How To Take A Great Headshot

By Scott Lorenz
Westwind Communications

I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in the USA. I’ve been in dozens of studios all over the country and have been privy to their  back stage  techniques. These photographers have shot Miss America contestants, Hockey and baseball’s greatest players as well as CEOs authors, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. I got the skinny directly from them on their tips for getting the best head shot possible.

While the written word is powerful in landing a media placement, as a publicist I know that a great photo can cinch a media opportunity just as well and sometimes even faster. How? It’s simple. The photo immediately tells a TV producer if the person is going to look good on a TV interview. If you don’t think they care, think again. It also declares race, sex and sometimes creed. It all matters, and don’t assume it’s a negative thing as it helps news producers provide a balanced newscast so that all voices can be heard. It’s the same with print or broadcast media.

To be sure you convey the correct message in your headshot and to put your best face forward you’ll want to hear some tips on How to take a great headshot.

I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in the USA. I’ve been in dozens of studios all over the country and have been privy to the  back stage  techniques. These photographers have shot Miss America contestants, Hockey and baseball’s greatest players as well as CEOs authors, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. I got the skinny directly from them on their tips for getting the best head shot possible.

First let’s talk about the use of the head shot and its purpose as that dictates the style. Here’s a quick list of variations.

  1. Business/Corporate Headshots
  2. Commercial Headshots (Acting & modeling)
  3. General Headshots
  4. Glamour Headshots (not the ones from the mall)
  5. Kids Headshots (Acting & modeling)
  6. Modeling Headshots
  7. Pageant Headshots
  8. Theatrical Headshots

Renowned photographer Sam T’ang of Sam T’ang Production Studios, who regularly shoots Miss America and Miss USA contestants, says planning ahead is critical and offers these tips:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep and rest the day before your shoot. (You don’t want wrinkles or bagging eyes for your shoot).
  2. A good headshot should focus just on your face. Clothing should be complementary & should have contrast, IE, someone with lighter color hair should have darker tops or suits, someone with darker hair should have lighter colored tops or suits.
  3. Clothing/wardrobe should not be busy or have patterns. Always bring several different outfits if possible. It is always better to have too much than only one outfit to work with.
  4. Backgrounds should be clean, un-cluttered and should not have a patterns (unless its an environmental portrait).
  5. Accessories (Women). Jewelry should be subtle and not overpowering (again, the main focus is on the face).
  6. MAKEUP/HAIR (Women & Men). If it is possible to have a makeup artist/hair stylist, hire one! Makeup is not only important, but makeup looks COMPLETELY different on camera than in real life and the camera PICKS UP EVERYTHING. Everyday makeup under professional photography lighting and strobes will look like you have no makeup at all. A professional makeup artist is well worth the investment!
  7. Lighting. A professional photographer should understand lighting conditions whether its natural light or strobes (flash). Good lighting makes a huge difference in your photos. Be aware that shooting under fluorescent lights will cast a green tint to your photos.
  8. Photographers. There are many talented photographers out there, but only a few who actually specialize and can take a GREAT HEADSHOT. A good photographer should make you feel comfortable and be able to communicate and direct you, thus making your shots look natural and relaxed instead of stiff or too posed and awkward.
  9. Retouching. With computers and Photoshop these days, retouching is an absolute given. One caveat, just don’t have your photographer OVER RETOUCH your photo making you look plastic and not real (unless that is the look you want).

Jack Kenny whose photography book  CUBA  is filled with photos of the people of Cuba says consider shooting outdoors in available light.  Natural light outside can be beautiful. I like to shoot in doorways or windows or under overpasses, keeping the subject just out of the direct light.

For headshots,  says Kenny,  I like to work both in the studio and in natural light. Sometime I use a combination of the two where the natural light isn’t sufficient to “fill” the subject. For males I prefer to use a single light source (in varying sizes depending on the drama desired). The light is placed at 30 – 90 degree angle from the subject and sometimes I use an edge light on the opposite side or a reflector to fill in the shadows. For women I tend to use a softer light – usually two front lights – one weaker then the other, and I keep the light sources closer to the camera.

According to Steve Kovich who shot for the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and is currently the Tampa Bay Rays official team photographer, You want to create  depth and mood.  Lighting a subject from high above and off to the side is what I like to do. This lighting style is commonly referred to as “Rembrandt” lighting as this is the way the light came into his studio.

On the creative end, it’s the ability to  evoke  or more likely to  capture  emotion. Whether it be happy, sad, or otherwise,  says Kovich.

In the end,  says Jack Kenny,  almost any light can be used depending on the effects desired, but a true headshot should emphasize the subject and not the photographer.

About Sam T’ang 
Based in Detroit and Miami, Sam T’ang is a national and international published photographer specializing in Beauty, Glamour, Fashion and Swimwear. Sam’s work has appeared in advertisements, calendars, magazines and posters: MAXIM, STUFF, PLAYBOY, FHM, COSMOPOLITAN, GLAMOUR, TEEN, YOUNG MISS, PERFECT 10, OCEAN DRIVE, HAWAIIAN TROPIC, VENUS SWIMWEAR, FITNESS USA, AUTORAMA, and many others.

Sam has photographed headshots for the Miss America, Miss USA. Miss Teen USA, Miss Venus Swimwear, Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant contestants as well as hundreds of models, actors and celebrities. Miami: 305-502-1354 Detroit:248-773-0004.

About Jack Kenny
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kenny specializes in headshots and has photographed dozens of CEOs, doctors, lawyers, authors and entrepreneurs. Kenny is also author/publisher of Cuba (120 hard cover pages, $65, Corazon Press, Ann Arbor, MI, ISBN 0-9768349-0-1), a unique photographic collection of Cuba and its people. In the book, Kenny takes readers on a photographic journey through modern day Cuba. (734) 395-1265

About Steven Kovich
Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Steven Kovich has photographed celebrities such as Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon and Hulk Hogan as well as hundreds of sports figures including Derek Jeter and Red Wing hockey great Steve Yzerman. He ‘s also the Tampa Bay Rays official team photographer. His list of corporate clients include Hyatt, Ameritech, AT&T, CBS, Coke, Chrysler, Domino’s Pizza, Detroit Symphony, ESPN, Ford, Dupont, General Motors, Getty Images, Proctor & Gamble, Pulte Homes, American Red Cross and the US Postal Service. Kovich’s web site has few words as he lets his photos speak for themselves. 727-452-2349.

About Scott Lorenz
Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with doctors, lawyers, inventors and authors. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC Nightly News, The New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Family Circle, Woman’s World, & Howard Stern to name a few. To discuss how Westwind Communications helps its clients get all the publicity they deserve and more, call 734-667-2090 or . Visit: