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Young girl with braid headshot
This headshot works because the HAMU is professional quality and unique to this client who has very, very long hair. Wardrobe is flattering and although patterned, the pattern is not distracting. Backdrop matches her eyes and compliments her skin tone as do the wardrobe colors. Other factors that make this a strong head shot: eye connection of the subject to the viewer and professional retouching.

What IS it about the standard head shot session? You feel vaguely like the third grade you on school picture day: your hair resembles a wire pot scrubber and your chosen outfit clashes with the (hideous) backdrop the photographer selected. You endure three minutes with a nameless person behind a camera who tells you to smile, which you do because it doesn’t occur to you to NOT smile-

you'll do whatever just to be free of this.

You also realize when the shutter clicks your chin disappears into your neck. But the photographer says nothing and provides no coaching during the “session.” Then, with a wave of his/her hand, the photographer dismisses you and you sprint to the exit hoping to avoid seeing your images on the tethered laptop screen.

But, what if you could hire someone to work with you to create a head shot session that made you feel great about yourself, confident in front of the camera and excited to view your images? A sort of stylist/photographer/director? Well, you can. I’ll tell you how. But first, a few facts about why a professional head shot is so important right now.

“Business cards are out. Headshots are in,” says Peter Hurley, arguably one of the world’s top head shot photographers with studios in New York and Los Angeles. “It (sic) puts a face with a name. Companies and personal brands are starting to get that. Anybody that is entrepreneurial needs a head shot.”

And according to William Aruda who writes about personal branding for Forbes Magazine: “In a world that’s becoming more and more virtual, your head shot is the ultimate way to communicate your traits on a human level. It makes you real to those who connect with you. And the bar is being raised.”

Resumes, business cards, job applications and websites all trend towards professional and polished head shots or business portraits. Why? Because your resume seems more approachable with your smiling face on it. Your company’s website has more interest, a more personal touch with beautiful images of the team. Again, think approachability.

In fact, the push towards approachability is really what we used to call “neighborly.” Small towns are perhaps more familiar with this word than city dwellers, because neighborliness is the currency in the former. Basically, it means some old fashioned things like your handshake is your bond, you’ll help the elderly lady across the street with her groceries, and so on. Our culture moves so fast today, that neighborliness has been sacrificed for speed in many cases. But corporations and small businesses alike understand the tremendous value in at least the appearance of neighborliness, hence the push towards appearing approachable.

Now I’m going to say something unpopular here: your cell phone may suffice for lifestyle pictures on Instagram, but it’s not a substitute for an intentional image. Your cousin Mary with her new camera may get kudos from her mom when she photographs flowers, but Cousin Mary is no replacement for a pro who knows how to prepare you and light you and guide you to stand out images.

So with all that aside, how do you get a great head shot you’re proud of? First, hire a professional. Yes, it will cost some money.Yes, it will take time. But your professional footprint is worth the effort, isn't it? Besides, the right person will listen to what you need and make an action plan that will give you a range of usable portraits.

At Deanna Dusbabek Photography, for instance, I meet with clients initially to learn about them and what they seek. If we move forward, we then schedule a wardrobe styling meeting. I go their homes, peruse their closets and we come up with various looks. We talk about how they wish their hair and makeup to look so I have notes to share with my hair and makeup artist ahead of the session. Usually I leave with their wardrobe so it’s ready and organized for them the day of their session. Planning is absolutely key for head shots and is the single biggest chunk of time I spend preparing for individual sessions.

Recall above where I mentioned finding someone who is a combination photographer, stylist and director? That’d be me. I handle every detail so you can relax and feel confident. Styling and professional hair and makeup artistry is included in every session and I'm proud to offer those services to all my clients.

If you choose NOT to hire a professional for whatever reason, and want to give it a go yourself, here are five tips I’ve learned along the way that work for my clients and me:

1. Get your hair and makeup professionally done. I can’t emphasize this enough. You will look great and feel great and own your space in front of the camera. Camera ready makeup is not the same as everyday makeup and a great HAMU artist will be an enormous asset for head shots. You can find some great makeup artists at local salons, makeup counters in department stores or on Instagram.

2. Your focus in a head shot shot starts just below your shoulders and goes to the top of your head. This is the traditional head shot crop and leaves very little room for styling mistakes. So choose colors wisely: blue, black, grey or white are always great and flattering. Avoid patterns or aggressive color choices like purple, red or yellow unless these are absolutely the best colors for your skin and eyes. You likely know by now if they are.

3. Avoid anything bulky like wraps, scarves, heavy jewelry, ill-fitting jackets or heavy cable sweaters. They add too much visual weight to the image and are also distracting.

4. Find a soft natural light source and face it. You don’t need fancy lighting gear, just a broadly lit window with diffused light, either from natural cloud cover or some sort of diffusion material, like white sheer curtains.

5. Keep your backdrop to white, grey, dark blue or black. Sometimes you can go wild and toss in another color, but you have to be careful with that.

Hopefully these tips will help you get a shot you’re happy to use. But keep in mind, they're only the beginning: I haven’t addressed the most important factor in great head shots: a photographer who gives great posing direction and knows how to bring out your best.

But I can’t give away all my secrets, now can I?

If you need a standout head shot, I’d love to talk with you and meet you at my studio for coffee. Please reach out at or call (206)779-4284.

Celebrate that which has meaning with prints

The print versus digital debate is talked about CONSTANTLY amongst photographers. It's a huge issue that divides the industry. Many, if not most, photographers who run successful businesses decide pretty early on to ditch the digital only option and provide full service to their clients, meaning prints and products. Here's why:

If a photographer offers you a USB or CD of images, that photographer is setting you up to fail. Not intentionally, but those storage devices are each now obsolete. Most new computers don't even have CD drives anymore and that trend will only continue. Additionally, CDs and USBs are designed to break down after about 4 years, if you're lucky. You'll lose all the images on them never to be retrieved. USBs in particular are prone to getting lost due to size, so there's a chance they'll disappear in a move or while spring cleaning. Plus you may already have a desk drawer full of random USBs that have images on them but you'd have to spend hours scouring each one to find the images you want. The only way to avoid these scenarios is to print selected images. With consumer printers everywhere from Costco to online services, it's easy peasy, right?


What about sizing for print? That alone can make your hair catch fire, it's so aggravating. And then there's the quality of the inks and paper used. Professional photographic print labs use the best methods and products to render images onto paper, canvas, metals, etc, but you have to have a photography business to use them. So, in many non pro labs, color is often off, in some cases, quite radically. Meh, you might say. Who's gonna notice?

Well, if you've spent hours laying out an album from a consumer lab only to get it in the mail looking less than vibrant, with washed out skin tones,or worse, green skin tones, I guarantee, you WILL notice that. Quality does matter when it comes to photographic prints and products and you really do get what you pay for.

Then there's the time issue. Many people don't care to learn how to use online ordering software because they're busy and it's easy to put a project like that onto the back burner. So WHEN will those images get moved from the USB to your hard drive or uploaded to a print site? Before or after the USB or CD becomes corrupted?

The trend to provide all session images for a nominal fee is waning as more and more photographers realize that they're letting their clients down by not providing a full service experience. Yes, it's faster and more convenient for everyone to simply meet for the session then hand over a thumb drive. But, what's the point of working with a professional photographer if your photographs will sit on your hard drive or in your drawer?

Because my focus is on tangibles FIRST, I provide a corresponding digital file with every purchased, printed image. Even my headshot clients get a print of their selected images. Some clients opt out of digitals altogether because they understand that they have no real use for them, as they don't have access to professional labs to create the best quality products that their images deserve.

My commitment to fully serving my clients is a guarantee that they'll have heirloom print collections and wall art for generations. I can't promise that if the products or prints are not the very best I can source, like this magnificent portfolio box from Graphi Studio. Designed to fit 10, 15 or 25 matted prints, the boxes measure 11x14 inches and are custom crafted per order in Italy. I offer them in cream suede or black leather. The box lid is either canvas, like the one below, or a fine art print. The lid is also magnetized, the idea being that the box is a free standing piece of art on its own when the lid is on it. Prints lift out easily, thanks to a satin ribbon underneath them.

They're made to absolute perfection and I am THRILLED to offer them to my clients. I also offer canvases, large format prints as well as several other specialty products, like this 8x10 tri-fold suede folio: which has stunning craftsmanship with the images inside printed onto canvas. They're available in vertical or horizontal orientations and make terrific grandparent gifts from senior portrait sessions.

Cream suede folio trifold

No digital image alone will ever be able to compete with high quality prints and products that you can surround yourself with every day. No small view screen or social media post could ever compare to large format framed images in your hallway, bedroom, family room or dining area. Or with these folios on a mantle.

Horizontal orientation here

More than anything, I BELIEVE in printed images as tribute to your love, experiences and life. Not printing to me is a bit like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and not planting the flag. As Artifact Uprising so eloquently states: "Honor that which is meaningful... and make these moments tangible." Yes! And work with a professional to choose the right products for your family and home. Because everything in life is art. Especially you.

If you'd like to experience a full service portrait studio and see the difference in heirloom prints and products from just digitals, I'd love to hear from you! (206) 779-4284

For mood, drama and beautiful texture.

Smoke bombs are a versatile, stunning way to add something special to your sessions.
Connor's senior portrait session with graffiti and smoke bombs.

If you're looking for a great way to add that extra something to your photo shoots, smoke bombs might just be your jam. Yes, they must be handled with care and common sense, but they add so much in the drama department, that the few extra minutes you need to ensure proper safety are TOTALLY worth the effort. At least for me. But then my alter ego is a rock star a la 80's hair band, so I tend to enjoy things that would look good in a music video from that era. And for effects for today's clients, smoke bombs just can't be beat.

I use smoke bombs from Enola Gaye, a company which manufactures them for photo and video use. A box of 10 in assorted colors costs around $60 bucks plus shipping. Each bomb, or grenade, has a "payload" of smoke of about 90 seconds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually more than enough time to get great images. Here's the link:

As for safety, you MUST use some basic guidelines: DO NOT use them in any hyper dry (think August dry) wooded or grassy area. ALWAYS have a water source nearby to extinguish any loose sparks. I carry water jugs to outdoor shoots or use the bombs near ponds, etc. HAVE AN ASSISTANT ready at all times to keep an eye on the bombs and get the smoke moving. AVOID waving them in someone's face or eyes. They get hot once the pins are pulled and the smoke starts going, but hold them at the opposite end from the smoke or wear gloves. You might bring along a pair of safety goggles for your assistant, as they produce a lot of smoke very quickly. Here are two YOU TUBE videos on best practices you might find helpful: and

You might also check with your local fire department about any ordinances in your area and just to let them know what you have in mind. And finally, NEVER use them indoors.

It's important to get yourself set up where you'd like to shoot ahead of pulling the pins on the bombs. Get your camera settings dialed in, etc. Then give your assistant the thumb's up. The bombs will sputter immediately after the pins are pulled, but after several seconds, they should start to billow. I have my assistant run around the subject to get the smoke moving and keep it somewhat evenly distributed. If there's wind, of course, the smoke will move on its own, so plan accordingly. Also, smoke sort of has its own personality so it's good to have a practice bomb in a color you're not so fond of.

Generally, once the smoke is pouring out, I'm shooting like a maniac, because I almost always end up compositing these images. I like billows of smoke for best effect, so I take tons of images specifically for that purpose.

Emily, her fave t-shirt and smoke bombs for her senior portraits.

Most of the time, I use smoke bombs with senior portraits or for creative shoots. The smoke bombs give me a chance to get edgier images that are a departure from more traditional shots, which I also make a point of taking early in the session. If I have a teen, like Connor above, the smoke bombs highlight a side of his personality that's about black leather and bold statements. For Emily, the smoke bombs were reinforcement of her fun, quirky side that matched the pumpkin t-shirt perfectly. The below image was meant as a creative piece to showcase the dramatic side of Renee, a young actress and model.

This image won a 2017 Bronze Award from the Portrait Masters international competition.

Whatever effect you'd like to achieve, a smoke bomb might be a great way to create something different for your portfolio and your clients. Just remember to be safe and most of all, have FUN!

If you'd like to try a session with smoke bombs, let's talk! (206) 779-4284

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