top of page
  • Writer's pictureDeanna Dusbabek

How to make a great head shot happen & why you need one now

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.

bottom of page