Football player headshot

Football player headshot

Over the course of the last year and a half, a lot has happened, and the restrictions placed on grooming professionals have resulted in people hiding away with their split ends, mops and the like.

But with the reopening of hair salons and barber shops after another long lockdown also means an influx of headshot photographs.

Below I’m going to give you some tips you can use to help jump start your take on headshots this year. With 12 + years as a professional photographer, I’ve been photographing people for business, acting, and personal portraits and if you follow the tips here, you’ll be well on your way! 

Let’s jump right in!

Be Personable 

Years ago I did headshots at a corporate office, where 12 individuals had their headshots taken in the boardroom, one-by-one. After a few people, a lady came in almost shaking. She was white as a ghost. I legitimately felt concerned. I offered her some water and asked if she was OK. She said “I would rather be at the dentist getting a root canal, than having my photo taken”. Wow! This was the first time I really felt the pain that people may be feeling when they’re about to have their photos taken. It was an eye opener and from that moment on, I made it my mission to get people comfortable in front of the camera and to be personable. 

Actionable Items: 

  1. Introduce yourself – this is likely the first time the client is meeting you. 2. Play music – everybody loves hearing their favourite tunes…Ask your clients what music they like or their 
  2. Ask how to pronounce their name – no-one likes hearing their name get butchered (I can relate.. I get “Ralph” instead of “Raph” all the time) 
  3. Small talk – Ask them about their job – what they love about it. People love talking about themselves. Give them every opportunity to do this before your start photographing. It will build them up and the confidence will grow. 
  4. Share stories – find a common topic and share your stories on it. Maybe ask about their favourite vacation spot, their hobbies, etc. 
  5. Make it Flow – this may take some practice, but don’t make all these questions an interrogation. Make it as natural as possible. This will take some time and some practice but your will get better and better at it after each session. 

Be In Control 

Nothing can destroy confidence like the lack of control. Clients are coming to you for headshots because they can’t do it themselves. They need guidance. They don’t know how to

stand, pose, and what to do with their hands… and if you are a deer in the headlights, its going to do downhill for you (and your client) real fast. By taking control, you instill confidence in not only yourself but also in your clients. 

Actionable Items: 

  1. Be direct with your instructions… don’t hummm and haaaa and show uncertainty.
  2. Be clear – one of the best ways to ask something from your client is to show them. I like to use mirroring so that they can mirror my actions. I raise my left hand, they raise their right as if they were my mirror. It’s super simple and effective. 
  3. Own the space, the gear and atmosphere. If a light is in the wrong space, go on and move it. Sometimes I like to tell my clients what I’m doing and why (not that they care) but this shows that I know what I’m doing and shows I’m in control. 

Use the Right Gear 

There are tools for the job, and then there are just tools. You need to find the right tools for headshots. My tools of choice are as follows: 

Sony A7RIV camera body – this gives me a lot of detail, beautiful colour and dynamic range 

Sony A7RIV camera body

Sony 100mm STF F2.8 – this is my go-to lens for headshots. I love the focal length and sharpness and no distortion. I also enjoy the way it renders the background as a 2.8 lens, when used in the STF 5.6-f8 range! It’s brilliant. 

Sony 100mm STF F2.8

Sony 85MM F1.4 GM – this lens is just as incredible. Sharp and the creamy bokeh is unreal. This is usually my go-to lens when I’m doing headshots outdoors. I love the focal length for 3/4 body headshots or closer and especially when I want to eliminate the distractions from the background with the shallow depth of field. 

Sony 85MM F1.4 GM

Profoto B10 Plusportable, powerful and versatile lights with hundreds of modifier options. The Profoto system is truly an artist’s dream when it comes to light shaping. 

Profoto B10 Plus

Lighting Modifiers (Studio): Profoto 5’ Octa, 2’ white beauty dish, 1×3’ strip box with soft grid, Westcott Eyelighter, Manfrotto background stand kit, Savage seamless paper, and Manfrotto light stands and an Avenger C-Stand with grip arm. These modifiers are part of my in-studio setup. 

I used the 5’ Octa for my fill light and the 2’ beauty dish and my key light, The Westcott Eyelighter is used to help bounce some light back in the eyes and under the chin and fill in some shadows. I use the 1×3’ strip box for a kicker to give the subject some highlight on the cheek, temple, and hair. I will also sometimes use it to to create a gradient on the background or light the backdrop altogether.

I use a Manfrotto backdrop stand to hold my seamless backdrops from Savage. I typically use the fashion grey seamless, and sometimes white and black as well. 

Lighting Modifiers (On-location): Manfrotto light stand, Profoto Sunsilver reflector, Profoto White reflector, Profoto OCF 3’ Octa, or large/medium Profoto Shallow Umbrellas

Actionable items: 

Use a mid-to-long focal length for headshots. 85mm to 100mm is ideal in my opinion. Faces are not distorted and things look in proportion. If you opt to use a 50mm or 35mm, this will typically result in a lot of distortion, especially in the corners. 

If you currently don’t have any lighting, use natural light, but be aware of direction and colour. Diffuse it as much as possible with sheers or a see-through reflector. 

Variety is Key 

Lifestyle Headshot

Often your client will want just one headshot. They likely need it for a single use – they started a new job and they need a photo of them, they are updating their LinkedIn profile, they published a paper and need a photo to go with their bio, and so on… however, this does not mean you should only take one type of photo. Remember to do vertical and horizontal options as well as to photograph your subject straight on, turned right and turned left. You can also do standing and sitting options. All this variety will ensure you clients find at least a few images they love. This will not only make them happy about the session and that they got so many great shots, but this will be an opportunity for you, as the photographer, to sell more headshots. Too many great photos, what a great problem to have. 

I also suggest offering in-studio and on-location options. They can vary greatly and offer two completely different looks. 

Actionable Items: 

When starting out, make a shoot list so you don’t get caught up in the moment and forget to do what we just talked about above. Sometimes when things are going really well, we concentrate so much on all the goodness that we forget to slow down and get all the shots we need from different angles. Think variety. 

Fast Delivery 

Nothing is worse than waiting for something. You know this and I know this, and your clients know this. Headshots don’t typically take very long to turn over and if you’re having trouble meeting deadlines, I highly recommend you search for an editor that you can send your headshots to for post-production and fast delivery. From my experience, clients are wanting a very fast turnaround with headshots. A lot of the time they are doing them last minute or to meet a pressing deadline. Make fast delivery a selling feature and get ahead of it all.

Actionable Items: 

Schedule your shoot and delivery time right off the bat so that you have a timeline to follow. Under-promise and over-deliver. If you say 3 days delivery, try to get it done it two – your clients will love you for it. 

I hope these tips help. With businesses slowly opening up, be ready for an influx of headshot requests. Hopefully now you have a game plan and are ready to take on the challenge. Keep it systematic and repeat. Good luck!

Behind the Scenes - Portrait Shoot with Young Boy


Raph Nogal is a professional photographer of 12 years based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While specializing in wedding photography, Raph also enjoys photographing portraits, headshots, and products. Raph’s wedding photography style can be best described as a fusion between photojournalism and art-focused editorial photography. Best known for his creative off-camera lighting approach, Raph is an active photographer, educator & speaker and proud ambassador of Profoto, MagMod, Vision Art, Sprout Studio, and Spider Holster and is an Educational Ambassador for SLR Lounge. As a 24-time recipient of WPPI Honours of Excellence Awards, Raph is also a Fearless Photographers Award winner, Shutterfest Print Comp Award winner, as well as a PPOC Winner and Loan Collection participant in National and Regional Image Salons in Canada.

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Raph Nogal

Raph Nogal