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How to do Professional Headshots on a Budget

POSTED BY Bailey Alexander | Aug 24, 2023

Lighting is the most important part of photography, in essence, capturing light is how you create a photo in the first place. But when attempting to do headshots for a client or yourself, there are some easy ways to set yourself up for success, and it’s really not as hard as it sounds! 


Choose a Background

For the purposes of this video, we will be using a very basic background. If you are wanting the feeling of edgy, cool, or serious, then I would suggest using either a black or dark navy background. The easiest option is finding a solid wall or using a bedsheet or something similar for your background. If you want your photos to lean more into the clean, modern, and friendly feeling, then I would suggest a white or very light tan background.


Find a Light Source

Normally for headshots, we use anywhere from one to three external light sources, but you can still get great results without buying lights. The trick? Use natural light to your advantage. Try finding a big window, a garage with the garage door open letting in light, or even outside (Just make sure your subject is in some type of shade so they aren’t having sunlight directly shining not them) 


General rules for lighting are as follows:

- The bigger the light source, the better.

- You want to diffuse your light so it's not harshly shining on your subject. (Using a sheer curtain or shower curtain are great way to do this) 

- You don’t want your light source directly in front or behind your subject, try putting it at a 45-degree angle in front of them and adjust from there.

- Have your subject step a few feet away from the background to help give it some separation and not feel so “flat” .


Posing your Subject

Everyone is different, so that means that the same poses, smiles, and body positions won't work well for everyone. Trying multiple different angles, poses, smiles, and framing to help you get a feel for what feels most natural for each person. Then, you’ll have more options to choose the best photo(s).


Here are some guidelines to help you get started shooting & posing your subject. 

- Get a few shots framing them from the waist up and then a few closer up. (Chest up)

- Try having your subject stand and then sit on a stool or higher chair.

- Angle your subject slightly to the left or right to help make them not feel as “flat.” This tends to be more complimentary than facing straight at the camera. 

- Try making your subject laugh or have a conversation and capture their reactions. Candid, raw emotion usually looks better than someone holding a smile for 20 seconds while you snap photos. (Especially for subjects who aren’t as comfortable in front of a camera) 


Don’t give up! It can be hard to capture great headshots (especially when they look different than you imagined at the beginning of a shoot). But, keep trying. Mix it up. Experiment with different poses, angles, and lighting placements. Don’t stop there. Have your subject try different smiles and reactions. If you spend enough time working on it, you can capture a product you and the subject are happy with!



About the writer, Bailey Alexander

Bailey is the lead Photographer and a Video Producer at Primitive with experience in all areas of the creative sphere. He graduated college with a degree in piano, worked as an audio engineer after college, and meanwhile started a freelance photography and videography business that he ran for five years before joining the Primitive family. He specializes in creating engaging photo and video content for social media that elevates brands to the next level. His experience in many different creative fields allows him to take a unique approach to create and capture moments that invoke wonder and emotion. In his spare time, Bailey enjoys writing music, traveling, and catching a round of disc golf with his dog Lily.