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Monthly Archives: July 2014

7 Simple Headshot Tips

Two years ago, I started my dream job — stay at home mom!  But before that, I had a job that was a close second…high school teacher.  Being a parent can be really tiring because it’s a 24/7 thing, but for me, being a teacher was definitely more stressful.  Stressful, but incredibly fun!  While I was there, I met one of my dearest friends, Sarah, who was the theater teacher.  She caught wind that a new teacher (i.e. me) had dance and choreography experience, so she asked if I’d help her with the musical.  And that’s where our love began.

Through my experience with musicals, I met some super awesome kids, including Prince (who will soon start his senior year of high school).  Prince is talented, confident, and incredibly self-motivated.  He recently entered a singing competition here in our city with the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship.  200 area high school students auditioned, and Prince has made it into the top 10!  As part of the final program, each finalist needed to submit a headshot.  The closest thing Prince had to a headshot were some (albeit adorbs) selfies from his laptop.  He asked me if I could help him out and I said yes, with the warning that I’d never done any posed picture taking before.  He probably thought, “Whatever lady…I’m not going to pay you anyway.  In fact, I’m going to make you buy me ched r’ bites from Sonic that day too.”  That sly little weasel.

I read up a bit online, chatted with the experts for some tips, and went on my merry way.  Here are some of the tips I found to be most helpful!

7 Simple Headshot Tips

(1) Pick good light:
I don’t have a fancy studio or a light set-up, so I used the best light ever – the sun!  I told Prince I’d pick him up at 5pm because I knew there’d be a sufficient amount of shade and we wouldn’t get any harsh light interfering with the pictures.  We drove over to the high school where the building would provide some great shade!

Prince - 15

(2) Focus on the eyes:
I think this is what makes a portrait different from a headshot (though this really turned into a portrait/senior picture type of session).  Portraits don’t necessarily have to have eye contact, but in my years and years of experience with casting (hardy har har), I would think looking directly at the camera is a key component of a headshot.  One of the easiest ways to make the eyes the focus of your photograph is to shoot your subject from above.  This helped get some of the diffused skylight to reflect in Prince’s eyes.

Prince - 14

(3) Make your subject comfortable:
Lucky for me, Prince is a total ham and loves being in front of a camera.  To ensure I captured his genuine smile, I pulled a couple inappropriate jokes out of my repertoire.  Totally worked.

Prince - 18

(4) Use continuous shooting mode:
You know that fancy “click click click” sound a professional photographer’s camera makes?  Yours can do that too!  Just use  your camera’s manual to figure out how to turn on continuous shooting.  This mode takes multiple pictures as long as you’re holding your finger on the trigger (is that the right name for the “take the picture button”?  I don’t know.  Don’t judge.).  This means you don’t have to awkwardly be like, “Oh, I think you blinked.  Let’s try to have a genuine smile again.”  I’m sure as you become a better photographer, you don’t need to use continuous shooting quite as often…but as a mom of a 2 year old and 1 year old, this mode is very helpful when shooting pictures with little wiggly people.

Prince - 10

(5) Consider different characters [what's the purpose of your picture]:
Okay, I think this might really only be applicable to shooting headshots for a thespian’s portfolio, but that’s what I was doing with Prince.  I imagine that depending on the role you’re auditioning for, you’d want to submit a certain headshot that portrays the personality of the character you’re auditioning for.  As I was using Prince as my guinea pig, I noticed that shooting him relatively straight on made him look like a grown man.  Okay, that’s not totally true…because he’s 17 and thinks fart jokes are funny (which is why he’s my friend), but I think it highlighted the broadness in his shoulders and generally showed his masculinity.

Prince - 25

(6) Have a shallow depth of field:
This is personal preference, but I would think if you’re really trying to focus on a person’s face in a picture, you’d really want the background to be soft and blurred.  More on how to do that can be found here.

Prince - 23

(7) Do a bit of editing:
Okay, so I don’t normally feel like you need to edit your pictures.  I certainly don’t take all the pictures of my children and whiten their teeth and brighten their eyes.  We do, however, need to make sure Prince can compete with all those other people out there vying for similar roles or positions.  I thought some simple editing would bring the professionalism of these headshots up a notch!  For the longest time, I used for editing.  I recently got Lightroom installed on my laptop, so I’m starting to play with that.  These pictures of Prince, however, I edited a bit using PicMonkey.

Prince - 4

I hope this gives you some ideas of things to toy around with!  Thanks for being a fantastic model, Prince.  Everyone send him good vibes on August 24th as he competes to win KC Superstar!



Soft & Blurred Backgrounds – Aperture Practice

I am no professional photographer…but I sure do know what I like in photos.  Maybe it’s a phase or just my current favorite flavor, but right now I’m super into soft backgrounds!

After attending a full-day photography class, I am now shooting in “manual” mode on my camera all the time, as opposed to using Auto, or the presets like flowers, landscapes, sports, etc.  However, I learned a lot right before my class simply by shooting in another mode I’d ignored — aperture priority.  Aperture controls a few aspects of photography, but one of them that I love to play with is those soft and blurred backgrounds I see in so many photos that I love.  Before I played around in aperture-priority mode, the only way I knew how to get this effect was to tap my screen on Instagram (youknowwhatI’mtalkinabout).

When you shoot in manual, you are mostly playing around with two things: (1) aperture and (2) shutter speed.  There are quite a few other things you can play with too, but that’s another conversation for another day.  Soooo, in manual you’re concerned with the two previously mentioned things, but if you switch to aperture-priority, the camera takes over shutter speed for you and lets you focus on learning one aspect of your camera.  Alternatively, shooting in shutter-priority mode gives the photographer full control over shutter speed while the camera picks which aperture setting to use.

Do you have a DSLR?  Get it out.  Right now.  If the battery is fully charged, you’re a step ahead of where I’m sometimes at.

Now…change your spinny wheely thing at the top to whatever is your brand’s aperture-priority mode.  On my Nikon, it’s the ‘A’.

Aperture Priority Dial

Okay, now…look at your screen and you’ll see an ‘F’ followed by a number.  That’s your aperture setting!  Now…of course they couldn’t make it easy and scale things by single units from 1-10 (side note: who came up with how to keep score in tennis?  I mean…what on earth??)  Each camera is different so figure out on yours how to change that number (usually some type of moveable dial or something).  Your f-stop scale (how low and high your aperture can be set) is based on what lens you’re using (I think??)…so everybody’s will be a bit different.

Okay, soooo…the lower the number you set your f-stop (aka aperture…the terms seem to be interchangeable) to, the softer your background will be and less of your photo will be in focus.  If you’re shooting something like a landscape scene and you want the whole shabang in focus, you would want to use a high f-stop.

Here…does this help?

Manual Cheatsheet - Aperture

click to see bigger

The lower your f-stop number (or the lower your aperture), the more soft and blurred your background will be (aka your depth of field will be very shallow).  Conversely, crank your f-stop all the way up and your background will be in focus (aka a deep depth of field).


These delicious macaroons (frozen from Trader Joe’s!) were shot at f/1.8.  This low aperture hides the fact that these beauties were sitting on a plate…on a toy…on my hardwood floor…by my backdoor (hey…go where the best light is, right?).

On the flip side, this picture below at the park was shot a bit higher, at f/7.  I obviously was loving the subject matter (my husband and my little lady flying a kite), but I was also loving the pre-rain muted colors coming out in all the trees in the park.  I wanted to see some (but not all) of the detail in the trees…so a mid-point of f/7 seemed to fit for what I wanted to remember about this moment.


I encourage you to shoot in aperture priority mode for a bit and play with how much you can control by playing with your f-stop!  Even though we don’t always feel this way, you ARE smarter than your camera!

Happy shooting!