Studio Headshots? Seamless Background? Cropped Frame? Why?
Every now and then, I have potential clients contact me about a headshot session and before we finish the call, they will inevitably ask, “Why do you shoot headshots on a blank background? And, why do you crop the shot so tightly?”
When potential clients visit my website and notice that I also shoot portraits outside of the studio, they want to book me to do their headshots outside. They mention how much prettier and better the shots look outside. They also ask that I shoot wider shots — they want to see more of their heads and bodies…
…and, that’s my cue to sit them down and drop some knowledge on them.
People hire me to shoot their portraits for myriad reasons; website gallery content, book covers, company brochures, album covers, photo booths, stock photos, etc. When I shoot portraits, I capture my subjects through an array of wide shots, medium shots and close-ups. I use different lenses, different focal lengths, different lighting, high angles, low angles — all depending on the client’s needs.
Headshots, however, are a different breed.
IT’S ALL ABOUT EXPRESSION
I shoot headshots with one specific lens, one specific lighting setup, and one specific type of background. Simply put, a headshot is a specialized form of portrait photography.
The goal of every headshot session is to produce images that represent authentic aspects of your personality. Your image, essentially, is your public relations rep to the online community. Viewers draw conclusions about you based on this image, so, it’s my job to make sure that your image presents a confident and approachable you.
Truth be told, I didn’t always have this perspective on headshot photography.
When I began shooting headshots , I thought a client would benefit more from me focusing on making the image look pretty rather than focusing on presenting their authentic selves. My primary concern was to capture that milky, out-of-focus look in the backgrounds of my subject’s heads. Yes, those out-of-focus backgrounds do look beautiful, but, it came at the expense of the clients’ bottom line, because their expressions were not what they needed to be. My perspective was off.
Fast forward a couple years, and my focus shifted away from shooting pretty backgrounds to achieving the best images for my clients’ needs. After receiving some sage advice and tough love from my headshot mentor, Peter Hurley, I realized that if I crafted a shooting setup for my headshots that was easily replicated and took all the technical guesswork out of the equation, that I could enhance my clients’ overall experience and focus my attention on what’s truly important.
Goodbye headshots on location…and hello to studio headshots!
POSITIVE VIBES = POSITIVE RESULTS
By simplifying the headshot session process, it allowed me to grow as a photographer by leaps and bounds. Once I stopped prioritizing pretty headshot backgrounds, I was able to truly focus on coaching my clients to a comfortable place, where they disregard the camera and the lights, and feel safe enough to let their guard down, and allow their true selves to pop out and make an appearance for the camera. Those are the shots that make the most impact. Those are the ones that stand out from the crowd. And those are the types of images I want to provide my clients.
But, capturing great expressions is only half the story. Optimizing that expression for its viewers is the other half.
COME IN CLOSER, WHY DONT’CHA?
In addition to being a photographer, I also work in television production. I’ve been working behind a video camera for 15 years, and have shot thousands of interviews over that time. Although the content of those interviews and the subjects in front of my camera vary wildly, the one constant stays the same — utilizing image composition to enhance the story.
Any time that an interview subject has something compelling to say, I immediately zoom the lens into his or her face, thus, bringing the audience closer to the subject, serving as a visual cue to pay close attention to what’s being said because it’s integral to the story.
I utilize that same philosophy with my headshot photography.
Much like when I zoom into an interview subject’s head and shoulders, I keep my headshot client’s images cropped at a similar frame, close enough for viewers to see and feel the impact of the expression, but, with enough distance that things don’t feel too intimate and tight.
One of the benefits of having the image cropped in that way is that no matter what size the image displays on your social media pages, people will be able to interpret your expression and gain a sense of what makes you tick. If you put in a waist up shot as your profile picture, people will have to click on the image in order to see it blown up. Being able to ease the online user experience is always a bonus.
How do you feel about studio versus environmental headshots? Disagree with my thinking? How about head and shoulders framing? Too close for your taste? Let me know what you think and let the debate begin…