Head shot tips from a former head shot photographer

I know it is ironic but I spent 25 plus years working as a professional head shot photographer and I dread having my picture taken. I think it all stems back to picture day in elementary school. When the class photo was posted I was always a full head taller than the next tallest kid and everyone would laugh at me. By the fourth grade I was as tall or taller than the teacher and being a very shy kid it was painfully embarrassing.

Fast forward all these years later and I still dread being photographed but for entirely different reasons. So when the magazine I write for, Merrimack Valley Home, informed me that they were sending a staff photographer to take new head shots of me in my home studio my initial reaction was that familiar feeling of dread and loathing.

The shoot was last Thursday and I am happy to report I survived the whole ordeal. Since some of you may also not look forward to having your head shot taken I thought I would share my tips for getting the best head shot possible.

1. Hire a professional head shot/portrait photographer. Just because your next door neighbor is a cracker jack sports photographer or your cousin Ed shoots the most awesome sunsets, does not mean they are going to be able to take a good head shot. Head shots, and portraits in general, have a whole different photography skill set than a product photographer or architectural photographer has so choose wisely.

Adrien Bisson

Adrien Bisson -Linda Holt Photo

My photographer was Adrien Bisson of Adrien Bisson Photography and he is an experienced head shot photographer so I knew I was in good hands. He has a very calm manner (he never once shouted “work it baby”) and was more than willing to share sneak peaks of the images to his neurotic subject.

2. Think about your Brand when you chose what to wear. Don’t go too crazy with this but if your brand is all about color then don’t be photographed in all black against a gray or white background (even if you do think it’s slimming). Also, if you always wear glasses or a signature statement necklace then wear these in your photo. The best head shot is ultimately one that looks like you.

3. Stand or sit at a slight angle. Nothing says “mug shot” more than a square shouldered, straight on shot. Try facing your body a bit to the left or a bit to the right. We all have one side that photographs better than the other so try out both if you don’t know which is your “better side”.

4. Lean in. No, not in the Sheryl Sandberg way but literally lean forward into the camera. Since you are facing a bit to either the left or right what ever shoulder is facing the camera, lean in and down a bit. You also want to jut your chin out and down a bit. Trust me, it might feel odd but it works. It is slimming, brings life to the shot and creates some visual interest.

5. Smile with your eyes. Dead eyes with a smiling mouth fools no one. I used to tell my clients to think of the person they most love in life and imagine they were standing right there. You want a genuine smile and sometimes it’s hard to muster up one in a photo studio in front of a stranger surrounded by lights or reflectors. Engage in conversation with your photographer. Talking helps relax you because unless you are a professional model, smiling “on cue” is nearly impossible. Note* Please don’t say “cheese” as that really never looks good.

6.Get a little help from your friends. Choosing “THE ONE” can be challenging. If you are a perfectionist (like me) or especially critical (like me, and most woman I know) then it is hard to be objective when making that final selection. Ask your friends and loved ones to help with the final choice. You want your head shot to not only look like you but ideally to express a bit of your personality. Are you quirky? Always smiling? Always tipping your head to the left? Whatever your friends and family think represent the true you is the one to use.

So my friends, now I am stepping out of my comfort zone and asking for your help in selecting my final head shot for the magazine. Please let me know which one you like the best.

Linda HSnumbered

Photos by Adrien Bisson Photography





23 Responses to Head shot tips from a former head shot photographer
  1. Meredith Reply

    great photos Linda! I’d be interested to hear from anyone that likes getting their picture taken, I sure don’t!! Neurotic, insecure and self-critical doesn’t even begin to describe it! I like all these, but #1 is my favorite….and I like #3 the least….mostly because the background is distracting to me…I can’t tell exactly what is behind you, so it pulls the focus away from your great smile!

  2. Hannah Reply

    I like #3 the best, but it’s really splitting hairs to choose, as these are all great. In #3 you just look so perfectly relaxed, with a very warm direct gaze, friendly and pretty. The light is the nicest in this one too. My second fav would be #4 because you just have the most ebullient expression! Plus you look skinny, love the outfit, and love the wallaper and orange accents in the background.

    p.s. jealous of that jacket.

  3. Jil Sonia Interiors Reply

    Love ’em all but really, really, really love NUMBER 3!!

  4. Barbara Reply

    I like #3 the best. I like the subject (you) to fill the frame. I think your smile is truly radiant in #3 and the blue brings out your eyes making them sparkle.

  5. Livia Reply

    Very good tips, and nice photos. I would choose #3 because it looks the most natural, with “loving eyes”. I would have liked this one with orange in the back. If you opt for orange, than I vote #1.

  6. Lori Sawaya Reply

    The way the light falls on your face in #3 is lovely. And it looks the most natural of the group, IMO.

  7. Suzanne Hermes Reply

    #3 is great! So natural!

  8. Kelly Reply

    All pretty but I liked 3 the best! He did a wonderful job!

  9. sherry Reply

    Great post, Linda! My vote is for #3.

  10. Phil Pallen Reply

    I love this post Linda! Also love seeing your face!

  11. Kristie Barnett, TheDecorologist Reply

    My favorites are #1 and #3! Maybe it’s because they are close up and you look kind and approachable in them. I think they (and you) look great, and thanks for sharing your tips and experience on getting headshots done!

  12. Gail Reply

    Linda, you’re extremely photogenic! Although your personality is reflected in all, I agree with the majority of responses and also vote #3! Great tips and photography.

  13. Malia Todd Reply

    I like #3 the best! I have loved your you blog and seeing your success!

  14. Karen E Kelley Reply

    I do like #3 but #2 would be my favorite, that slight head tilt and smile like you are thinking of someting?!

  15. Veronica Domurat Reply


  16. Jolene Reply

    I like #3 the best.

  17. Susan Siefer Reply

    Love 1 and 3 but for different scenarios. 1 would be perfect for the back of your book jacket!

  18. Susan Siefer Reply

    They all look great but love 1 and 3. 1 would be great on the back of your book jacket!

  19. Max Reply

    Torn between # 1 and # 3. Pretty pictures, Linda!

  20. Betsy Reply

    Definitely #3! Linda you are very photogenic and I love the close up!

  21. Val Reply

    Great tip about chin out and down. Best advice I ever received from professional head shot photographer. #3 is your shot!

  22. Donna Quinlan Reply

    Linda – great photos! Numbers 3 & 1 stand out.

  23. Osmani Reply

    I like 3!
    Very niiice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to my blog

Browse by Category