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 đź¤Ż)


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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First Experience with the Profoto B1x

We got an exciting brief from a client a month ago. What excited us was the use of this word, intentional. It's not often we're asked to unleash our creativity. 

I pitched a look that I had not shot before and didn't have the gear on-hand to shoot. The shoot involved lots of welding and the locations were flooded with fluorescent lighting. I needed power. Not just lots of power, but lots of portable power.  

 The mood board I used to pitch the project

The mood board I used to pitch the project

I turned to ProFoto and their B1X platform. 2x 500w flashes should be enough to overpower ambient light & keep the welding from blowing out my images, right? But I went to film school, so math isn't my strong spot. Hands-on testing is the only way I can confidently walk into a shoot. I called up the guys at Signs Plus, in Bellingham, WA. We did some filming for them before and I knew they did some welding. I offered them some images for their instagram in exchange for the opportunity. 

We arrived to our test shoot and they had some aluminum pieces and steel pieces for us to photograph. The welding looks different as the gasses react with the metals to create different colours. Aluminium was up first. It was bright as hell and got me worried. 

 Welding aluminium 

Welding aluminium 


It looked fantastic! The B1x was too powerful, though. I never had either the key or rim run at full power. 

We tested with the steel, and then it was on to the real job:

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Letting Life Happen

The car said it was -2 degrees Celcius outside. "I sure hope she's wearing a warm coat." I thought as I drove into Bellingham, WA. 

There was no clear concept for this sitting. The plan we made was to meet in the Fairhaven Village Green and take some pictures. Fresh off my binge viewing of Annie Leibovitz Masterclass, I had an idea for a lighting & posing setup I wanted to practice. 


It's quite simple, which I love. 1 overcast day, 1 Canon 430EXii, a beauty dish, and a 50mm lens. From there, simply let life happen. 

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Shot on Canon 5dii & 50mm 1.4 + Canon 430exii Speedlight

2017 Campus Crossfit Games

There are no alpha's grunting out their reps for public intimidation at Campus Crossfit. Instead, you're greeted with a warm hello by the coaches. People who recognize a new face approach you with a handshake saying, "I don't believe we've met. Welcome!"

Strength is all relative to Crossfit scoring, which makes it fun to compete across varying fitness levels. Plus, what community doesn't love a little friendly competition? When the clock says go, barbells and sweat strafe the air. 

 Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Campus Crossfit Games!

Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Campus Crossfit Games!

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Shot on Canon 5dii + 50mm 1.4

Teaching in Mazatlán 2017

In the summer of 2015 I packed my things away in my parents garage and headed off to New York City in pursuit of a job opportunity. A friend and I were going to bring his car from St. Augustine, FL back to NYC where we would part ways and I would begin a sweet new job. Looking back, the plan was too perfect to be true. 

I was lamenting my decision and burning through my cash in NYC while my good friend and business partner was teaching a filmmaking class with his wife in Mazatlán, MĂ©xico. They heard things weren't panning out with the job invited me to Mexico for a week of teaching. I bought my ticket that afternoon and in the morning I was on the first plane out of JFK to Mazatlán. 

I don't know why I went - I had always proclaimed myself to be a terrible teacher. If I was teaching addition I would have asked, "What is 4?" and the students would respond, "A number." "Wrong! 4 is 2+2. Now you know addition." But my students would not have known a damn thing about addition. 

At this time I was also feeling frustrations in my own career. I wanted to be the next great thing - the next Martin Scorsese - making big bold films while preserving the history and art of cinema. 

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"The World Needs

People That Love What They Do." 

This graffiti was one of several phrases written on walls around Mazatlán. The tag is a heart with the phrase "AcciĂłn PoĂ©tica Mazatlán", a movement that started in 1996 Monterray, MĂ©xico. The only rules of the group are not to paint political or religious slogans, and keep a loving tone. This one hit me at the right time. 

I often described what I did as play make-believe with cameras. But somewhere along the way I forgot how to play. I fell out of love with what I was doing. I discovered the rules, followed them, and thought that was my guide to success. 

The greatest part of teaching is when somebody asks, "But, why?" I never questioned why I had to do anything, I just knew, "do this and that will happen." I never looked at the rules and decided how I would interpret them; never asked the rules, "Yeah, why do I have to do it that way?" My creativity was gone. How could I get people excited about creativity if I had none to share? 

When a student asked, "Why?" I began asking the rule too, "Yeah, why do we do that?" So we experimented! We tried doing it the way the rules said not to. Most of it was terrible, but sometimes we struck some gold as well; we even made a film about waking up and getting coffee that was quite hilarious. I loved it so much I stayed for a month and helped make more films. 

This year marked my 3rd year returning with Brian and his wife Anni to teach filmmaking in Mazatlán. It is by far one of my favourite weeks in the year. This year was an incredible gift. Everyone came with curious minds, playful personalities, and an innate desire to improve the world through visual storytelling. What a great feeling it is to help them on their journey and allow them to guide my own story. 

Observations from a Flight Across Canada

A good friend gave me a notebook. It's a beautiful notebook. A flap of worn leather with an elastic strap and a camera pendant. In it, she left instructions, "Fill this notebook with every inspiration, fear, wish, memory, anything your heart, soul, and mind want." 

It's nearly full, which means there's material to share. I was flying to Atlanta by way of Toronto and recorded the following:

I find great irony in this moment. A middle aged man is sitting next to me on the airplane. He's grey on top, blue and white dress shirt on and sporting that middle aged "I've neglected my health this long, why bother to change that now" kind of belly. It's held back by the worlds strongest belt buckle. 

He's watching a Paul Newman film on his ipad and struggling to find a comfortable viewing angle. When the flight attendant stops by, he orders a ham & swiss sandwich with a white wine. He pays with a credit card, drinks the wine, and eats half of the sandwich. The other half is thrown away with the empty wine bottle. Throughout this transaction his attention remains fixed on the film, one hand on the ipad, one hand discarding the trash. He looks down at the iPad the way a librarian looks down her nose at an overdue book. Gravity seems to have pulled the corners of his mouth into a permanent half-frown. The kind of frown your boss gives you when you ask for a raise during a market downturn. Maybe he has fielded many of these requests in the past few years. 

A couple sit in front of me. Early 30's and obviously in love. When the plane takes off she is taking pictures with her camera. He takes the camera from her, takes her earring and begins posing her in artistic portraits as she looks longingly out the window pointing to the mountains below. After all, they do look so beautiful in the sunset. He returns her earring and squeezes next to her. They begin taking selfies, laughing as they review each shot. When the flight attendant comes by the man orders a tea and she asks for a blanket. They share a bag of almonds they brought onto the plane. When they have finished their snack he raises the armrest and she lays across him. He tucks the blanket around her and rests his arm on her shoulder. He must not be tired yet as he uses his free hand to hold his book. She quickly falls asleep.

I sit against the window, trapped. My laptop is in my suitcase above me. I write these observations in a notebook given to me by a good friend. It's made of leather and paper with a metal camera charm strung on the elastic clasp. My pen is a metal ballpoint that fits neatly into the leather loop attached to the binding. I sit and observe the two parties surrounding me. I have my earplugs in to dampen the noise of flying. When the flight attendant comes by I order a water and a diet coke. I stash the free pretzels and cookies in my bag. A 6 hour layover in Toronto awaits me and I don't know what food options are available between midnight and 5am. She hands me the water and I promptly consume it. I was in line at a vending machine to buy a bottle before take-off but the children in front of me broke the machine. I slowly sip the diet coke as I observe the people around me and work up the courage to ask the man next to me if I may retrieve my laptop from my suitcase so I too can join him in screen-time solitude.