Can I Take My Own Headshots?

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By The Light Committee

If you are in the market for headshots, you might have considered whether you can do them yourself. Like anything else, if you know what you are doing, you can of course create your own headshots. You could build your own house, or your own car too, if you know what you are doing. So, yes, it is possible to take your own headshots. If you are a professional photographer, you probably have done so. But what if you are not, should you?

An lawyer headshot of a woman in a suit in studio in Santa Monica
A Professional Headshot – Done by a Professional Photographer – Stands Apart from Smartphone Photos or Other Options

First, if you need to ask yourself this question at all you probably are not well-versed with how to create professional headshots in the first place. How good a headshot will turn out depends on how much you know and what you use to create it. If any of this is questionable, it is probably better, faster, and cheaper to seek out a professional headshot photographer.

The Business Decision to Buy or Make Your Own Headshots

Most people in need of headshots understand the importance of a good headshot. It typically has a direct or indirect influence on you getting jobs, gigs, or customers. Therefore, they want them to be the best headshots possible. Making a good headshot requires solid expertise in how to use a camera outside of auto-mode. It also involves understanding how to use artificial, natural, or both types of lighting in concert. The quality of each also matters. Not all cameras, lenses, and lights are created equal. This expertise is what makes the initial difference between a polished professional-looking photo and, well, one that is not. But why does a good headshot matter?

First, anyone with a smartphone can take a selfie. Furthermore, almost all working adults have a smartphone with a camera. So, using a smartphone is not the way to stand apart in quality. It is the surest way to either stand out lacking in quality or in subconsciously sending the message you do not take your career serious enough to get a professional headshot.

There is proof that using non-professional headshots can be a surefire way to be passed over for opportunities. There are also various psychological factors on why a professional shot is worth it. One is that your photo will make a lasting impression in practically no time at all. The quality matters, a lot.

A lot of people do not want to get professional headshots out of fear of their cost. Depending on your market, they can range from $100 to more than $1,000 to have done. Professional headshots in Los Angeles can range in price quite a bit. But they do not have to be as expensive as many people think. Still, if you insist on trying to do headshots yourself and matching the quality a professional can deliver, what do you need to know?

salesman headshot in a studio with a blue background near Pasadena, CA
Making a Headshot Similar to This On Your Own Without Technical Knowledge of Cameras, Lighting and Post Production is Difficult

What Equipment You Might Want to Use

In addition to understanding how to manually use a DSLR, mirrorless, or medium-format camera, you will need to understand the laws of light. If you are looking for studio-quality headshots versus natural light, you will also need to understand how to use studio lighting alongside your camera. Specifically, you will need to be able to use off-camera lighting, light modifiers, commercial grade cameras, and lenses.

As for buying the equipment, you will need to spend more than $10,000 to match the quality of higher-end photographers. So, you will be better off renting the equipment. But why purchase or rent if the cost of paying a professional is less? So, again, there is that.

Also, you will need to know what lens suits you best. This usually ranges from 85mm to 135mm, depending on your features. You might then just get a zoom lens instead of a prime so you can have all those focal ranges in one lens. But the trade off is usually prime lens quality is superior to a zoom lens.

Other Factors Beyond the Camera and Lighting

There is much more to it than just the camera, lens, and lighting you will want to use. There are background options to consider. If you want a studio look you will need to rent one or buy appropriate backdrops.

It is not just knowing how to use photography gear but also what gear to use in the first place. This goes beyond lens choice to also lighting choices and whether light modifiers should be used. Depending on your goal with the headshots, how many lights you should use also matters. For example, lighting for a theatrical-look actor headshot is not the same a lighting for a realtor’s business card.

Of course, there are no set rules for what gear or brands to use, and this varies by photographer. However, for optimal results start with a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera. You can also consider a medium format camera but that is seriously more of an investment.

As mentioned, studio lighting with modifiers is also optimal to use. There are other devices necessary to use the equipment mentioned herein but, for the sake of brevity, we will not mention everything.

You will also want post-production software to polish the headshot. Everyone can use some retouching – stray hairs happen, lint, red eye, perhaps some acne or other temporary scars that need to be removed, and so on.

Why You Should Just Go Pro

You might still be wondering why you just cannot use your iPhone to take your own headshot? After all, Apple keeps marketing how fantastic the camera is and how it has fancy portrait-mode features. No. Do not do it.

The iPhone and Android phones have useful cameras for non-business use. It is nice to have such a camera in your pocket to take snapshots of occasions here or there. You can use it to take a picture of yourself, but it is not a professional photo. Consider this. A headshot is different than every other picture you take of yourself because the primary purpose of it is to market yourself. Your headshot is to market your professional self. How often do you frequent businesses that come across unprofessional? So, why would you make and use an unprofessional headshot?

A headshot photographer in Los Angeles, and other cities, creates the shots so you can use them to directly influence a customer to do business with you. This can be an actor submitting to a casting director. It can be a real estate agent advertisement to home sellers, a lawyer’s advertisement for people in need of legal advice, and so on.

It is also used to indirectly influence customers to do business with you, such as posting one on LinkedIn or a company website. Using professional shots across your brand’s spectrum is the foundation for establishing professionalism. A picture is still worth a thousand words and we are all still judged primarily by appearances, like it or not. In other words, this particular photo is an important investment and should never be taken with a smartphone, by a friend with a camera, or other non-professional means.

If you opt to settle for a smartphone photo you already have on hand and you will just crop out your friend next to you, you will certainly stand out poorly against others that invested in a professional headshot. It is not really a good idea. Again, people sometimes steer clear of getting headshots professionally made because they believe they are expensive. Despite touching upon the many expensive things needed to create a good one, headshots can be affordable.

People also sometimes steer clear of them because they are not comfortable having their photo taken. One thing to consider here is this photo is not taken, it is made. It is a process and experience, and a good photographer will help make it a comfortable one and maybe even an enjoyable experience.