How to take a good headshot

Headshots in the past were for actors, CEOs and celebrities. Now that everyone is online, so many people require headshots. Here is how to take a good headshot.


All photography comes down to composition. You can make a stack of old pencils look interesting with good composition. With headshot photography, it is crucial to get the composition spot on. I aim to have the eyes on the top third line. If this means losing the top of the head, go for it. Peter Hurley has been doing this for years and he is regarded as one of the world’s greatest headshot photographers. Everyone knows what the top of someone’s head looks like.. If you are shooting on a 35mm camera, make sure you get the composition right in camera. Everyone is used to seeing this format, so when you crop, it looks a bit off. Although chopping the top of the head off is fine, never crop any of the chin out. It instantly makes people look like they have round faces.

Here is how to take a good headshot.

capturing the moment

Capturing the moment is so important in photography. I tend to set up on a tripod during headshot sittings and I rarely change my settings once I am ready to start shooting. All that remains is focus on the subject. Having a coffee before the sitting can be a great bonding tool. Although photography is very technical, portrait photography really comes down to the interaction with your subject. Understanding what makes this person tick and what they enjoy is really important to getting the best out of the portrait session.


As photographers, we get really bogged down with the tech. The lighting I use for headshots is really simple. I have a few “go to” set ups that I use, mostly lighting from above. All of the headshots in this blog post are lit from above with either a reflector underneath the subject or a large 7ft umbrella behind the camera. I like to make sure the lighting isn’t a feature. In other areas of photography, you can really go to town on the lighting, but headshots should be all about the subject. Using these simple  set ups makes sure that the face is well lit and keeps the lighting undistracting.

actor headshot afro black and white

Lens choice (compression)

Lens choice is really down to personal choice. However, there are some key considerations to make. When choosing your focal length, remember that you are looking at compression too, rather than “zoom” alone. I find that an 85mm lens on a 35mm camera works best for me. It gives a personal feel, has a slight amount of distortion (that I find pleasing) and it allows me to be close to my subject. All of these headshots were taken on a Canon 5D with a 85mm lens.

Post-production for headshots

Much like lighting, I feel post-production should be very understated. I tend to use lightroom for 99% of the processing. After setting the black and white point, adjusting the shadows and highlights, I reduce the vibrancy and apply some sharpening. I then move on to the HSL sliders and adjust the luminocity and saturation of individual colours. I find the Canon sensors a bit too red and contrasty, so most of my processing is geared around pulling that back. The last thing I do is to add some grain. I like the soft look it adds to the skin. My black and white post production workflow is exactly the same. At the start, I hit the BW conversion button and then I follow the above steps.



Post-production for headshots

Camera Settings

I go from one extreme to the other. I am either at f2.2 or f11. The shot above was at F2.2 and the one below at f11. I tend to match the harshness of the light with the depth of field. The harder the light, the more I stop the lens down. Then when working with softer light I open up the lens allowing for softer optics and a narrower depth of field. Working at f2.2 is a lot more tricky and you will end up


And that is how to take a good headshot.

You can see my full portrait portfolio at

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