How To: Take Professional Head Shots
Taking professional-looking head shots doesn't require a studio or a lot amount of money!

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Taking a good head shot isn’t just a matter of being able to handle a camera proficiently. It includes a combination of techniques to help capture the best pose of your subject.

From positioning your subject’s head correctly to picking a photo backdrop, taking the best professional head shot requires perfect lighting, multiple poses and touch-ups.

In just 5 easy steps, you’ll learn how to take great professional head shots that your subjects can use in their portfolios. Here are a few useful tips you can use before, during and after the photoshoot.

You can create great head shots by using light. Your main light source can come from a flash, lamp or window. But using only one light source might cause shadows to fall across the subject’s face; you don’t want to use this type of lighting for any photo. If you have access to studio equipment, then use an umbrella — or a soft box — to diffuse the light.

This is an example of problems with high contrast when using only one light source.

This is an example of problems with high contrast when using only one light source.

A second additional light source can help solve the any lighting issues. Light filling can come from something as simple as a white wall or reflector, or you can use a second flash or lamp. The fill should be softer than the main light source. Ideally, there should be light shined across your subject’s face; a greater difference will mean higher contrast.

If you want more depth in a head shot, then add an additional light source to hit the subject’s hair. This effect isn’t necessary for every head shot, but when your subject looks too flat against the background, it could be a useful addition. Like light filling, this effect should be less powerful than your main light source; otherwise, it may be too distracting.


The lighting on this woman gives her some depth that would normally be absent within this type of background.

The position of your subject (in relation to the light) depends greatly on his or her facial features. Taking strictly frontal photos, unless you have a great reason to take them, will look flat and boring. A three-quarter view is preferable, and both eyes should catch light because they are, essentially, the focus of the head shot.

Are these the best angle and light for photographing her face?

Is this the best angle and amount of light for taking a professional head shot of this subject?

If your subject has a puffy face, don’t put too much light on the side closer to the camera; if, on the other hand, he or she has harsh features — such as a large nose, big chin, etc. — then use light to soften these features. Likewise, avoid harsh contrast resulting from angled lighting if the skin of the subject isn’t smooth.

Each head shot will most likely need editing. Use Levels and Curves for enhancing contrast and brightness in the head shot; Hue, Saturation and Selective Color eliminate possible color casts. The Unsharp Mask tool sharpens vital features, such as your subject’s eyes. Apply these corrections through Adjustments Layers, not directly onto your photo.

This is the same photo; the left is straight out of the camera, and the right is after basic adjustments.

The left is taken directly from the camera; the right is after basic adjustments, which makes this head shot look better.

You can also use masks to apply this effect only where you want to. For diminishing blemishes and skin imperfections, you can use Clone, Healing or Patch tools. There is a limit to the amount of retouching you should do. Don’t exaggerate the head shot with sharpening, saturation and contrast. All of these are great in the right measure, but altering the photo too much will result in an unnatural appearance.

For simple touch-ups, you can use Lightroom, which is easier to use than Photoshop and has all the basic controls. It also has templates to prepare prints quickly.

Photoshop might have the best reputation, but other programs can accomplish what you need.

Photoshop might have the best reputation, but other programs can accomplish what you need.

If you want more advanced portrait retouching without having to go through intensive Photoshop editing, you can try software such as Portrait Professional, designed especially for this purpose.

Before taking professional head shots of any subject, examine his or her best features to highlight. A quick observation will help you realize which features should be enhanced and others that should be minimized for the most flattering effect.

These head shots will be used for a plethora of purposes, so make sure your subject appears inviting, engaging and, most importantly, professional!

Sample images by Angel Norris, Julián Ignacio Gomez Lorenzon and

About the Author
Kristi Maddox is a master of graphic design, on-site design and ordering, and is the go-to for template and design tool usage.
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