I hear it all the time. “I’m not photogenic at all, so I’m not sure how I am going to do this.” I can tell a client’s headshot session has been weighing heavily on their mind since they usually say that during our handshake.

Very rarely does a person show up to a shoot excited and ready to go. Twice maybe? Most people tend to equate the walk to my studio like a scene out of The Green Mile. Well, rest easy because your anxiousness for the camera is natural – it’s probably because you’re a bit camera shy. I’m not a big fan of the camera either, hence my desire to strategically position myself behind the lens. When someone arrives uneasy, I get excited because this is my chance to change their outlook on the whole situation by giving them a great headshot experience. This article covers things through the early goings of a session and suggests why working with people who specialize in headshot photography can result in the best images you’ve ever taken.

The Camera

Ian Johns Headshot

Photo by Norman Jaillet Photography

It’s incredible how something as simple as a camera can make the most powerful people on the planet look like they’re being surrounded by a swarm of angry bees. That chunk of plastic, glass, and metal can mess with a person’s mindset. I get it. It’s unnatural to peer into a mechanical thing and smile. I recently had my headshot taken by Norman Jaillet Photography in Peabody, Massachusetts and it took an experienced headshot photographer like Norm to get me warmed up to the idea. Mr. Jaillet got it done though, and now I have a photo that I’m excited to use anywhere and everywhere. And my mom wants a printed copy, too. Is it weird to gift someone a printed photo of yourself? I need Christmas ideas!

Anyway, the fact of the matter is looking into the camera and giving some expression is unnatural. What Norm managed to do that day was build me up to a point where I didn’t notice the camera anymore. I was reacting to his quick and hilarious one-liners by looking at him through the lens, not at the lens itself. And being in that field of play allowed him to capture my real personality. That is the key. Instead of me giving an expression and feeling uncomfortable doing so, Norm, as the expert headshot guy that he is, pulled natural expressions from me. That is what we do as headshot photographers. I’m doing everything that I can to get an organic facial expression from my clients but didn’t fully appreciate that skill until I saw Norm in action.

Camera Invisibility

Renowned headshot photographer Peter Hurley calls this ‘camera invisibility.’ The best photographers on the planet are highly skilled in getting emotion to drip from an image. In turn, the best headshot photographers are skilled in conveying a person’s personality. It’s pulling out the best in somebody so that their first impression doesn’t fall flat. It’s getting someone to look at a camera almost as if the camera isn’t present. That is what Norm the magician did for me during my session. He gave me ‘lookability’, which is another Hurley quip:

look•a•bil•i•ty \ ˈlük-Ə-ˈbi-lƏ-tē\ n. slang
A measurement of an image’s ability to
secure attention from an onlooker.

Very few genres of photography put such an importance on first impressions. Sure, you want a photo to give a person pause, or to make a person feel something. But first and foremost it’s our job as headshot photographers to put you at ease, so your photogenic side comes out that makes people pause and feel some emotion.

Building Things Up

With exception to my headshot mini-sessions at corporate offices where I have mere nanoseconds to get a great headshot out of somebody, my headshot sessions are more than the typical 10-minute appointments you see elsewhere. We’re taking images that define your personal and professional brand, not passport photos. If you only saw my passport photo. Holy smokes. I should have shaved, gotten a haircut, and maybe lost a few (30) pounds. But I really wanted to go to Turks & Caicos with my wife.

Besides a greeting and a quick overview of what we’ll be working on, I love using that initial time to put people at ease. It’s pointless trying to bombard you with info and instructions off the top since we aren’t even shooting yet. My job is to get you out of the psyched-out stage and back to your true self. So that time off the top is merely breaking some ice such as discussing wardrobe options and defining what our goals are for your headshot. Some quick goal ideas:

  • Where will your headshot be used now and possibly in the future?

  • Do you need casual and professional looks?

  • White backdrops are a must, but might you need gray too?

  • What types of social media channels do you use?


The Warmup Round

At this point, I have you positioned on your target spot in front of the lights and I’ve placed myself safely behind the camera where I belong. We’re still hanging out in a no-pressure zone because all we are working on in the early going is figuring out your best angles along with a few simple techniques that are unique to headshot photography. A few of the things you’ll hear me say over and over during our session and then later on during your dreams:

  1. “Can you hook it towards the ceiling for me?”
  2. “Get your forehead out towards the camera.”
  3. “Drop your chin a bit.”
  4. “Nose this way just a tad.”

There are other moves, but for the scope of this blog post, we’re only talking about the things in the first quarter of play. Much more will be written on the rest of a session in the future, so stay tuned.

Sidebar: Angles, and the First Stop to Where?

A couple of quick notes on angles before I close this out. I’m not the photographer who sits you on a stool at a 45-degree angle with your hands on your lap. That’s the first stop to Headshot-That-Looks-Like-Everyone-Else-in-1993ville. Headshots aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation. We left that in elementary school. Every single face on this planet is unique in some way, shape, or form. Well, unless you’re like HGTV’s Property Brothers. Which one is Jonathan?! In the same way that we’re all unique, so are your best angles in front of a camera. Every person has a “sweet spot” of sorts, and it’s my job to find it.

Why You Should Choose a Headshot Photographer

Finding your angle(s) is a huge deal, which is why we spend time on it up front. I always start you off facing the camera straight on as this is the best time to work on the techniques we’ll use throughout your shoot. From there, I want to experiment with your best angles. Do you favor your left side or right side? How casual should we go with your shoulder angles? How does your hair look at various angles? Your eyes? Nose? Mouth? Jawline?

Luckily for you, these are all considerations you need not worry about during your shoot. As a specialist focusing on headshot photography and as your human mirror, these are the things I’m tuned into to make sure we are capturing your best looks. Hiring the person that shoots architecture might yield a usable result, however when it comes to your brand and your Google-searchable face, you need fantastic results that captivate your onlookers. For more details on how your shoot will run, check out my Session page.

Wrapping Up

I think it’s obvious by now that your headshot session with me is more than a quick handshake and 10 minutes of shooting. If we’re going to get your inner photogenic personality to come out, we have to lay a strong foundation through collaboration. Once that’s in place, the headshot session is your oyster, and you’ll be scoring incredible results that will make you stand out ahead of your colleagues and competition. And it might make a family member want a printed copy, too.