Mas­ter the head­shot

Sim­ple, el­e­gant and time­less, a good head­shot can re­veal more about a per­son than any other type of por­trait

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If you think of some of the world’s most cel­e­brated and cre­ative por­trait pho­tog­ra­phers – names like Richard Ave­don, David Bai­ley, Irv­ing Penn – it’s their head­shots that re­ally stick in the mem­ory. That’s be­cause those pic­tures do some­thing that all great por­traits should: re­veal the char­ac­ter of the sub­ject.

From the neck down, one per­son may be pretty in­dis­tin­guish­able from an­other. It’s what’s up top that marks us all out as in­di­vid­u­als. Our faces are our most ex­pres­sive fea­ture, and a good head­shot should cel­e­brate this.

Sim­ple but ef­fec­tive

Com­pared to some kinds of por­trait, the hum­ble head­shot might seem a tad rudi­men­tary, but there’s an art to get­ting it right, and it’s an im­por­tant string in any por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher’s bow. Head­shots are al­ways in de­mand, whether it’s for a com­pany web­site, school photos, pass­port pic­tures, or just for fun.

In some ways a head­shot is a sim­ple thing: you don’t have to think too much about com­po­si­tion or the back­ground, as the head dom­i­nates the frame. But sim­plic­ity brings its own chal­lenges, as it means you need to get the ba­sics of light­ing, depth of field and fo­cal length ab­so­lutely spot-on. There’s nowhere to hide with a head­shot.

How­ever, the tech­ni­cal as­pects are sec­ondary here. More im­por­tantly, we need to coax some­thing in­ter­est­ing out of our sub­ject…

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