The Most Important Aspect of a Headshot

A common question asked about a headshot is what are the most important features that make a headshot great. The expected answers are lighting, composure, or even the background. Some people even think the camera makes a big difference. While each of those things certainly contributes to the photograph, and any of them can be cause for a bad headshot, none are the end all.

The most important part of a headshot is the subject themselves. How they connect to the viewer, and the story they tell through their expression. Everyone has heard that the subject of a headshot should appear natural, but that is not enough. Every person that has their headshot taken is going to leave an impression with the viewer. What that impression is, and how to determine what it should be is the single most important job of a headshot photographer.

When asked, many subjects do not immediately know what story they want to tell with their headshot. The first order of business is to talk about what they do, and the impression that is most beneficial for them to leave with the person viewing it. This is done though adjectives. Some examples are “professional”, “knowledgeable”, “approachable”, or even “kind” or “caring”. Sometimes an adjective alone is not enough, and you need at add a noun or verb, for example, “good listener”.

Let us apply some adjectives, or short phrases to professions. We will start with some of the examples already used and apply them to a therapist: “Caring”, “good listener” and “approachable” are all things any therapist would like to convey with their headshot. The impression a trial attorney may want to put forward may be better described as “unmovable”, “educated” or even “manipulative” or “cunning”. Once determined it becomes the headshot photographer’s job to bring these adjectives to life through the gaze and expressions of the subject they are shooting. Some great examples of expressive headshots can be seen at San Diego Headshots.

This is not to say that any of the other attributes of a headshot are not also important, but only photographers know the difference between good, or great lighting. The same holds true for composure. If as a photographer you are unable to get those basic things right, you should not be taking headshots for professionals yet. Once you do, adjectives will become your new focus.

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