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What makes a great headshot?

What makes a great headshot? People ask me this all the time. So let's try and pin it down. First, there are the obvious technical things; good lighting (whether it's natural light or studio light), strong uncluttered composition and good choice of wardrobe. But there’s another less discernible element too.


As we all know, there’s got to be something about your headshot that when casting directors are looking through a stack of a hundred photos, there’s something about yours that makes them stop and say “Who’s this”? Simply put, the picture needs to jump off the page .


Gone are the days when it’s enough to have a photo that says “oh yes that’s sort of what Molly looks like on a reasonable day in patchy light under a tree.” Whether or not we like it, we live in a world today that is utterly oversaturated with imagery. 5 minutes on your phone before breakfast and the chances are that you will already have seen 50 or 100 pictures without even trying. So now, it's not enough just to see what something looks like; now everything has to have a message, everything has to be sold. Branding is the hot topic these days. And like it or not, you are the product and you need to a photo that sells you.


So what's the magic element in a headshot? In my opinion, it’s confidence. It doesn't matter where you're from, whether you're a man or a woman, what colour your skin is or how tall or short or attractive you are, the fact is that confidence is universally appealing. But the million dollar question is how do we convey that in a picture?


Well, we live in a world today where everyone carries a camera with them and everyone is a photographer. And as a result, we’re all used to being photographed. But generally the image that people want captured is a very specific image that reflects the way they feel about themselves. In other words, people often only show what they want to be seen.


To me confidence comes from an actor being brave enough to just face the camera and show us everything (metaphorically that is - not in a full-frontal way!) The actress who can only give me a tight-lipped smile because she doesn't like the gap in her teeth or the actor who thinks that the left side of his face is his best side does themselves no favours, because it is in that vulnerable area where we are brave enough to let others really see us that a great image lies. A good headshot photographer will give you the confidence and direction to achieve this.


I always say that if you want a good headshot we need to see you, but if you want a great headshot we need to see into you.


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© Claire Newman-Williams 2019