Ultimate Guide to Creating Great Headshots – DIY Solution

As a professional photographer, I've taken photos of hundreds of people (not even counting fashion and other event photos). Here, in this article I share tips on how to take your own headshots. As a bonus, I share my own headshot creation process using Pixel 2 XL mobile phone.

When I was invited to talk about personal brand building for professionals, I dropped some bombshells on what that really is and what it means to build a brand for the professional woman. That’s according to the feedback I received.

So the feedback was great and the audience really enjoyed the talk. Part of what I talked about included branding profiles and profile images and I felt that, as a photographer, I could have added still more value by sharing practical tips on what to look out for and how to get better results with profile images (aka headshots). Alas, we had limited time and I had to make a decision on what would benefit folks the most so I opted to cover more holistic issues.

I could, of course, still write about those tactics and share them. This is what I’m doing for you now.

Here are the key points to remember when you’re getting your profile images with a professional photographer or anyone who can operate your mobile phone. Or if you’re doing it yourself using a tripod with a remote release or an inbuilt timer in your device.

Mindset and your physiology

It sounds pretty grand but how you feel and think comes out in your images. You would have seen this line somewhere on the Internet.

 Your vibe speaks louder than your words. 

So what to do when you have a ‘mindset’ problem? Some of you may not know what I’m talking about. If so I suggest having a read of the piece I wrote (and recorded) after the event I mentioned above

Okay, let’s say you understand that your photo is not really about you and it’s more about/for the people who need to see you and hear from you. That does not mean you’re going to be jumping with joy about the idea of getting photographed. That’s why most of my clients go through some intensive coaching sessions with me. 

If you’re reading this you probably want to jump right in. Right? Ready?

The quickest fix I can advise is for you to turn on your favourite music loud and move your body. Jumping up and down works. Shake your body starting with your arms and legs (while looking after your hair and makeup if you’ve gone to all that trouble). That works for more extroverted people. If you cannot move your body to save your life (that includes me), you can sit down and meditate and listen to the sound of rain or something like that for no more than five minutes to quieten down the noise in your head. Either way works depending on your temperament. You’ll want to do this just before your photoshoot and during the shoot if needed. And most importantly, have fun. You may not believe it now but every single client I photographed said how much fun it was getting photographed (they all had varying degrees of hangups about being photographed) and I’m sharing all my tips with you here so if you follow this process you’ll have fun on the shooting day.

What to wear

For profile images, it’s not a huge problem whatever you wear because it’s cropped tightly in most cases. But these are the things to look out for:

  • Avoid black unless that’s your brand colour and you know what you’re doing. The trouble is people wear black because they don’t know what they are doing with their dressing or colour palette. If that includes you, avoid wearing black at all costs.
  • Get yourself quickly tested for your personal colour palette and get a rough idea of what colours suit you the best using the tool below. This is the most elegantly simple tool I know of but I advise you to be patient as the website can be quite temperamental. https://capsulesapp.cladwell.com/seasonalcolorquiz/  Try a few times and if you have some ideas on your palettes you can head over to https://elementalcolour.com.au/blog?category=Tonal%20Guides and check out your tonal guide page(s). This is meant to be fun for you so get inspired rather than getting stressed about not picking your perfect colour palette. 
  • Look at your current wardrobe and see if you already own outfits that match the palette of your choosing.
  • Watch out for the neckline. Some of you look better with a V-neck than a crew neck. If you have a large chest, you’re likely to look better with tops that are not too close around the neck. 
  • If you have a broad upper body it’s recommended to wear a blazer to break up your body in three ways visually. And make sure that you create a V-shape with your jacket if you can by buttoning up (or use a safety pin as we do in the studio). In most cases, it is better to create the V shape than letting the jacket fall straight down creating three cylinder-shapes.
  • Go easy on accessories. Don’t wear too many blingy things.
To illustrate the point, I dressed Narelle in black first for the photo on the left. And her ‘colours’ for the photo on the right. Your eyes notice black before seeing her face and it dominates. In her second photo, the colours are harmonious and I can see her face more ‘comfortably’.

The main thing to remember is that your outfits are there to support you and not to create distractions. If someone looks at your photo and comments on what you’re wearing we have a problem. What you aim for is harmony so that my eyes go straight to your face, not to what you’re wearing.

Your makeup consideration

If you don’t typically wear makeup, this will be the only time I’d say you want to wear some in order to:

  • Even out your skin tone – get a tube of BB cream that matches your skin
  • Remove shine – Make sure that your skin is not shiny by blotting and sweeping across with translucent matting powder. Be careful with dewy/glow/highlighting products. They may not photograph well. When in doubt avoid them.
  • Fill in your sparse brows if you have that problem (which I have)
  • Lift your lashes so that your eyes look a little bigger 
  • Add some colours to your cheeks
  • Add some natural colours to your lips (unless bold colours are your daily go-to). Just be sure not to smile too much with red lip colour staining your teeth.

With soft light (the suggestions I make below), you don’t need much/heavier makeup.

If you do wear heavy makeup often and if you DO NOT consider my body language tips you could give off the wrong impression.

This doesn’t mean you have to get professional makeup done. If you’re not at all inclined to do this it’s fine, but please follow my advice on ‘lighting’.

My personal kit includes, soft sponge for blending concealer, nude lipsticks, large eco-tool brush, finishing mineral powder and a blusher/bronzer combo.

Your hair

How do you usually wear your hair? When I ask this question, clients often say they just tie it back or have it as a bun. My issue is that a ponytail or bun isn’t for everybody. Sometimes, those styles are not appropriate for your position, age and profession. This is one thing that you may need to consider having done ‘professionally’. Go to your stylist, get your hair washed and styled if you can. To me, this is more important than your makeup.

Well, there’s a good reason for it. Your mobile phone apps will have filters you can use (okay I’m going into dangerous territory here…) for your face but not for your hair.

I’m not totally against the idea of using filters. However, go easy with them. You do not want to look fake.

Lighting

Professional photographers like me have lighting equipment to create all kinds of lighting setups but when you’re doing this alone you’ll need to consider the following. If you follow my tips your photos should look great every time when all other things are considered.

  • Look for a shaded area – whether you’re at home or outside somewhere, look for shade. Ideally, you’re not undercover (aka open shade). If you’re undercover (ceiling or roof), get to the edge of the shadowy area but not out in the open sun. 
  • If you’re indoors and facing the light you’ll get better results than standing with your back to the window. When in doubt face the light and pay attention to your eye area. If you see two dark shadowy areas you’ll want to turn left and right (or turn around completely!) to minimise shadows in your eye area. 
  • Avoid downlights at all costs.
  • If you want to create a  little more definition you can turn your body slightly to one side and see if that creates one side of your nose darker while still keeping your eye area not shadowy.

Background

In the studio environment, when my clients come to me for their profile images, we have a lot of distraction-free background options. You’re not likely to have this when you’re doing it yourself.

The key is to avoid any distraction behind you. You’ll want to:

  • Avoid vertical lines going through or above your head
  • Avoid horizontal lines going across your eye and neck area
  • Avoid street art unless that’s your brand image
  • Avoid doorways, loud colours, frames
  • Look for greenery that’s uniform (e.g. tall hedges)
  • Look for white brick walls.

A plain background is almost always the safest option.

Your body language

This could be by far the most important thing you need to look out for. I’ve seen so many profile images with inappropriate body language. For example, you’re a budding manager at a large corporation and your profile photo makes you look like a high-priced escort. I kid you not. That’s what I notice often.

When I say body language I mean the tilt of your head, the position of your shoulders, your gaze and your facial expression.

Unless you’re an artist with an intentional message to send out with your profile image what we are looking to create is an image that does not remind people of anything (generally speaking) other than just seeing your face in the photos.

I took a bunch of images of myself using my Pixel 2 XL mobile phone to show you subtleties. Pay attention to my shoulders and head (not my facial expressions)

These are ‘What Not to do

Watch out for these – very subtle difference.

Below are your safe bets – minor rotation and tilt are achieved with my lower half of the body.

To summarise, be careful with the following:

  • Tilting of your head – too much of it will remind people of being ‘childish’.
  • Smiling too much – too many wrinkles and smile lines. Often this makes your eyes look smaller.
  • Standing on the side at a sharp angle – this is what I call the ‘realtor’ look. I don’t recommend doing this (unless you’re a realtor then it’s fine).
  • If you’re worried about your weight, make sure that the person taking photos of you has the lens of your device slightly (not too much) above your eye line so that there’s a slight looking downward effect from the camera. Also, you can bend your front knee (closer to the camera) and ‘kick’ your bottom away from your ‘photographer’. This creates a slimming look. Taking photos this way will shave off a couple of dress sizes without doctoring your photos in Photoshop, for example.
  • Avoid visually connecting your chin to the shoulder. If you rotate your face to ‘link’ your chin close to your shoulder, it will make your photo too suggestive (unless that’s the aim of the photo). If you bring one shoulder closer to your chin by moving it closer to the centre of the frame it creates the same feeling. This is what you do when you make boudoir or glamour photos. This is what you’d do to seduce someone in case you didn’t know.
  • Avoid lounging too comfortably if you’re sitting down. You’ll want to sit up straight more so than normal. If you slouch or lean on something it gives people the wrong vibe (e.g. too sexy or casual).
  • Lastly, put a bit of distance between your device and yourself. That’s where the remote release comes in handy (with your mobile phone/device mounted on a tripod).

When you stand, it’s best to stand while putting most of your weight on one leg. Imagine yourself standing at a bar. You wouldn’t be standing super straight. There is a slight tilt of your hip. Pay attention to that and sink comfortably into that position. If you’re bending your front knee, as suggested above, your back leg has most of your body weight. If you do this well (and if you’re not that flexible), your body will tell you as it’s a bit like stretching muscles that you don’t usually use.

How to avoid double chins

Rather than me writing about it, it would be easier for you to watch this clip: https://vimeo.com/304095222

What to do with your arms and legs

How comfortable or awkward you look in your upper body is determined by what you do with your lower half of the body. Your arms and legs are not shown but they are key to showing your natural and comfortable body language.

In this series of images, I want you to pay attention to what my legs (and feet) and arms are doing.

And take the shots

You’re not going to make your favourite photo in one fell swoop. Even professional photographers take several (hundreds) shots before choosing one for the client from each set (e.g. each set would show the client wearing different outfits).

You’re likely to get at least a couple of really good images to use if you follow everything I wrote here and try taking dozens of images.

If all else fails you can always come and see me.

BONUS

In preparation for this article, I decided to replace my ‘studio shot’ profile image with a photo I took with my mobile phone. Here’s my workspace. I share this with you so that you know the lighting condition – there’s a large window facing North East.

Whenever I’m doing videos and taking photos myself in this room I’m facing the light as in standing looking at the window just this image was taken. Most often, I won’t be facing squarely on but slightly more to one side as shown in the images below so that you can see more of one side of the room.

I had my mobile phone mounted on a stand (a monopod with legs for those who would like to know what I use) in front of my window. I stood less than a meter away from the phone and used one of my remote releases. You can see that I broke my own rule of ‘not having a busy background’. You break the rules when you know what you’re doing. :)

From the selection, I chose the first image in the second row from the set above.

The actual profile image I’m using now after a little crop.

Oh before I go, I share with you what not to do. If you don’t give yourself enough distance and put your camera too close to your face, it can create an image like this one. AVOID this look. It might work for teenagers but not for professionals.

My head looks like a popsicle and it has the distinctive ‘selfie’ feel to it.

Have fun and let me know how you get on!

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Hello!

Hi, my name is Songy, your Personal Brand Coach & Photographer. I help you create a brand that represents who you are what you do so that you can grow your business. Moving well away from the thought of having a ‘wrong’ personality being an introvert, I’m now helping other introverts become visible and flourish. My clients love my direct, no-nonsense approach, macabre humour and my caring nature. Connect with me by signing up to receive my weekly marketing insights and personal branding secrets.

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