Not just a Headshot Photographer!

Adam Browne, Headshot by Elisha Miller at ELM Photo Studio

Adam Browne, Headshot by Elisha Miller at ELM Photo Studio

I am predominantly known as a headshot and portrait photographer, I also train models to be able to pose in any situation without the fear of looking bad in front of the camera, to specialise in one field of photography and not be the jack of all trades I originally believed that I would have to be a headshot only photographer.

I soon realised this was not the case, a portrait is an image of an individual showing their character and expression in a particular way. As a headshot photographer I am also a portrait photographer, to know headshots I must know expressionism and posing and thus what I know can be applied to any form of photography that involves people. A lot of photographers start with capturing people, family portraits, weddings, models, corporate etc, and then they add headshots on the side, I believe that by mastering your headshots first will have more benefits to the rest of the genre than you may think.

No matter the genre of photography that involves people if you can capture the essence of someones expression this is what can make or break an image. Look at any image of a person, the eyes are the first thing you look at, then the face, hands and their placement, then the body and finally the surroundings, clothing, background etc. A lot of fashion images you will see do not show the face, why? Because they want you to concentrate on the clothing not the model. I see so many images of models where the styling is perfect, makeup is beautiful, hair is en-point, the lighting is to die for, composition and set design are fabulous, but the expression on the face of the model says “I don’t want to be here” this will ruin everything else that would make the image outstanding. Then I have seen images where everything else falls flat but the expression is killer, you cant stop looking at it. A great capture of a believable expression will win every time. So when you put everything together you get amazing images time and time again.


Jacasta Townsend, captured by Elisha Miller at ELM Photo Studio

Jacasta Townsend, captured by Elisha Miller at ELM Photo Studio

As a photographer of people, one of the hardest things to learn and master over the span of your career is not the lighting, camera techniques, composition, colour correction, retouching, branding, marketing, business in general, it is posing. Whether it is a headshot, half body, full body, standing, sitting, lying down, inside the studio or outside on location, one, two, three or more people, men and woman, young and old, babies, toddlers, children, teens, tall, short, thin, large, dresses, skirts, trousers, underwear or nude, there are infinite ways to pose someone and unless you get to grips with this, it does not matter how good you are at the rest of the things we as photographers have to learn, your images will fall flat and just be mediocre. 

I spent over a year perfecting my headshots, does not sound like that long, but in that year I shot over 200 people, from all walks of life, different ages, male, female, multiple ethnicities, some with disabilities, scars, those used to the camera and those that have never had a professional shot taken. No two of those people were the same, every one of them had different features, expressions, postures,  hair, skin tones, wrinkles, moles, spots, scars, tattoos, short, thin, hunched, thick necks, long necks the list goes on. 

I spent that time perfecting my skills as a headshot photographer, stripping away all my bad habits to become the best I can be and I am still learning to this day. I managed to become one of a few associate headshot photographers for one of the worlds best commercial headshot photographers, Peter Hurley, which was a gruelling task that was humiliating, humbling and exciting at the same time, a rollercoaster of feelings that I will never forget. To gain that status meant a lot to me and still does, but what does that mean to you, the public, those that step in front of my camera? 

It means I am confident, competent and compassionate about  getting the best shot from anyone that steps in front of my camera.  

I learnt that as every individual we photograph is different, the way you must approach them is also different. Yes we have a set way of getting the best out of someone, but what works with one, will not work with the next so we have to continually adapt both our approach and the way we communicate to particular people. 

A lot of photographers both new and veteran as well as the general public as a whole believe they just stand or sit in front of the camera and click It is done. You will get a headshot, and if the lighting is good, the equipment is good and the retouch is good, you will get a good headshot, probably a lot better than the one you currently are using. Win Win, I hear you say. So what is all the fuss about? Let me put it into perspective for you. 

Stand in front of the mirror, look at your features, your hair, eyes, eyebrows, mouth, nose, chin, ears, facial hair, blemishes, dark circles, wrinkles, scars. What don’t you like about yourself? What do you like about yourself? Take a mental note of everything you see and feel. 

Now turn your head two inches to the left or right, did anything change? 

Try the other way, two inches. What about now. 

Try your side profile, a little harder so get someone to take a quick picture, now what do you see. 

Laura Gardiner, The 17 Head Positions

Laura Gardiner, The 17 Head Positions

Here are 17 photographically acceptable positions you can put your head in without moving anything else. Add a tilt to that and you get 34, tilt the other and you get the idea. It is extremely rare that someone will look good in every one of those positions,  most at best will only truly like 5 or 6. Don’t get me wrong the others are mostly acceptable but if true to yourself you will find things you don’t like in most angles. Every look in the mirror adn think damn I look good today, grab your phone and snap, and you look at the image and think ugh but cannot think why. It may be the camera, distorting your features or it is simply you were stood in a different way. 

Unless you know what those 5 or 6 positions are,  every time you step in front of a camera and are captured in one of those 20-30 positions you don’t look as good, you will feel that you are not “photogenic”

Still with me?

Move an eyebrow or two, smile, small, big, bigger, show your teeth, wrinkle that nose, move your shoulders, move your arms, change your stance, every movement will have an effect on how you look. Try it? 

You now have 1000’s yes 1000’s of different ways you can look just in a headshot. 

Now do you think it is just click and we are done?

We are not finished yet! 

Hair, length, style, up, down, half up, no hair, short necks, long necks, eye differences, curled lips, crooked teeth, bent nose, big nose, sunken chin, no jawline and more. 

Clothing, what you wear will make a huge difference in the way you look and present yourself. 

Then expressions, pull funny faces, think about different moods, each one will create a variable of the other. 

This is the job of a good headshot photographer to know about these things and how to shape and teach you how to look your best and more importantly how to not look bad.  

For a portrait photographer we take all that and then think about a half body shots and then a full body shots, making slight adjustments to way you hold yourself to get the best from you, your body and the clothing of choice.  Posing is an art form, that portrait photographers have to learn and continually learn and adapt to fit the person or persons that are in front of their camera. 

Put the posing knowledge together with the lighting, composition, equipment choice, retouching, and your images are not good anymore they are amazing! 

No matter who you are or what you look like, a good portrait photographer will get the best from you on the day you are in front of their lens. 

Do you want a good headshot, better than the last image you're using, or do you want a great headshot, looking confident, brimming with approachability, someone to be taken notice off, to stand out from everyone else in your line of work then do your research and choose one that has the experience and knowledge to get the best from you.