What Makes A Good Headshot?

Next time you or someone you know needs a new headshot, take the time to ask yourself, “what makes a good headshot?”
To me, and I’ve been working as a professional photojournalist for over thirty years, a good headshot needs three things.

1: Good light (light that shows 3 dimensionality of the subject)

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Studio headshot with grey backdrop and highlight on back of head)

2: Good face (it should show who you are and your face needs to fill a good portion of the frame)

Jennifer Robles is photographed Wednesday December 14, 2016 in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by William Thomas Cain) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Outdoor headshot with background out of focus)

3: No hands (no hands in face. hands are a distraction that take away light from the face)

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 20: Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry poses for photos at the Four Seasons Hotel March 20, 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Berry was in Philadelphia for a showing of her new film "Perfect Stranger." (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images for the Boston Globe) (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

(Above – Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry in front of tan wall)

This are three basic rules of thumb. Another factor that needs to be thought about is, what image are you trying to portray in your headshot? Is it for business, acting, modeling, etc.??

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Studio headshot on Grey Backdrop with no highlight on head)

Your headshot should portray what you need it to for whatever the ultimate usage.

Most times what I see that photographers tend to provide for clients is not a true headshot, but a nice portrait. That’s all well and good, but if it doesn’t suit your purpose, it is useless.

REHOBOTH BEACH, DE - JANUARY 25: Deborah Sharp who survived a five day ordeal in which she was raped and kidnapped in 1998, poses for a photo January 25, 2006 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images) (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

(Above – Portrait in home)

In my last year working as a staffer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, I worked on the picture desk for a time. In that time, I had many business portraits come though the desk for profiles or news blurbs of people ‘s comings and goings from companies. I’ve seen them all. Nice simple images with a solid grey background to outrageously lit (overlit) headshot with a background of all different colors, cloud backgrounds and lots off what says they are not to be taken seriously. Many of the worst looked like high school portraits. Trust me, you don’t want that.

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 13: Heather Kumor Photographed by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com for Fox Rothschild) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Studio portrait on white backdrop – 3/4 length for client website in which the 3/4 view was requested)

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 13: Heather Kumor Photographed by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com for Fox Rothschild) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Studio portrait on white backdrop – full length for client website in which the full length view was requested)

That said. Here are my thoughts on what makes a good headshot for various uses.

I believe that a serious business headshot should generally have the subject fill the frame in a diagonal pose, with their face towards the camera. Hands should not be anywhere near the face and mostly be at your side or folder in front of you and never be part of the composition. And, a grey backdrop is appropriate. A cloud or various color backdrop is highly inappropriate for any kind of business headshot. If you ever go to a photographer that offers you that, run. By all means run like there is no tomorrow. That will not help you to be taken seriously in business.

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 9: Professor Jeremy J. Siegel (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Black Star) (William Thomas Cain/Black Star)

(Above – Headshot with more dramatic light on burgundy backdrop as per client request)

A more casual business portrait can be made outside, in a shaded area and either lit by available light or strobes (that means flash). Positioning should be the same as a serious business portrait, but in a nice outdoor setting.

5/13/11 12:53:17 PM -- NEW HOPE, PA. -- Veronica Haggerty -- Photo by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – more casual headshot outdoors with available light)

I believe that an acting or modeling headshot should have the same good solid light in the subjects face. Maybe not as three dimensional, but more frontal lighting. Maybe the composition should be slightly more diagonal.

One of the things that many people mistake for a headshot is an image that is more apporopr=iately used asa  portrait. A portrait generally shows more of an upper torso type of image which can or can not include hands. Generally, I always prefer that people rarely place their hands up to their face as the light tends to land on the hands and become a distracting plane in the image.

In the past when I was casting for a photo shoot, I would ask models for headshot. You would not believe how many models think a headshot is a three quarter length image or even worse yet, a full length photograph. I probably don’t need to tell you that those were the first ones tossed in the can because they couldn’t follow directions.  So, when someone asks you for a headshot, please, please, please, make sure that is what you provide. And make damn sure that your photographer can provide what you need to put your best foot forward, whether for business or modeling and acting. If you feel they can’t, move on to a photographer that can do it. Correctly.

4/26/11 2:39:27 PM -- Blue Bell, Pa. -- Fox Rothschild Attorney Jennifer L. Schwartz at work in the Blue Bell, Pa. office April 26, 2011. -- Photo by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images for Fox Rothschild. (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – In office on location portrait with studio lighting)

When I do a headshot for anyone, the first thing I ask is what is their end goal? What do they want to headshot to show? How would they want to be portrayed? Once I have an idea, we can then plan on wardrobe. I always suggest keeping things simple. In many cases dark earthy colors tend to work best. Stay away from any kind of patterns. That might take away from your face.

Dr. Aakash Shah poses for a photograph outside Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Wednesday, November 16, 2016 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images for Ursinus College) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Outdoor portrait lit with a portable strobe and backlit from the sun – the key here was to have the background in shade to make it recede in space)

The way we’ll set up headshot shoots is either individually or have a headshot day where we’ll block out a four hour time slot at a company and they’ll have 8-10 people set up a time for pictures. We actually just did a few headshot shoots over 7 hours where we were able to shoot 35 and 45 respectively.
This is done by bringing my mobile studio on location. It’s pretty simple. Lights, reflectors and a stool. People.

Each of the shoots takes maybe 15 minutes. The subject them will receive a link to a gallery of images for them to choose their favorite. In some cases we’ve actually had them choose the image they prefer on location by providing a laptop and showing  the images as we shoot live.

Next time you have to get a  headshot, think of some of the suggestions I’ve made here. The most important thing is to keep it simple. Show your best self and your headshot will be golden.

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Just for fun – Portrait of dogs outdoors)

Image and Caption Sheet From One of My First Philadelphia Inquirer Photo Assignments

Going through my archives recently, I found some old negatives from one of my first Philadelphia Inquirer assignments. It was August 11, 1987, and I was assigned to make your typical grip and grin photo of Jennifer Hai-Ying Tsou as she accepted a sponsorship from the Jenkintown Rotary Club which enabled her to spend a year in China studying music. I recall making images of her address to the rotary, but not really digging the images. Since she was studying music in China, I felt the need to actually show that in a photograph. Luckily, after the luncheon, she agreed to allow me to make some images of her at the piano of her parents home in Jenkintown. These days Jen Su is an accomplished TV and Radio Presenter as well as Corporate Master of Ceremonies and and Actress/Singer. In the days of film, we had to type a caption for every frame we made, because many times we had a lab person, most likely the late, great, Gervase Rozanski, processing our film and then printing the images. The caption sheet was zeroxed to the back of the print and then the correct caption was circled with marker. If was a much, much different process back in 1987. According to the assignment sheet I made exposed 5 rolls of film for the assignment and got to work with one of my favorite writers from back in the day, John Ellis. I also got to meet a very nice young woman who has gone on to accomplish great things. One of the reasons I got into photojournalism was because of the cool people and things I get to meet and do. Beats being stuck in a studio working on an illustration night after night and being isolated from everyone.

In what other career would Bono of U2 promise to have a pint with you when you visit Ireland?

#flashbackfriday #bw #blackandwhite #jenkintown #rotary #pennsylvania @jensu1 @phillyinquirer #phillydotcom

Long Before Teen Mom on MTV

Long before Teen Mom hit MTV screens, way back in 1989, while working for the Philadelphia Inquirer I spent a few days at William Tennent High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania making pictures of a program geared to keep Teen Moms in school. The school, and mostly, Centennial School District, set up a day care program so young women that had children while in high school could keep on attending school and get their diploma. It was pretty simple. The girls would drop of their child before classes started, then go to school. They could come back to visit the children any time during the day. Then would pick them up after school and in some cases, actually do their homework in the day care while waiting for the bus ride home.

Here are some of the images from the package I did in 1989. Images were shot with Tri-X film and probably pushed to 1600 ISO in most interiors with Nikon F3’s as camera of choice.

A teen mom does her homework while her daughter has a snack.

 

Teen mom and her daughter leave for school as her mother says good bye.

Teen mom and her daughter play during lunch break.

A group of teen moms share a laugh in the lunch room.

During lunch, a teen mom sets her daughters hair.

A young boy and girl play in the day care area of the high school.

Diaper changing time for a young child of a teen mom.

Teen mom drops off her daughter at day care at the school.

Lunch time in day care.

While her daughter is in day care, a teen mom chats in class with a friend.

A teen mom pours milk into her daughters cereal before leaving for school.

A child kisses her teen mom goodbye after being dropped off for day care.

Teen mom and daughter arrive for school.

Teen mom has a snack with her daughter.

Old City Philadelphia Photo Walk

Image from today’s Old City Philadelphia Photo Walk.
Full gallery @ http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/Old-City-Philadelphia-Photo-Walk/G0000fMTx6RAGXzg


Great Fitness Photo Shoot with Erika Moorestown, New Jersey

Had a great photo shoot with Erika last week at Subversion Fitness in Moorestown, New Jersey.
Check out the pix.


Photo Illustration Eyes in Mask Philadelphia Illustrator Artist Photographer

Playing with some old images and made a photo illustration as a demo for my Surreal Digital Photography class.
This is the kind of stuff I wanted to create while attending University of the Arts. Problem then was that it was frowned upon to use photos in illustrations. A while back I had to photograph one of my old professors at the college who told me that this is all the students do now. The illustration was created using Adobe Photoshop CC.

Looks like I was ahead of my time. 🙁


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Das Family Portrait Photo Session Newtown, Pennsylvania Photographer

Can you tell if this was lit by natural or artificial light?

Allot of times photography is about finding the light. Sure a good subject helps, but the right light can make an image pop. That was the case when I photographed the Das family in Tyler State Park in newtown, Pennsylvana recently. For the first 10-15 minutes of the shoot I walked around with the couple placing them in various nooks and crannies of the park until I found the perfect spot. My goal was to make the couple look as though I had lit them with studio strobes. I believe that’s what I achieved in the image below.

Full gallery @ http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/Das/G0000.9.LAJ7sVEs

Defelice Family Portrait Photo Shoot Newtown Pennsylvania Photographer

Met and photographed a lovely couple and their adorable daughter. I met the Defelice family at Tyler State Park in Newtown, Pennsylvania for a photo shoot. While the weather was excruciatingly humid, the baby and the family was cool. This enabled me to make some cute pix in the park. Check them out @ http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/Defelice/G00009NMIkFlIpzQ

Hammond Family Portrait Session Hatfield Pennsylvania Photographer

Photographed the Hammond family in a gorgeous park in Hatfield. What a pleasant experience.
Happy children and happy parents always make for good imagery.
Here are some of the pix.

Full gallery @ http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/Hammond/G0000rFRaeveVT_A

Frascella Portrait Photo Shoot Newtown, Pennsylvania Photographer

Originally married 5 years ago, the Frascella family had been photographed at the formal gardens on the campus of Bucks County Community College. The photographer they hired had a problem with a disc, so the couple had no images from their portrait session as well as other gaping holes in their wedding photographey coverage from the day.

On Thursday in between thunderstorms, I was able to squeeze in a photo shoot with them at the college. I had them walk through the gardens and act like I wasn’t there and just enjoy each other’s company, eventually while dodging rain drops. There are some really nice moments that show their personalities as well as love for each other.
This may fill some of the gaps, but the original photographer should have attempted to try to help them out a bit more then saying, “sorry, we had a problem.”

See the gallery @ http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/Frascella/G0000RncSVE69iPE/