5 Easy Steps to Bad Headshots

Today’s blog post is offered by a guest blogger, Mary Walton.  Mary is the owner of Photography 818 near Joplin, Missouri. She specializes in senior portraits, weddings and sporting events. Mary is married with a teenager and a tweenager; she’s a rabid scrapbooker and knitter. You can find her at http://photo818.com/, facebook.com/photo818 or follow her on Twitter @thetechnodiva.

To me, headshots are fun and quick ways to get to know new people.  By making quick work of photographing professionals, we can expand our networks and earn new portrait clients as well. But before you make the appointment and click the shutter, make sure your clients’ expectations are exceeded: conduct a short pre-session consultation just as you would with a portrait client.With my headshot clients, I give them four tips, the fifth is for me to remember.


Of course we all know that crazy patterns and wild colors don’t make the best portraits, but sometimes our clients don’t realize this. They end up wearing their favorite shirt–an orange and green extra-large paisley print–and being disappointed with the final portrait (and you!) but not knowing why.  Take the time to discuss a flattering solid color with them-and have them wear shirts with sleeves! I generally recommend a dark color for those with light hair, a light color for those with dark hair.

Makeup and Accessories

I’ve seen photographers who recommend “extra makeup” to their female clients. Unfortunately, “extra” can mean myriad things, so I tell ladies to wear a normal amount of makeup, but bring it along in case we need to add some.

I also tell ladies to keep their jewelry to a minimum. Jewelry can be distracting and shiny jewelry can give us unwanted glare and highlights.


I never pose my clients so that their hands will be visible in the image. These headshots are taken to be used for publicity purposes. Different uses mean different crops and I don’t want my client to be stuck with a stray finger stuck to her chin or cheek when the image is cropped too close.


Always discuss the style of the headshot. My “Murderer Pose” to the left is great for mystery and thriller authors but would be completely inappropriate for a local insurance agent. I classify my headshots into the following styles: Friendly & Approachable, Professional and Serious, Mysterious, and Glamour. If a client identifies with one of those categories we can get the shot quickly and have them back to their office in no time!

Over Editing

Here’s the tip I save for me (and for you!) Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should….that’s my motto for editing. Sure I’ll brighten eyes, teeth. Absolutely I’ll remove blemishes and soften skin a little, but I want the finished product to look like the subject, not a caricature. I always discuss editing with them before I edit. Do they want that mole removed? Braces left in–taken out? In the end, I want the image to look like the client, not a perfect plastic facsimile of her!

Great post, Mary! Thanks! -Rachel-

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