How Should I Pose for a Headshot?

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By The Light Committee

If you are rather new to getting headshots, you might wonder going into a session what you should do to pose? Like most photography answers, there is no one way or one shoe fits all answer to this. Much of it depends on the purpose of the headshot photography. Is it for an actor, a doctor, a model, dancer, and so on? Also, how will it primarily be used? And is there a feel or emotion you are trying to convey? So, what are some general tips?

A real estate agent headshot of a woman in a suit in studio near Los Angeles
Posing for Headshots Means Considering Your Smile, Outfit and Body Language

Practice Your Look

Around one to two days before your headshot session, practice the looks you are after in a mirror. Consider wearing the outfits you plan to shoot in as it may alter how you feel about your facial expressions. This is also true of your hair style and makeup.

When practicing, be sure to practice straight-on looks as well as profile looks on both sides, even your non-favorite side if you have one. Do not just practice facial expressions. Pay attention to body posture. Your body language is speaking on your behalf.

It is not necessary to practice for hours and get it perfect. Ultimately, it is highly likely the poses you practice will appear different in the headshots. Some photographers will show clients how the shoot is coming along by showing the images along the way. This will allow you to adjust. You can also discuss looks with the photographer for any additional tips or feedback.

To Smile or Not to Smile

Smiling during headshots is arguably the one thing most people struggle with. They often think they overdo it or underdo it. It is never just right. Therefore, it is important to establish quick rapport with a headshot photographer. Being put at ease goes a long way toward getting that smile just right.

When posing for a smile, consider having your headshot photographer take many variations so you can ultimately find that one where your smile is great. Then again, there are some situations where you do not want to smile. For example, an actor theatrical headshot usually calls for a more serious look.

Remember when you suddenly have a pleasant memory flash through your mind. It might be a recent get together with a friend. It could be a childhood moment, or how well a recent date went. When you recall these moments, you often draw a soft subtle smile as the memory passes through your mind.

A hero actor headshot of a man in a studio near Los Angeles with a red background
Sometimes, a Smile Is Not Fitting, Such as With Theatrical Actor Headshots

If you can, try and think of such moments during the middle of your headshot session. It may help bring about that soft subtle smile right when you actually need it.

One more point about smiling. No matter what some people try, they still think their smile appears fake. So, there is one more thing one can consider. Often, a smile appears fake because the person that cannot pull off a smile is not smiling with their entire face. Usually, they only smile with their mouth while their eyes freeze as does their head. Try and think of a smile as a happy attitude.

It Is All in Your Head

Do not be afraid to use subtle head movements. A slight head tilt can go a long way. It is usually best to not have your chin up but also not too far down either. Pair your head movement with your smile. For example, it is probably more natural if you have a closed-lip smile after moving your head up into position and a slightly open-mouthed smile if you have moved your head out toward the camera.

Also, try some shots with your head slightly tilted to each side. And try some shots with your chin out over-extended toward the camera. To do this, first lead with your forehead and have your chin follow. Think of a turtle extending their neck. It sounds odd and seems odd to do but, on some occasions, it can make a big difference. It is worth taking a shot at it.

Another option you can try is to think of a favorite melody in your head and slightly bounce your head around to the beat. Then as you get into a groove, slow down the movements so your photographer can keep up and capture the key moments of the flow.

Make Eye Contact, Usually

In portrait-taking, we have all heard the phrase “communicate with your eyes” and it is true but can be difficult for some to pull off. Basically, remember the point of why you are getting a headshot. People that have difficulty communicating with their eyes often do so because they separate what their mouth is doing from what their eyes are doing. Remember, pose with your entire face.

But what are you making eye contact with? It will almost always be the lens of the camera the photographer is using. That is your target of focus.

There are some cases where looking into the camera lens is okay to get away with. However, generally speaking for headshots, you will want to maintain eye contact with the lens. Remember one point of a headshot is to convey confidence. Looking away usually implies shyness or self-confidence.

Headshots for realtors of a woman working from her laptop made in Los Angeles
Sometimes Not Looking Into the Camera Works - It All Depends on the Message You Want Conveyed and Sometimes This Means Adding Content Alongside the Image

Use Your Hands, Or Not

In most cases for a classic headshot, the use of hands does not come into play. Using your hands is usually in portraits. There is a difference between a headshot and a portrait. So, when might hands come into play in a headshot?

Some headshots can be from around the belly up and in some cases, folding your arms can look good. Some headshots can also be done while you are seated, perhaps with your hands in front of you on a table or on your lap. So, these are some examples when your hands might come into play.

Another example is during lifestyle headshots. With these types of headshots, the goal is to show you in your element. So, an example might be a real estate agent beaming with confidence and an inviting smile in front of a home.

If you are bringing your hands into the shot, one important thing to consider is how your hands can appear abnormally large in photos. The farther you stretch them away from you and toward the camera, the more this becomes obvious. Also, making a fist or the more you show the top or palms of your hand will also make your hands appear abnormally larger. Keep these things in mind as you pose.

A hero image headshot of a man with arms crossed to use for the website
If Your Hands Will Be Part of the Shot, the Closer They Stay to Your Body the More Natural-Size They Will Look

Use of Your Hands is Rare in Headshots but Can Be Positively Impactful When Appropriate

If you are going to bring your hands to your face, do not use them to press against your face in anyway that reshapes your face. Instead, use very gentle, subtle, and natural movements around your face. For example, you do not normally sit around with your index finger knuckle propping up your chin. So, perhaps avoid doing that in a headshot.

A Special Note for Actors

As actors know, they must also consider that they are being cast for a role and that their headshot is being used to consider if they are suited to that role. So, posing takes practice, which most actors do anyway. An actor might want to research images online of how some actors might have posed during specific scenes.

For example, if an actor wants to be cast for characters like Jon Snow, they may want to research images of Snow in character during scenes that are headshot-like as well as headshots for Kit Harington. The same is true if an actor wanted to be cast for characters like Sansa Stark. You should consider reviewing and learning from images from Sansa Stark scenes that are headshot-like, or headshot looks for Sophie Turner.

Actors often consider getting headshots for acting that are general for use across many commercial and theatrical role considerations. But adding a few shots more tuned toward general characters – the hero or the distressed – can help some casting directors more easily see them as that type of character. Ask the photographer if they can also help with more specific looks. In markets like Los Angeles, you are bound to find some that can.

Summing it Up

So, if you generally follow the below summarized tips, and probably combined with some advice from your headshot photographer, or manager if you are an actor or model, you should come out of a headshot session with good poses accomplished.

  • Smile when it fits the goal of the photo and make it natural
  • Establishing rapport with the photographer can put you at ease for a better overall look
  • Look serious if needed, such as for actor theatrical headshots
  • Consider slight head movements, such as chin out, chin down, and slight head tilts
  • Communicate with your eyes and mouth, not just one or the other
  • In most cases, do not worry about your hands
  • Practice in front of a mirror before your headshot session
  • Remember your outfit can impact your posing look