The photo on your CV and professional portfolio can give the first impression about you, that is the reason everybody wants professional photos portraying their best self. Hiring a pro for that might sound sensible but their prices will definitely put a huge strain on your wallet and if you are a student or just starting out your career, you would want to avoid that. Not to worry, because you carry the tool you need in your pockets, your smartphones. There is still a huge demand for professionals, but smartphone cameras have progressed so much in recent years that they can compete with DSLRs when provided optimal conditions. This guide will teach you about the factors to consider in order to take a professional headshot. It will take you through every step, technical and non-technical, to make your headshots crystal clear and perfect looking. Let’s dive straight into it.
The very first thing that you are going to do is to change the settings to get High-Resolution photos, irrespective of the purpose of the photo. For that, you will need to head into the Settings of your camera app and enable HDR to get that professional look and then change the mode to Portrait. Portrait mode first debuted on phones in 2017 but if you are still uninitiated about it, here is a little explanation. This picture mode gives your image that shallow depth of field or blur, that you love about DSLR cameras, on phones, it is done with the help of a secondary telephoto lens. Every smartphone, nowadays, is equipped with that so you do not have to work hard just to find it. The bokeh or the blur effect produced gives your photos a professional touch and by just focusing on you, it makes you stand out in the picture.
After setting the camera up to give you sharp and crisp photos, you need to determine the context of the photo. By context we mean whether you want to take the photo for corporate use or just to post on social media. For the sake of this article, we are going to stick with a professional headshot that you could use for corporate or even your personal LinkedIn profile.
Now that the context has been established to be professional, we move towards your clothes. Clothes matter a lot in professional shots, we will give you a basic idea of what clothes would work best so that you can choose yourself. The very first thing that you are going to avoid is multicolored clothes and clothes with patterns. Both of these things steal the focus from your face, especially in headshots, and look very distracting. A suit is not a must but is preferred for professional headshots make sure that if the background is light in color, wear dark or bold colors, and similarly, if it’s dark, wear light. The main idea is to make you stand out and be the focus of the picture so make sure to remember that the clothes are not distracting.
A professional headshot demands a good background and by good, we mean the kind of background which adds to the grace and professionalism of the photo rather than diminishing it. You must always make sure that you do not have a messy or cluttered background, nothing screams amateur in a photo more than a messy background. But you do not need to worry about finding the best background too much, a simple clean background with a single color is what you need.
If you are shooting indoors, a clean wall with a single color that is not too flashy, otherwise the color will reflect on your skin, or a brick wall will work best. Neutral colors work best for a professional headshot. When standing in front of a wall, make sure that there is some space between you and the wall so that depth of field and the blur effect work best to make you stand out in the photo.
You could also try out shooting outdoors but for that, you must make sure that the sun is not too bright and even, not too dull in the evening. In photography, there is a term called ‘Golden Hour’ which essentially refers to the sunset and rise time when the light is warm and nice enough for taking photos. Otherwise, stand in the shade to get even lighting and make sure that the sun is behind you so that you do not squint your eyes and do not get shadows on your face. Portrait mode will also help outdoors by blurring the surroundings and putting you in the spotlight.
Always try to turn your head to maintain eye level and check different angles before you click a picture. The sun shining directly takes your picture to the next level. Take advantage and look like your favorite celebrities or stars. In fact, outshine them!
Unlike DSLRs, there are not a lot of technicalities that you need to worry about while taking a headshot with your phone but perfecting a couple of things will help you get better results.
First is the lens, smartphone cameras have come a long way but they still cannot compete for head-on with a DSLR in aperture because it depends on lens size. Phones have little lenses so make sure that the phone is not too close to the face which may result in distortion of facial features. Do not worry about getting the extra background in the frame yet, we will be talking about that further along in the article, so for now, just make sure you get excellent details in your photo.
Another technicality that you can control and adjust to a great extent and which will enhance your headshot to a maximum is lighting.
You have to understand that in professional studios they use large umbrella area lights to make sure that the lighting is perfect and even but we are not going to make you shell out thousands of bucks for that extra equipment to get a professional headshot when we can use natural sources to imitate the studio lights. That’s right, natural light is your best source to get even lighting for perfect headshots.
Before we start praising natural light, you should understand why indoor home lighting can ruin your professional headshots. Instead of the studio area lights, there are fluorescent or LED light bulbs in our homes which are point lights and the disadvantage of using them for photography is that they cause really harsh shadows on your facial features. Now, to get the most out of natural light make sure that the sun is not too bright which we discussed earlier, and to get remarkable results, stand near a window.
Now, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to using windows for natural light but before taking your headshot, go into selfie mode and start rotating in the room and see how light changes and affects the shadows and your facial features and try to find a sweet spot where the shadows are minimal and lighting is even. You can make do with a single window but if you have access to two windows in a corner room where they both shine even light on your face that will work wonders for getting a great depth on the face.
In case natural sunlight is missing, use a ring light, soft light, or fluorescent bulbs to look good for photo editing.
We understand that not every person is blessed with great windows so we have an alternative for you. Ring lights are a piece of external equipment which is very cheap and will be the best solution for you. You can control how bright or dull they are, so that will work in your favor.
Some of you might say here that posing has got nothing to do with headshots because we are not aiming to get a perfect body shot but we highly disagree. Posing is body language and your body language determines how your face is going to react. Models and actors go through a lot of training and practice to get stylish pictures but worry not, some simple tricks will help you to get a professional headshot without ever hiring a photographer. The goal of a great and perfect headshot is to portray you as confident while still looking approachable, so we will talk about the posing that would not make you look standoff-ish but rather friendly.
The very first tip that we will tell you and every headshot expert will agree on, is that you should lean towards the lens a bit while keeping your core firm. Sitting or standing up straight makes your chin and neck come out more if you overdo it, so to be on the safe side, avoid that. What you are aiming for is to emphasize your facial features so what leaning does is brings your forehead out and you should also let your chin come slightly down to hide those extra chins and neck.
Angled pictures produce great results in headshots. What that means is that you have to pose your body at an angle away from the lens and tilt your head towards the lens and then lean your front shoulder in. What it will do is highlight your jawline and make you look more approachable which is the main idea of a professional headshot.
Hands also play a key part in making your headshots professional. You might disagree but let us explain. If you are clenching your fists that means you are nervous and that will project into your pic, to avoid that be relaxed and let your arms hang naturally or maybe fold them if you like.
Confidence is a very crucial part of professional headshots and what best way to portray confidence than smiling. It might sound pretty basic or generic to you but a natural smile goes a long way in terms of approachability. All of the talk about posing boils down to a great smile. A forced or congested smile is always worse than no smile, that is why relax your body to get a more natural smile.
One trick by which you can achieve that is to have a friend make you laugh and then take your photo. It is not about corporate or actor headshots, but the main idea is to make you comfortable in front of the camera to get a professional headshot. Now, remember to capture a lot of pictures during that because you have to capture the smile after the huge laughter subsides. That is your moment to shine.
Best Phones for taking Professional Headshots
Apple’s iPhone was the first to showcase a portrait mode which allows us to get great headshots and get a feeling of DSLRs on smartphones. For a little amount of time, Apple dominated the market for producing the best portrait pictures but in recent years, other manufacturers, such as Samsung, Huawei, and Google, have up with them and in some cases even surpassed iPhones in portrait photography. Huawei P20 Pro was the first one to get recognition in that respect but other phones like Samsung’s premium Note and S series phones, Huawei’s P series phones, and Goggle’s Pixels will get you the best results possible today. If you have already got a phone that can shoot high-quality pictures, that’s fine but if it is lacking in the camera department, you might want to invest in a better phone to capture the most details. Some things that you must consider before buying a phone for portrait photography are that it must have a great dynamic range to produce natural-looking colors and can also capture great details and it also must have great software onboard to automatically adjust your picture for you.
You must understand that you are not going to get the best photo on the first attempt but it is going to take some time. So, the best and optimal way is to warm up and take a lot of pictures to understand what you are doing wrong and to get more comfortable in front of the camera. Remember, posing is body language, and confidence in body language is the key to getting the best results.
You can take your own headshot with just the head in a self portrait mode and download a photo editing app to get a desirable picture for personal or professional purposes.
Also, while taking a lot of practice pictures, you must experiment with lighting, and also with your smile, and emotions. You can try different lighting conditions and different smiles which enhance your facial features.
After all the work of taking pictures, comes the last step and that is editing and adjusting them to make them even better. Some phones such as Google’s pixel have great Artificial Intelligence onboard that automatically fine-tune your portraits but mostly, editing proves beneficial.
We said earlier not to worry about getting the extra background in your headshot, this is the step where you fix that by Cropping and Framing. In every camera app, you will find a cropping tool and you must crop the picture enough to leave some room above your head and enough room below the chest but it is a creative decision so you must decide for yourself whether you want a standard portrait or a square one which is more suitable for professional platforms like LinkedIn.
You can get photo editing apps such as VSCO or Pixlr to gain further control over the editing process. In these apps, you find tons of features to enhance your pictures. We have listed some tools you might use.
All the lighting talk must have made you pretty conscious about that factor but if still, your picture is a bit more light or dark, you can adjust that by controlling Exposure. Highlights and Contrast can also be adjusted to make your facial features pop out more and Shadows will be used to lower the number of shadows produced on the image.
Now that you have gone through the guide, we are sure that you will leave with good insights into taking a professional headshot with your camera. In the end, let us wrap it all up for you. Without straying away from our main topic, we introduced you to the camera settings needed to get stunning headshots on a phone, namely Portrait Mode and HDR. Then, we talked about the context and in this specific case, we established a professional one which led us to explain what clothes and background would work best to make you the focus of the image rather than getting any distracting object in the frame. Lighting is a key component that you have to control in your images, that is why we talked in detail about that and gave you the best tips that you can utilize to get the lighting work for you. After that, posing was a factor and we started by explaining that posing and smiling brings a sense of approachability to your headshots and we gave you detailed tips and tricks to help you get more comfortable in front of the camera, so you can obtain perfect headshots. At the very least, we explained that you do not have to stress if there are some aspects in the pictures that you do not like because there are great editing apps that give you a lot of control to adjust the picture to your liking.
A professional photographer works in a professional studio and promotes a personal brand. You can contact such people to get a good headshot for commercial reasons. Professional photographers try a few shots on a high dynamic range for different poses with a simple background for high quality pictures.