How to take a perfect headshot

These days everyone seems to be a selfie expert, but there are some tricks to taking the perfect headshot when you cannot afford a professional photographer.

Nearly every social media channel and many email programs require, or at least request, a headshot. If the site is your professional website or your LinkedIn profile, a simple selfie won’t cut it. You’ll more likely need a professional photographer to take a well-lit shot to help you make a best first impression.

But if you cannot afford a professional, here are some tips to ensure you take a headshot that looks professionally done.

Framing is key and both portrait artists and photographers know how the “rule of thirds” works as a guideline to ensure good composition. You’ll need to read up on it, but essentially it proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centring the subject.

It’s important to consider the background as much as the foreground. You do not want distractions from the subject. A neutral background — such as a wall, or nature in the distance — puts the subject at the centre of the shot.

Frame the subject a metre from the background from the chest up. Shoot from slightly above the subject’s eye line for the most flattering angles. Fill the frame with the subject rather than cropping away extraneous photograph afterwards.

Most point-and-shoot cameras have automatic focus settings, as do phone cameras. On your phone, tap the screen on the subject’s face. On a camera set to automatic focus, have the camera pointed at the subject’s face and half-press the shutter button to lock the focus in. If you’re using a DSLR camera to take your headshots, you will be able to focus your camera manually to get a really precise image. It can be difficult to control focus in low lighting on phone cameras or cameras on automatic settings, so if you’re having trouble getting a sharp image, wait for daylight to hold your shoot.

Natural light is your friend for taking flattering photos with good exposure. Indoor lighting from lamps or fluorescents will wash out the subject’s face and possibly add strange colour to the image. Nighttime photography using a flash rarely turns out quality images. So the tip for taking a professional headshot is to shoot it in natural daylight on a neutral background using the rule of thirds. And if you’re the subject, don’t forget to smile.