Demystifying Headshot Assumptions
November 17, 2015
The following are five assumptions that I encounter regularly. While these principles do not always represent bad advice, blind adherence to them can interfere with the process of arranging an authentic and truly personal headshot:
1. Crossed arms always indicate anxiety, anger, or aggressive body language:
Everyone has heard this one! Who am I to demystify such a well-researched insight? Crossing one’s arms is off-putting and communicates a closed or defensive mental state, right? Well, not always. I often cross my arms because it alleviates the discomfort caused by a recovering injury. Similarly, other people insist that they feel more comfortable this way. Cold temperatures can also be a factor (rest assured, I keep my studio at a comfortable temperature). In my experience, body language is much more complex than these rules would have us believe. For some, crossed arms can also exhibit a sense of self-possession or conviction, which may be an asset in some professions. It is also important to consider other cues. Is the subject smiling or frowning? Is she looking directly into the camera or away? Is his body facing the camera or not?
After Googling “arm crossed body language”, I came across information of mixed quality, much of which takes an over-simplified approach. However, as a headshot photographer, I’ve seen a considerable range of emotions on display and I do not believe that crossed arms should always be discouraged in each and every photo.
2. Keep your back straight!
Parents are a common source for this rule, with their well-meaning advice to always stand up straight. This persistence of this advice has required re-shoots with clients. Although this is simple enough to arrange, I am not sure that it is necessary. Authentic portraits can also include comfortable poses. Authenticity and comfort trump strict adherence to over-simplified rules of poise.
3. “The photographer’s eye”.
Some people believe that a photographer’s talent is in the eye, with its gift of special artistry and vision. But for most photographers, this “eye” for a great shot is not enough. Being an expert in basic photographic techniques is mandatory, but a headshot photographer may step aside and let the subject’s personality shine through. In addition to artistic skill, headshot photography also requires openness to evoke the client´s personality, along with a guiding sense for insight, compassion, and psychology. These qualities will set a headshot photographer apart.
4. Perfectionism is key.
We are often taught in school to strive for perfection through controlled attention to detail. These values have their place. However, such constraints can ruin headshots. Human beings exhibit enormous complexity and a photographer, who imposes his or her own standards of perfection can fail to see the natural beauty, power, and poise of the client. Headshot photography is more about observing than imposing. Everyday, I find that attentive listening is better equipped to find the genuine character of headshot subjects than attempts to control the process.
5. Professionalism demands severity.
I will never forget a hard and awkward “lesson” that I learned many years ago, when I was a business executive in a Venezuelan corporation. The founder was like an uncle to me, but it made him uncomfortable when I smiled and nodded to non-executive employees. He accused me of being too friendly and insisted that I rehearse ways to greet non-executive folks in a more severe manner. Fortunately today, professionalism places more emphasis on intelligence, integrity, and natural warmth than on such an artificial and condescending disposition. Similarly, an authentic demeanour will work much better in headshot photography than striking a severe pose to fabricate an artificial image.