While researching what other dedicated photographers and agencies had to say about the subject of ‘how to pose for a professional headshot session’, I was surprised by what I thought was a lot of bad to terrible advice. Most of the suggested techniques would lead to awkward, unnatural and uninteresting results. Not good enough!
Here now are my recommendations on how to pose for a professional headshot, from both sides of the camera.
Clients: How to pose for a Professional Headshot Session
Hint: Don’t Pose
Posing is the single best way of ruining a shoot! Posing to avoid your perceived flaws from being seen makes you look too self-conscious. Allow your professional photographer to guide you through the session to bring out the best of you.“Do you always stand this way?” I once asked a client who was standing awkwardly while I was setting up my lighting. “No, I don’t but my Wife told me I should stand straight because I slouch all the time”. This client was sweating and looked physically uncomfortable. We actually needed to re-shoot him because he had chronic back problems and was trying to pretend he was someone that he obviously wasn’t. Please do not “rehearse facial expressions” or “practice chin awareness”, as recommended by the article shown on Google’s top search choice, this self-awareness will steal the best of your beautiful energy.
“Acting is not about being someone different”
said Meryl Streep. Professional actors know not to try to be someone else when they are playing a part. Instead, they bring out the part of themselves that mirrors the character. When posing for headshots – be yourself and the perfect pose will show up.
Now that we have discussed posing (or as I prefer, not posing!) we can discuss location and style. Do you want a portrait with an indoor backdrop or would you prefer an outdoor shot? If it’s outdoors that you want, more than likely you would be standing up. For an indoor headshot, sitting is the norm. Look at some headshots on the net or, even better, look at examples from your photographer’s portfolio and match that particular style.
Consider why you need a headshot, what you do and who your audience is? If you work for a corporation it might be important to match the current headshot format in the “about us” page of their website. An artistic person may have much more creative freedom than an executive. An executive should convey a feeling of trust in their shot, while a creative-type will want to show themselves as full of energy and spontaneity. For example, an actor might feel very comfortable sitting casually on the ground but a person in a suit would look a bit silly in that position.
Photographers: How to pose for a professional Headshots session
The number one mistake for aspiring photographers is to start posing their models immediately upon greeting them. Get to know them first! I will ask my client about themselves, their goals, their families and what they hope to achieve with their headshot session. Work to understand their career and the branding style that will fit them best. Take your time, listen to your model/client, and watch them while you are talking to them. This allows you to find cues and make mental notes on what they do naturally. Then you can start guiding them: “Stop, don’t move – please… Take notice of the positioning of your hands. Would you mind replicating this pose when you are in front of the camera in a few minutes?” It’s all about establishing a relationship with your subject, making them comfortable and getting a result that is natural and relaxed.
Now that you know your clients’ natural positioning, try and add a little flair. Hands are usually an area that will differentiate a professional shoot vs that of an amateur. Make sure they are not clutching their hands together. Sometimes models feel nervous and are pulling hands rather than clasping comfortably
- Glasses – people wearing glasses have a more limited range of poses due to the glare of the lights. If the light is straight onto the person it will shine and ruin the shoot. Make sure that you find their best position before setting lights, and then move the lights accordingly to minimize glare.
- Crossed Arms – often people who cross their arms regularly will not want an image with armed crossed because they feel that crossed arms signal a closed-off attitude. It’s a common preconception. “If you don’t mind, let’s capture a few images with your arms crossed anyway so later you can choose the portrait that best matches your natural self”. I encourage clients who cross their arms to pose that way too but always make sure to capture some pictures without the arms crossed. It’s good to give your client options. More often than not, they will pick an image with their arms crossed!
- Chin, chin and chin. This is the Achilles heil for most adults over thirty years old. Help then discover a way to disguise a double chin usually by leaning forward and you the photographer being higher than the subject.
- Using these strategies will let vibrant and beautiful headshots happen naturally. Happy shooting.
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