5 Tips to Improve Your Headshot Photography

When it comes to headshot photography, capturing the perfect headshot can seem like an impossible prospect. Apart from the technical challenges that come with every photoshoot, you also have to find a way to capture the essence of your subject while managing their nervousness and fidgeting.

So what can you do to ensure a successful headshot photo shoot that will impress your subject and anyone who looks at their photo?

Check out these five tips for improving your headshot photography and see how smoothly all the pieces will fall into place for a great photo.

1. Pre-Session Conversation

Before you start snapping photos or headshot photography, take some time to talk with your subject. You can discuss pretty much anything from the weather to possible angles to clothing choices—what you’re aiming to do is relax your subject (and yourself) so that they feel comfortable and less jittery about having their photo taken.

Chat with them about the process and procedure for the photo shoot so they know what to expect at each step. Get to know about their profession, the kind of headshot they’re looking for, and how they want to look. If they’re looking for a more professional business headshot, you’ll know the right kind of plain backdrop to use. If they’re looking for something more casual and fun, you could go for a natural background in headshot photography that will make them pop.

This conversation will also help you guide them with regards to their clothing and makeup choices. Help them understand the right kind of clothing to wear for their desired headshot, and the level of makeup necessary. (If you want to provide them with tips on achieving a natural makeup look, find them here.)

2. Lighting

Different kinds of headshots require different kinds of lighting. Business and professional headshots will do better with quiet, mellow lights that are scattered evenly. A classic beauty lighting setup—with one light above another, or using a reflector—is another great option for a clean headshot look.

Position your subject so they are looking directly at the camera, but aren’t facing it straight on with their whole body. Angling the body 45 degrees from the camera down toward the main light source will achieve a more relaxed look with longer lines. I light to use a 3 light triangle setup that brings a beautiful look to just about anyone.

For more casual and fun headshots, try experimenting with natural lights. Outdoor headshots are great options full of life. Direct sunlight can be harsh and make it difficult for your subject to maintain a smile without squinting, so try to find a shady place where they can feel more comfortable and smile naturally. With the right exposure, you can take the perfect headshot with the right background.

3. Candid Shots

Some of the best headshot photos are the candid ones. Encourage your subject to chat with you, or explore their surroundings. Get them to tell you a funny story, or tell one that’s sure to get them to laugh. Not only will it continue to help them feel more comfortable, it’ll help them relax and reveal a more natural smile.

For professional headshots, having your subject sit is a great way to make them comfortable while keeping them from moving too much. But if your subject appears too stiff, ask them to stand and move slowly around the space. Either way, keep the conversation flowing to get those great candid moments. Personally I have my subjects stand as the lighting setup requires it.

It’s okay to ask your subject to reposition themselves or try a different angle. The little adjustments could end up having a big impact on the final product. When you keep your subject engaged, it allows them to feel more comfortable in their own skin which in turn makes them look more comfortable and natural.

4. Composition

The main subject of your composition will be your subject’s face, so it’s important to know how to accentuate their face and get it to stand out from the background. For business and professional headshots, you want to avoid distractions.

This starts with the right location and background. When there is a shallow depth of field, the elements of the location blur subtly to give you a unique shot. Look for patterns and shapes in the background if you’re not using a plain backdrop. Even if they’ll be blurred, those shapes will make an impression on the final product.


Try combining a few composition techniques to make your headshot exceptional. By positioning the subject off-center, you can capture more of the backdrop. These kinds of uncropped shots can be used as well as the cropped ones.

5. Equipment

Even though there aren’t any particular requirements when it comes to the equipment you use during your photoshoot, I recommend using high-quality lenses with a decent bokeh. Make sure that when you work with your lenses wide open that there aren’t any edge distortions or quirks disturbing your shot. The ideal range is 50mm to 135mm, but if you’re feeling adventurous and creative, you could go for a wide-angle lens under 50mm. I personally stick to 85mm for my professional headshot work.

Depending on the location and the setup, you may need reflectors and props. Before you head out to a shoot, plan accordingly so you don’t have any hiccups. Bring along anything you think you could possibly need to avoid any issues.

Final Words

After your photoshoot is complete, make sure your subject is satisfied with the experience. It can take a few tries to get into the groove, but once you figure out the right combination for your workflow, you’ll be an expert headshot photographer in no time.