The folks down at Essex University Photographic Society asked me to write a piece on headshots and how I approached them. Putting my method down on paper was a tricky task as I knew an article comprised of 'errr I just sort of do it' wasn't going to cut the mustard. So I forced my own hands and here is the result...
A good headshot session starts with a good cup of tea. You're about to shove a large camera and lens in someone’s face for a few hours, so taking the time to chat and get on a level is just as important as your technical ability on the camera. All sessions are unique, however, there are a few things that I say to all my clients, one being; think small! What I mean is that the smallest movement of the chin, eyes or head make a huge difference within the frame, exactly the same as screen acting.
I shoot in the morning, as the sun is lower in the sky and the light is softer. Thin cloud is a real bonus too as it diffuses the light and creates an even tone. I also tend to backlight which means the light source (the sun) is behind the subject. I then use a reflector to throw the light back into the subjects face. The first 50 or so shots are all about getting the subject used to the camera, I’ll suggest quite bold, unnatural movements at first so I can then show what those movements translate to within the frame. I haven’t come across a client yet that doesn’t have a mini eureka moment at this point, and this is where the practical element of the session really begins.
I’ll shoot front-on, profile, 3/4, sitting, and kneeling all the while making a mental note of what I think suits the subject, For example a strong jaw profile lends itself to something off-centre or 3/4 as the line of the jaw adds to the composition of the image. I always have one eye on the sun, as it moves I’ll need to adjust the set up/ position of the subject accordingly. The cloud too will influence the on-camera settings so I often find myself looking up at the heavens and not through the viewfinder!
The two really vital things to cover whilst shooting are making sure you have covered all angles/ sides of the subject so they get a real breadth in their images and even more importantly... Chat! It is the difference between a subject that is comfortable and one that isn’t. Simple. By the end of the practical element of the session everything from the initial tea and biscuits to the positioning of the client in relation to the light should have produced a bunch of great images and in amongst them... The headshot.
Next step is selecting the images. I’m quite hands-on with helping clients and will always suggest and guide. Ultimately though I encourage them to make the final decision. It’s their face after all! Once the images have been selected it’s time to give them the treatment in Photoshop, I’m quite protective about my methods here, as they’ve taken me a long time to put together. What I will say is that I believe re-touching headshots lies somewhere between beauty re-touching and more traditional portraiture (light touch) re-touching, ie, enhance and celebrate the natural features but this isn’t the next Dior campaign! Put simply, a good headshot is... You at your best, on a good day.