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What is a Headshot Photographer?


If you’re looking for examples of a headshot, it’s more than likely, you’ve been asked to provide a headshot by an employer, creative agency, content publisher, or an application system. Before we describe what a “Headshot Photographer” is and does, we first must define what a “Headshot” is.

What is a “Headshot?”

A headshot is a photo focusing on the face of the person to primarily use for commercial purposes. A headshot is NOT a selfie taken from an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone. These are not acceptable in the professional field as headshots because these are not photos taken by a professional. Professional headshots can be used as a cover of a modeling portfolio for an agency, or they can be used on an employer’s website. These photos represent the best version of YOU.

What Exactly IS a Headshot Photographer?

Now that we’ve gone over the definition of a , we must define what a headshot photographer is and what they do. A headshot photographer is a photographer who specializes in taking headshot photos. Sounds self-explanatory right? Well that is because it essentially is. However, a headshot photographer does a lot more than just snap professional photos of people and present it to them. And here are the other things that these specialists do before and after the moments where the headshots are taken.


The Use of a Background

In order for a headshot to look professional, the photographer will more often than not set up the background they desire for their photos. This can take place in a studio, or outside in a setting with an environment-friendly background. This can look like the Headshot you see here: Or it can be a plain background like the Headshot you see here:

The Importance of Positioning

In my experience of taking Headshots, I’ve always been asked to sit in a proper position, hold my head a certain way, and position my arms and hands in a certain fashion. Well, this happens because Headshot Photographers want to make the photo look as professional as possible while the subject of the photo looks as natural as possible. The Headshot Photographer wants the subject to be presentable, while simultaneously seeming approachable, and friendly. There is always a method to the madness, and this is a crucial method Headshot Photographers use to maximize the potential of their subjects, thereby boosting their portfolio.


When deciding to use a background, it is as equally important to take lighting into consideration. If a headshot photographer uses a scenic background for their headshot, then they can incorporate natural lighting into their headshot. If the background is in a studio, studio lighting is more than likely the more efficient option. There are obviously pros and cons of both natural and studio lighting. 

In terms of natural lighting, there is a more organic appeal in the headshot, and depending on the time of day, it can create a story for the subject. If a person uses a cityscape background in their headshot, it can inform the viewer of the headshot of certain urbanized characteristics. Conversely, if the background is a grassy plain, the viewer can interpret that as the subject being down-to-earth. The con of natural lighting is that it is out of the photographer’s control in terms of when and how the light can be used in the photograph.

When it comes to studio lighting, the light is completely in the photographer’s control. There can be modifiers and adaptations used in setting up the headshot. The photographer has complete freedom of creativity to make the most of the headshot. The con to studio lighting is that, although technology today can almost imitate natural sunlight, it pales in comparison with the different capabilities of sunlight.


All professional photographers edit all of their photos. It is THIS part of the photography process that makes or breaks a photographer’s portfolio. This is where all of the finishing touches take place. There are a plethora of editing applications a headshot photographer can use; the most popular being Adobe Photoshop.

For headshots specifically, there typically isn’t too much editing, solely because Headshots are supposed to feel natural. Too much editing can make the Headshot look unrealistic. 

When it comes to editing, headshot photographers typically look to even out skin tone, remove small blemishes and acne, remove small hairs that get in the way of the subject’s face, and touch up the background. It is not recommended to remove scars and moles for they are attached to the subject’s facial characteristics.

What Headshots Should Be Used For

Professional headshots, as previously mentioned, can be used for a litany of reasons. Let’s dive into the many uses of a professional headshot and the impact it may have in favor of the subject.

Modeling Headshots

A great headshot for modeling can get you called in for an audition which can lead to getting booked directly for a job. Many models are booked directly from their photos in their portfolio without having to attend an audition. For tips to having the best modeling headshot, you can click this link to find out more.

Actor Headshots

Actors’ headshots and resumes are one in the same. An actor must have a professional headshot to go along with their resume because appearance is everything. A casting director must be able to look at an actor and be able to determine whether or not they have the look that fits with the script that was written.

These headshots can also leave a lasting impression. They serve as a canvas for the actor to exhibit their personalities on, and most importantly, they help actors become more camera ready.

Business Professional Headshots

Almost any and every business professional uses a professional headshot, whether for their job position, in pursuit of their career choice, marketing, self-promotion on career websites such as LinkedIn, and so on. As a recent college graduate, it was stressed to me that a professional headshot must be used on a career candidate’s LinkedIn profile due to the fact that almost all employers WILL NOT hire nor work with a candidate with a non-professional headshot.

It can also be used on a company’s website, brochures, advertisement, posters, campaigns, and so on. There are a plethora of career paths that uses professional headshots, so it is imperative that everyone uses them if they want to get a foot in the door.

Dancer, Musician, and Author Headshots

Just like models and actors, dancers are often asked to submit a professional headshot for promotional purposes and also for auditions. Musicians are asked for headshots for promotional purposes and to acquire future performances. Headshots can also be used for album art. Authors also use headshots for book covers and promotion.

A headshot photographer can be the difference between you getting that career job, and you sitting on the couch trying to figure out where you went wrong. Being a headshot photographer is more than a passion and for those who specialize in it, it is important that you capitalize on the opportunity provided to you. It is a thankless job but in the end, someone has to do it.



Figure 1 is an example of a professional headshot of an aspiring actor.


Written by Emmanuel Christian

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