To: Photographers, Clients
Headshot posing is a fine art.
Like the proper mixture of spices, the correct temperatures and cook times, which finally culminates in a meal fit for the most discerning tastes.
Like a fine beer, masterfully crafted, grains done just right, pure water, hops added at the right times, malt and yeast allowed to ferment to perfection. Finally refrigerated to a chilling temperature and poured into a suitable glass out of the freezer on a hot summer day. Hits the spot!
Like the perfectly placed notes in a song, all of the elements of the music coming together to elicit that deep emotion borne out of the soul. Our bodies manifest by the divine beauty, perhaps with a shiver, goosebumps or even tears of joy and happiness. Some pieces of music are that way.
No one just walks into a kitchen and "is" a master chef. They study, train and practice hard. And it takes time.
No one brews the perfect beer their first time. That takes trial and error.
No one sits down without knowing a lick of music and writes a piece that can cause millions to reflect, slow down and consider the bigger picture. Or to experience that warmth that certain songs seem to conjure up within.
Left: The lighting is not how I light male portraits. However, for demonstration purposes, this illustrated a before and after coaching scenario. The difference is obvious in this (extreme) example.
What all of these things have in common, besides technical mastery, is organic elements - photography, while we capture and freeze moments forever, it is a living, breathing subject. You can make a technically perfect song devoid of any emotion. You can shoot a technically perfect photo and it may be devoid of feeling. But a headshot, like beer making, or cooking or making music contains many elements that alone may mean nothing, yet together equate to the final shot which in this medium is a communication from you to your audience (clients, potential clients, fans, etc). What do you think a snap shot says? Or crappy light? Or bad posing?In my headshot process, I start with getting my lights tuned to what it needs to be for the person I am shooting. Part of this has to do with their skin, their clothes, whether or not they wear glasses. I typically have all of this set up before they arrive but sometimes I have to adjust a couple things as I see fit.
Left: In this photo, the photo on the left was one of the first shots, uncoached. The photo on the right, was after I adjusted the lighting for her glasses and gave her some coaching. This took me about 10 shots to arrive at. Both of these images have been retouched very lightly, no wrinkles were removed or lightened. This illustrates the power of posing to reduce age and shows how the wrong angle adds weight.
Headshots are close up photography. Their face isn't obscured by heavy makeup and other distractions. It's a shot of their head and face and this can make people uncomfortable. One client, a female, almost upon initially meeting her for the shoot opened with, "I hate how I look in photos and I hate my smile" ... in the back of my mind I said "uh oh, one of these." Then I did what I normally do. Instead of freaking out of getting worried as I may have 10 years ago, I asked her, "what about yourself don't you like in photos?" Which segewayed into "What about your smile don't you like?" Find out EXACTLY what it is by getting them to define it with specifics instead of a nebulous description.
As a photographer it's your job to make your client feel comfortable and to gain some confidence that they are in good hands. You aren't like everyone else and WILL make a great photo of them. Finding out exactly what they don't like will help you because 9/10 times you can handle it and shoot the shots without THAT element coming out. So let's say it's one eye opened wider than the other. Okay so I turn them a little with their more closed eye closer to the camera and tweak it a bit until we get a happy medium. Sometimes, as in the case of the woman who didn't like her smile, we shot a few times with varying amounts of smile and I showed her the results and said, "okay good look here, you said you didn't like how too much of a smile does THIS to your eyes. Okay, so let's look at the mirror and pinpoint how just less of that smile feels on your face." They do this and then their muscle feeling and memory will help them to always smile like this for photos. It will start to become natural. I said, "smile a lot and laugh a lot in life, but when posing for photos remember to smile this much. It may take some practice but now you know."
So immediately I start my headshot sessions by discovering what they don't like about themselves with detail and then take that data and handle their objections and make them feel confident that it will be alright as we proceed. It should be noted that I do not fish for negatives. I handle them if they are originated.
Next I begin to enlighten them about the various elements of their face and how this can influence a photo. I explain the difference in posing for a still photograph and a motion picture. We usually have a mirror and practice these elements such as what to do with the eyes, chin, mouth, etc.
Finally, we shoot some more and refine the pose to get the best angle, the one that incorporates not only their facial features honed down but their whole figure so that to the camera they are younger looking, thinner looking, or whatever is needed and appropriate.
Last, once all of the mechanical things are down, I work on getting a couple of shots that show some sort of emotional attachment. You'd be surprised how just one slight movement of the head or eyes or mouth can elicit a totally different feeling. This is a very subtle part and takes a keen eye on the part of the photographer.
Left: Most people hate getting their photo taken because they don't know what to do. This photo illustrates why getting help from a professional will turn you from a "fresh out of college" to "business professional" look that you want. Remember this world is built on imagery.
As you can see, posing is a fine art. Posing done right can reduce or eliminate a double chin, body and face weight, a "deer in the headlight" look, crooked smiles, one eye larger than the other or more open.
Headshots done right can instill confidence and result in an image which conveys friendliness, approachability and a sense of professionalism. They are the front-line to one's client base or potential client base. A headshot will be the first thing a person sees when they arrive to their bio, website or receive a business card. The words follow, but they've already been influenced by the photograph, an impression of the person's character, if you will. This is why the above bolded elements are so crucial in my opinion.
All of these headshots above are very conservative in comparison to the less formal shots done on location. There is little difference, to me, in how I go about posing outdoors or on location, over using a backdrop. The methods are the same, the space is different. Sometimes you have to incorporate other light sources into the mix. This is all easy stuff (with familiarity and experience).
Location shots can be less formal but they can also look professional.
I still very much consider myself young and able to learn in this area. And I still learn, on every shoot, there is something different that I experience or reaffirm again. This always makes me better, more able and faster at achieving a great shot within a few short minutes of shooting. I also give credit where it is due and I have studied and learned from one of the best in the business: Peter Hurley. For me, his teachings opened my mind in this area and since then I have been applying it and gaining experience (or as they say in the gaming world, "gaining levels"). So there ya go.