/Skyping your ideal client.
For me this looks like loose hair (as it’s never up in real life), minimal makeup, bright colours and statement jewellery or t shirts.
Be wary of strapless tops or dresses, as depending on the final crop of the picture, they can make you look awkwardly naked (I once did this and the resulting image was published in a car magazine. Safe to say, I have worn only tops with straps ever since to shoots!)
Ok. You’re ready to shoot!
1. Place your stand-in object in roughly the place you plan to stand.
2. Prop your camera up or attach it to a tripod, and look through it to see what kind of framing you have. You don’t want loads of space above your head, but neither do you want to be zoomed so close that you can only see your nose & eyebrows. Adjust as appropriate.
3. Take some test shots. Review on the back of the camera and see if you need to adjust anything. It is perfectly ok to shoot in Auto or P mode – don’t feel you have to get all technical for this. The object is to get a decent shot, and all modern cameras are set up to do this without too much fiddling.
4. Set up your remote or self-timer (I prefer 10 seconds, but if you can get round the camera and into pose in 2, that’s also cool).
5. Hit the shutter button, run round and take your stand-in object out of the way, stand where it was, look at the camera, and BOOM – you’ve just taken your first headshot.
6. No, it’s not quite that simple – now you review, adjust, and repeat until you have a shot you’re happy with. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while – my average self-portrait session yields maybe three or four usable images from 150 or more shots. It’s what digital cameras were made for!
This can be the hardest thing, and is where your mirror comes in. What feels weird to you can look brilliant on camera, so prop your mirror next to your camera, facing you, and experiment.
*Wardrobe malfunction* the mirror is also handy when you’re concentrating so hard on your pose, you don’t notice that your bra strap has slid down your shoulder…
No one ever has to see your outtakes unless you want them to! Some ideas can be found on my Headshot Inspiration board on Pinterest.
It helps to have an idea ahead of your shoot of what kind of image & personality you’re projecting to your ideal clients. Are you a super sparkly, unicorns-and-glitter kind of girl (oh hai, that’s me!) or are you more of a serious-but-quirky lady?
The difference between a smile and a laugh can be massive – both of these were used for an event I did a few years back, but though they liked the smiling one, I BY FAR prefer the laughing one and still use it…
Depending on your desired outcome, try silly faces, laughing and frowning as well as your standard cheesy smile. The worst that can happen is you’ll loosen yourself up and get some amazing images later on in your shoot (often my clients’ favourite pics are the ones just after they’ve posed, relaxed and THEN I’ve taken the picture). At best, you’ll have a whole stash of images you can use to illustrate blog posts – featuring you!
*This was a total happy accident but is one of my favourite pics!
Ahh, my favourite part. You can really perk up a photo, and immediately explain who you are and/or what you do, with a few carefully chosen props in your image. Which can be anything from cake to a calculator, a hammer to a hairbrush…
While you’re at it, try some different angles – you never know what you might end up using!
Getting a great shot of yourself should be fun as well as a challenge, and you’re learning skills for when you do get a professional photographer to do your portraits.
I’d love to see your results! I walked my talk for this article and took a new headshot with my little point and shoot camera, set on auto mode and with a ten second self-timer. This is the image I was happiest with:
*Not bad, lets edit
Cropping, boosting the vibrance/saturation, increasing the exposure/brightness and dropping the contrast a bit gave me a final image I was really happy with – and which conveys who I am really well without a single word. Which, after all, is the main point of a good headshot – to enhance you, your business and your brand.
Pro tips & tricks
• Resolution. You might hear people talking about “high res” and “low res” and wonder WTF they mean. High res (resolution) means printable quality images, and large file sizes. Low res are usually for online sharing, and are much smaller file sizes, but don’t print well.
You can decrease the resolution (e.g. take your camera’s image and make it web-ready) but you can’t increase the resolution of an image (e.g. take an image from Facebook or Instagram and use it in print).
Resolution is measured in Dots Per Inch (dpi) and the magic numbers you’ll see often are 72dpi for low res and 300dpi for high res. Anything below 300dpi is usually too low to print well unless it’s teeny tiny (like a few centimetres across tiny).
Your camera will take pictures, unless set otherwise, in high resolution (300dpi). If you’re using your smartphone, double check your settings as they’re sometimes pre-set to be web & sharing friendly.
To make them low resolution and web-friendly, make a copy of the file, and then use an image editing programme (I like Photoshop and Lightroom; you can also use PicMonkey or Pixlr which work similarly for free) to reduce the DPI (dots per inch) or the pixel size of the image (1080 across the longest side is more than enough for even HD screens).
(For WordPress sites, you can be super-lazy and use a free plugin called Imsanity. Change the settings to the size you want and it will resize as you upload – I use from 800 pixels to 1080 pixels on the longest side, depending on the layout of the site the photo’s being used on.)
• If you’re familiar with setting your f stop in Aperture priority mode, try and keep it to f3.5 or higher. Wider apertures give you gorgeous depth of field, but it is SO hard to get your focus right when you’re taking self-portraits.
• If you’re shooting on Auto and the flash keeps popping up, don’t let it fire harsh light into your face – ideally go somewhere with more light. If that’s not possible, switch to a mode where you can control the flash, turn it off, and raise the ISO/low light settings.
Carla is a photographer, writer, dreamer and mermaid who is completely in love with small businesses and their owners. She loves helping solo business owners boost their confidence and photographing them to show off who they really are, in business as well as in life. Oh, and she runs a mermaid school for grown ups…
Find her at carlawatkins.com