Sometimes we have to invest our hard earned money into things we’d rather not pay for. I know I’ve put off getting headshots in the past because I figure that as a photographer I can take my own.
And I’ve put off getting all dolled up and doted on because it feels like it’s a luxury and not a necessity (although this line of thinking is totally not true).
I am a firm believer in going pro, but sometimes the reality is that you can’t. At least right now. Maybe you don’t have enough money, or maybe you don’t have enough time and your photographer is all booked up.
So, what can you do? You need photos for your website or your new business cards, and they need to be professional and branded.
I am always fond of “Make it work” moments (to quote Tim Gunn), and I pretty sure if you don’t have the money or can’t get a pro to do it, this is one of those moments.
That’s why I’ve decided to help you focus on the 5 most effective things you can do to take your selfies from not-so-pro to “Wow! Who took your headshots?!”
Tip #1- Find The Light
Light in photography is EVERYTHING.
If you don’t take any other tip seriously today, please take this one.
How the light falls on the subject sets the mood of the photograph, and whether or not you can tell if the photo was taken by a pro.
I usually take my selfies indoors, right by the light of an open window. I turn off the other lights in the room, and pull back the shades. The sheers over the windows help to create a dreamy kind of diffused light that is really flattering.
I take these photos in the afternoon, and they end up being some of my favorite photos of myself.
Be sure to face the light, not away from it. I find that sitting sideways can work, but sometimes your face will be half in the light and half in the shadows. Simply turn your face towards the window, and voila!
If you decide that you’d like the outdoorsy type of vibe, then go for it!
You can find really great light by sitting underneath an awning at your favorite coffee shop. The sun light is still there, it’s just not coming at you from above where it can create those crazy harsh shadows under your eyes. No one looks good with raccoon eyes.
You can also find this type of lighting by sitting in the shade of a building or a tree. If you go the tree route, you may get dappled or spotted light. While dappled light may look pretty in landscape photographs, it’s not very flattering when it is on your face, unless it’s very purposeful.
You can spot an unprofessional photograph a mile away from that dappled light.
If you really want to sit or stand by a tree, you can take a piece of foam board or a sheet and block the dappling. You will probably have to change the photography to a close-up shot, because otherwise you could end up with a shadow from the person holding the sheet. No one wants that, right?
If you need more light shining up into the face of your subject, one of my favorite tips is to use a natural reflector. Like a white sidewalk or a white wall. If you don’t have a natural reflector like that around, feel free to use that foam board that we used to block out the dappling to bounce light back up into your face.
You will probably need a second set of hands to hold the foam board, but I’ve managed it by myself by placing the board in my lap at an angle and using my camera in my other hand. (You can purchase a photography reflector for pretty cheap, too, if you have a little bit of money and want to make this investment.)
Don’t forget – there are magical times in the day, when the light is just right. We photographers like to call it the golden hour. This time of day is when the light isn’t too high in the sky, so it doesn’t cast harsh shadows.
You can use the website http://www.golden-hour.com to figure out when this time will be wherever you are located geographically.
Lighting is a HUGE topic but honestly if you just get out there, practice and have fun with it, you will come out with photos that you’ll be proud of.
Tip #2- Find Your Good Angles
Having your camera in the right position to take the best photos of your beautiful face, will bring your photos from selfie status to pro.
Everyone photographs differently because we are all different heights, shapes, and sizes.
What works for me may not necessarily work for you.
So, this tip is mostly about playing and trying to figure out what you like.
Most photos look more flattering when the angle of the camera is just slightly above the eye-level. Don’t bring the camera too high though, as it will make you look younger. Unless that’s what you want, then go for it. When I bring the camera up too far, I go from looking in my early 20’s (I’m 32) to looking like I’m 12. I look young enough as it is, so I try to avoid this angle on myself.
I also get the whole no-neck phenomena when I angle the camera, too high. And Tyra Banks will tell you there are only three ways to photograph a neck, and no-neck is not one of them.
Play around with looking at the camera and smiling and then try looking a little more serious, but try not to scowl, of course.
You can create a lot of variety by taking the photos from different angles and with different expressions.
Try looking off camera, as well, and perhaps throw a laugh in here or there for a more natural smile.
Think about the context of what you are doing and where you are located, and then do that thing. If you are sitting at your computer, then place your hands on the computer and look like you’re working. You can take a photo or two of you smiling beside your desk, but having those other photos of you working will give you flexibility.
Mix it up and you’ll get enough shots that you can use the different poses and expressions on different areas of your website and social media sites.
Tip #3- Pay Attention To Your Background
Let me first say that trees and light poles growing out of people’s heads are a sure signal that your photo was taken by an amateur.
So don’t do that.
You may be in a hurry and not have enough time to look at the photographs. Since you are taking the time to do this right (or your husband or kid is because you charmed – or bribed – them into helping out), you can take the time to check for background weirdness.
While we’re at it, you can really make your photo pop by finding an awesome backdrop.
You can find a colored wall that might work well or a textured wall that is unique and fun. Look around and try different backgrounds out. It may surprise you which photos you end up liking in the end.
Tip #4- Emphasize the Details
Sometimes the best shots are the ones where you’ve zoomed into a moment.
Perhaps it’s an accessory that tells us more about who you really are. Maybe it’s showing us the tools of your trade or your workspace.
Try not to take the same photo, from the same distance, of the same thing. This is a quick way to making a very stagnant look. By capturing things like your hands working, or perhaps your eyes peeking over a book, you start telling more of a story.
By trying to capture these extra details, you are probably going to need a second set of hands. I typically enlist my husband to help me by offering to give him full use of the remote for the evening or by letting him buy a new book. Whatever works, right?
In order to get the shots that I want, I explain in detail what I want him to do. I tell him to stand here, and actually point to the spot. Then I go to stand about how far away I want the photo to be. I have him take about 10 photos as I reposition myself for each shot.
After he’s taken those 10 different detailed shots, I take a look to make sure it’s what I want. If it’s not, then I show him which ones I like the most, and explain to him how he can make it better. Most of the time this works.
I’m very thankful to have a patient husband who loves me.
Bonus tip: start making a list of fun bribes for your go-to helpers.
Tip # 5- Source Your Inspiration
Finding inspiration for me is what gets the wheels turning and gives me motivation to start.
Looking at the work of others is what helps me train my photographic eye. I ask myself why I like the photographs that I like. What makes it a good photo?
The more I look, the more I begin to see a pattern. The principles of photography start to stand out and I can then take those ideas and replicate them in my own unique way.
I can then find some ideas for the types of photos that I want to shoot. I don’t copy what I see, but I think about how I can improve upon the idea or make it my own. It’s great to visualize.
And put your branding into it too.
Change your photos up by wearing your brand colors and maybe changing the pose to suit your personality. Or take inspiration from the pose but put yourself in a place that makes more sense for your brand. A client of mine is a writer, but the outdoors plays a huge part in her life. So, she took her typewriter outside for some fun branded photos, and the result is more playful, unique and on brand.
These little tweaks will make the photograph your own and will also get across your message in a strong, visual way.
At the end of the day, remember that developing photography skills takes time, and that’s ok!
I can assure you that you won’t wake up tomorrow remembering and implementing every single one of these things, but if you implement just a couple it will take your photos really far.
If you are in a pinch and you need some headshots, go ahead and try to get some on your own. Remember to have fun with it, too. You may find that you really like the photos and that they actually look professional.