Why I Shoot The Way I Do

When you look at a professional headshot, what do you seek out first? What should dominate the picture frame? What conveys the trust, approachability, and confidence to you and others? The answer to each of these questions is the same, and it is simple. The face. The face is the star of the show. This fact dominates my decisions when deciding what information is included within the frame of the photograph.

The common uses for headshots dictate they will be seen in a small format. LinkedIn and other social media only permit small photographs as your profile avatar. If a headshot is included in emails, or a resumé, it will be small and tucked away in a corner or at the bottom of the page. Likewise, these headshots will be viewed on devices such as phones, tablets, and computers. There is just not a lot of real estate for non-critical information. Knowing that the face, and the expression on it, must be the focus of the headshot, I have to determine how to maximize the space I have to work with. The top of a head does not set anyone apart from the masses. We all have something up there, be it a bald top or the top of a ‘do, so I don’t include it. As Cindy, a colleague in Phoenix points out, we subconsciously fill in that missing top. She points to a scientific study documented in an article regarding stroke patients that backs this assertion up. In addition to giving more room for the face, cutting off the top has an added benefit. Doing this places the eyes in the top 1/3 of the picture frame. This is an optimal position to draw a viewer in, to connect. Making a connection is the goal, right?

Why not take more of the clothing away and show all the hair? The clothing, and shoulders, anchor the headshot. A head floating in space can be distracting, and I don’t want anything to draw attention away from the face, and the wonderful expressions created by it. Furthermore, a little bit of clothing gives the viewer a little more information. Business clothing, along with proper expression, conveys one image to a viewer. Casual clothing, with a different expression, conveys another image. Some clothing needs to show in the headshot.

Some of us are old enough to remember the 8”x10” headshots passed out by celebrities. These were shot in a portrait (vertical) view, and usually printed in black and white. That style went away with digital media. We no longer pass our photos around, we email them or have them posted online. Color printing was more expensive than black and white. However, the web doesn’t care if a photograph is in color or not. We are used to seeing a world in color. Our TVs are vibrant, our computers lit from behind, and our phones show us a saturated world. Black and white (monochrome) is beautiful, but not for most headshots.

We see the world more horizontally than vertically. Our eyes are created so our peripheral vision is to the sides, not up and down. Therefore, our range of vision is oriented horizontally. Our TV screens have mirrored theatre screens and become wider. I realize phones are usually viewed in a vertical orientation. However, right now I don’t believe that justifies a change to a vertical headshot yet. This may change, if in the future hiring managers are doing more work on phones, but not yet.

So, my preferred style is the to crop off the top of heads and shoot vertically. However, rules are made to be broken. If a person can’t get used to missing hair, I won’t chop it off. If a vertical orientation is needed, I do that too. Hell, I’ll even deliver in monochrome if that’s what a client needs.