Headshots are one of my hottest products right now: in this rapidly moving job market, you want to have an updated headshot on your LinkedIn and other social media. It’s not so much about what you look like period, it’s about wanting to make sure that the images people see of you correspond to your current look. Why? Is the world so plainly superficial? Yes and no. You can show you don’t care about appearance and showcase yourself with a headshot taken ten years ago, but when you meet the recruiter and your face won’t match their expectations, you run the risk of unconsciously biasing them towards looking for other discrepancies in your profile.
The other reason why headshots are one of my hottest products right now is that I love shooting headshots. I feel it’s the kind of shoot that makes me get the closest to people, and the session becomes a wonderful moment to open up and share about our lives.
And yet… some people really hate headshots. I respect that. They just hate the photo part. Some people dislike being touched and hate massages. Some people have amazing expressions but the moment you point a camera their way they freeze into the kind of awkward smile that we still teach children (“A real smile! show your teeth!”), generating a complementary amount of fear and self-consciousness that reflects in the subject’s eyes. Truth be told, this kind of phenomenon affects some models as well: quasi-supernatural beauty and mastery of posing does not necessarily immunize against the effects of self-consciousness on our own facial expressions. Actors are generally immune, because well, that’s the whole point.
There’s only so much a photographer can do, you may think, and some clients will cover their dissatisfaction with a kind of “it’s not you, it’s me” apology. But that is true to a certain extent.
We can help through our technical and esthetic expertise, namely through lighting and framing. In order to prove my point, I decided to work with a special kind of subject whose issue is not a lack of expressivity, but rather a lack of diversity in their expressions: LEGO mini figures.
Lights and colors in headshots
The first part of this study involved the creation of a “mood” by using solely the framing, the lighting, and the color correction.
Mr Legoman came to my studio for a headshot session. He wanted a good diversity of images, he had a very nice and confident smile, but it was the same smile every time I pressed the shutter release.
I played with modified, precise lighting and with the colors of the image to create a diversity of moods.
Other models came in. The shoot became kind of glamour. We played some more with the effects of light and framing. The idea was to create a series of standalone images, each able to create a story, to connect with a certain vibe, using only light and color: once again, the key element was framing and selective lighting. The first image, for instance, gives off a bit of a 70s “dirty” vibe, but I used only light, framing, and color editing. No retouching.
And yes, since self-portraiture is somewhat a fetish of mine, I had to photograph the photographer, too. Same process. Only light and color.
Albeit the pose is the same, not only the editing differs in the following images: the lighting projected on the photographer is different every time.
Micro expressive retouching
Last, but not least, there’s a second form of intervention we can operate on the images. I think its use is slightly controversial, and you can decide how much to dial this kind of retouching. The point is not to alter the features of the subject, but their expression. On the left column you see the original images. On the right, the images were micro-retouched to adjust the expression to tell a slightly different story.
To me, this is a last resort, but if the subject is genuinely afraid of the lens and will freeze in an unnatural, scared smile whenever I raise the camera, I will perform the micro correction. Will this make them look different? No, because I will just reproduce the normal expressivity I witnessed as I interacted with them during the shoot.
TECHNICAL NOTES: All photos were shot with a Fujifilm X-T3 camera, the 11mm macro tube extension (MCEX-11), and the XF 35mm F1.4 lens. The lighting was provided by one Lumecube and a Goodox V680 strobe light, handheld, and concentrated via a paper cone. A warning, that I usually think about after my macro shoots: macro shoots will magnify not only your subjects, but all imperfections and dust speckles. If that is something that will bother you, make sure to clean what you are photographing before the shoot!