Selecting Headshots

My friend and client, Stever Robbins, is just about to release his first major book, Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More ( He needed headshots to promote himself as an author, a speaker, and an actor. He lives far from me, so he commissioned local photographer Linda Holt ( for his photos. Linda did a great job and provided more than 600 proofs. That sounds like a lot, but not when you consider that Stever wanted different looks to promote his different talents. Overwhelmed with the prospect of editing the photos, Stever came to me for advice. After I told him the following, I thought it would be good to share with everyone. In no particular order:

  1. In selecting headshots, what matters most is that YOU like them, so there are no right or wrong answers. While the tips I offer below are based on compositional principles, they’re based as much on my personal taste. Here we go!
  2. Consider how the wardrobe affects the feeling of the photo. Is a striped shirt to distracting or not conservative enough? Is a solid shirt not interesting enough to convey the personality you want?
  3. Shots where the model leans toward the camera are more active and generally more engaging to the viewer than ones where the model reclines away from the camera. This doesn’t mean that reclining shots are bad, just that they send a different message.
  4. Shots where the model is at an angle to the camera are more interesting than ones where the model faces directly forward.
  5. When the model is at an angle to the camera, pay attention to the direction of the light. Brighter light on the side facing away from the camera will make the face look slimmer, brighter light on the side facing toward the camera will make the face look broader.
  6. If the arms are crossed and the hands are showing, it’s preferable to be able to see all the fingers. In other words, don’t have one hand tucked inside the other elbow.
  7. Some people look better with toothy smiles, some look better with close-lipped smiles. Be careful that a close-lipped smile is a real smile. If the model is a tooth smiler and tries to force a closed smile, it may look forced.
  8. Back to wardrobe: It’s important to consider not only the effect of the wardrobe on the model, but the interaction of the wardrobe with the environment. For instance, a light jacket with a light background offers little contrast. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have dark hair and complexion, that difference in contrast will focus attention on your face.
  9. Personally, I don’t like headshots where the model balances his head on his hand. However, if you like this pose, I recommend selecting photos where the hand is open, not where the fingers are curled into a fist. There’s an obvious difference in message between an open hand and a fist.
  10. If you’re going to use a wider headshot that includes torso and hands, choose one that includes your entire hands. Cutting off fingers is a little disconcerting. However, if the photo is otherwise perfect, I wouldn’t stress over this one.
  11. If the model poses in front of a seamless background, pay attention to any wrinkles. They can make or break a photo. Luckily they are easy to remove in post-processing.
  12. Consider carefully whether or not to wear glasses or jewelery. For some people, they are part of their persona, and they are not easily recognizable without them.
  13. More on wardrobe: Consider how colors in the outfit complement or clash with each other, or how they compete for attention. For instance, a shirt with contrasting collar or cuffs steals attention from the face.
  14. In outdoor poses, getting the right angle on the model may cause the surrounding architecture to lean. Be sure that nearby walls don’t look as if they are about to fall on the model. This can probably be fixed in post-processing.

Linda Holt’s photos above are the ones Stever ultimately selected. I hope you agree that they are great shots and that they tell you something about Stever even if you don’t know him. If you can add any advice about selecting headshots or have a story to share about your experience, please get a discussion going by commenting on this post.

2 thoughts on “Selecting Headshots

    • Thanks for your feedback, Mike. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog. I plan to write a corresponding post on how to work with a photographer to get the most out of a portrait photography session. Stay tuned.

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