Why Your Studio Headshot Sucks

There's a specific time when your picture should have a white backdrop. That time is when you have to renew your passport.

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To blend in with the crowd

use a solid colour backdrop.

You see it over and over. Every other LinkedIn profile picture you see has a white backdrop with an evenly lit face. If you want to look like everyone else, copy them.

But if you want to stand out, present an honest and complete image of yourself. Here are 5 things you can do to improve your headshots.


1) Shoot on Location

where most people will interact with you or your business.

Shoot on location to include some of what you do in your place of business. The context of where most people interact with you will familiarize your potential clients with your business before you meet them. If you've been to Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, WA, you'll immediately recognize their bar room in the background of this photo. For this portrait of the owner, Ed, we placed him in the middle of their bistro. He's known to hang out there and mingle with the crowds.


2) Shoot a Full Shot

to give a full picture.

If you're the kind of person who keeps a media kit handy, make sure to include a full shot. Our posture and attire are communication tools. Don't ignore them. Notice how Jack is leaning forward, engaging with the viewer and ready to listen. This transforms the picture into an invitation to connect. 

For some press kit inspiration, check out Gary Vaynerchuck's press kit. Notice how most of the images are him in action with lots of full shots. 


3) Shoot the Details

while you're at it.

The tools you use to do your job say something about you. First, they tell people what you do. Secondly, your choice of tools tells your clients about your style and the type of work you can do.

My friend, Joe, is a photographer. He loves to shoot on film as much as possible - especially medium format. This may or may not matter to his clients, but if it does he just scored major points with them. See how nicely the images pair together? 

(Side note, I took this concept a level deeper and shot these images on 120mm film 🤯)


4) Use the Nifty 50

to keep your image honest.

You should present the most honest image of yourself. Don't catfish your clients. Long lenses (100mm and up) compress space and "flatten" out your face. Conversely, a wide angle lens (35mm and lower) will expand space and could distort your face in an unflattering way. If your headshot looks nothing like you, you're setting your clients up for an unwelcome surprise. This could start the relationship off on rocky ground.

Set yourself up for success and be who you are. Try shooting with a 50mm or 85mm. The 50mm lens (on a full frame camera) is approximately how we naturally see with our eyes. If it's a little unflattering, switching to an 85mm will still give a very honest look.


5) Flash should not

be obvious

It's fun to play around with lighting, and there are appropriate times for lighting to be noticeable - if not flat our amazing. Like if you're an actor. But most of us aren't professionally lit during our interactions with our clients. Start with natural light and only use a flash in order to separate yourself from the background. Your skin tones should be 2-3 stops (4x-8x) brighter than the background, but the use of off-camera flash should not be obvious. The image should still feel like it was lit from the sun.

Bonus Challenge:

Only one of these pictures used off-camera flash to light the subject. Can you tell which one? Comment below with your answer!

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