Calibrating the Face for Portraits

Christi Lamb
[NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

Every semester I go down to Columbus, Georgia, and help Columbus State University Theatre majors by doing headshots for a small price.

I find that getting actors in front of the camera requires permission to show what they can do with their faces. To be a good actor, they often spend a lot of time in front of a mirror perfecting expressions.

I think of this as stretching before you run or warming up the voice.

Then when you hit an expression, you are more relaxed.

Debrinja Watts [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4.5, (35mm = 85)]

When you laugh, it is more genuine.

Gabrielle Solomon [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

I always have so much fun with the actors.

Jasmine Campbell [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

This year we had more freshmen than in the past. It was great to meet so many new students. I can’t wait to see them in performances.

Britt Woods [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

While often this is all you will see as the final headshot they use, we had fun working on this to get those natural and authentic expressions.

Next time you have your portrait made, ask the photographer to let you try a range of expressions.

Kiki Ellis [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

Ian Rossin is not trying to be an actor; he is studying theatre tech. Those guys deal with lighting, sound, costumes, and set design. He, however, could easily find himself on stage or in front of the camera.

I had a couple who just tried more expressions than I have seen out of one person.

Coco Holt [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

To be a professional actor/actress, you have to be able to do more than just one expression: the more you can do, the more opportunities for different roles.

Coco Holt [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 85)]

Now my clients are promoting me since I started doing this

Headshots for Actors

Hannah Broeils [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

This past weekend I spent both Saturday and Sunday doing headshots for Columbus State University Theatre students.

Setup for headshots [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/13 ]

Here you can see the basic setup for the photos.

[X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/35 ]

I had two lights on the white background and would turn them off for the grey background look.

Erika Johnson [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

I kept them on for the white background. I also had a hair light up straight behind the subject.

Debrinja Watts [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

My main light was a beauty dish, and I kept the aperture at ƒ/5.6 with the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 lens. Not too shallow of a depth-of-field and not too deep either.

Madi StepCaitlin Melvin [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

I prefer ƒ/4 to ƒ/5.6 when shooting individual headshots. Occasionally I will use a shallow depth-of-field of ƒ/1.4, but you and the subject must be still to make that work.

Robert Trammell [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

The fun thing with Theatre students is they enjoy trying all kinds of expressions.

Kate Fowler [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

So we had some fun looking surprised.

Hannah Broeils [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

We tried a lot of expressions.

Brady Madden [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

The one thing that happened after trying some goofy photos, surprise photos, and even being sad was that the expressions that followed were more genuine and authentic. Actors are up for the fun and challenge, but even they need to loosen up, and the best way to do that is to push the limits and dial them back.

Debrinja Watts [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

Some tips for headshots

  • Keep the setup simple
  • Make it easy to change backgrounds
  • Encourage people to bring wardrobe changes
  • Give yourself time with each person.
  • Have fun

All about first impressions

We’re built to size each other up quickly. Even if we’re presented with lots of evidence to the contrary, we’re attached to our initial impressions of people — which is why you should be aware of the impression you make on others.

How long does it take to make a first impression? Is it the length of your elevator pitch? Forget all you have heard because it happens in the blink of an eye.  

A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a 1/10th of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments).

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125] 

Here are a few headshots showing how easy it is with just a photo to say something different about yourself.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/200]

You need to control the message of your brand.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/80]

Your expression, clothes, and makeup can change your appearance and how you are perceived.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 800, ƒ/1.4, 1/160]

This is an actress photo shoot for her to use in her portfolio. She needs to show people the looks she can portray and understand they need to see it to understand what she can become. When it comes to your company headshots, do they look uniform?

Do you have headshots when people go to your website and click on your team?  If not, you need to seriously consider adding these in today’s “Social Media” environment.  Ask your kids what they call a person who doesn’t have a headshot with their profile – “Creeper.”

Notice the difference between the modern white look versus the traditional dark background can change the mood of the portraits. Both work, and you must decide which is best for your brand.

While having a headshot will help you not look like a “Creeper.” having all different headshots can look unprofessional.  Are you saving any real money by taking your snapshot of your team to put on the website or your blog?

Remember, you only have about 1/10th of a second to make a first impression.

They are not reading your bio to make that decision–they are looking at your photo!

What does your “About Us” page have for your potential clients to learn about you?  Are you a “Creeper” with no headshots?  Do you look like you cut corners, try to save money, and take your headshots?  Do all your headshots match, or does it look like someone missed picture day at the high school and had a snapshot sent in for their senior year yearbook photo?

Call me if you want all your company headshots to look similar and help “brand” your company.

What clothing works best for a portrait?

Pick your clothing carefully

There are two types of photos when it comes to clothing: 1) For Portraits and 2) For Fashion.

If the photo shoot is for portrait you need to be sure that the clothing doesn’t distract, but rather compliments the person’s face. The fashion photo shoot is all about the clothing and the model is just there to make the clothing look good.

Look at these three examples of tops for a typical head shot.

Photo #1
Photo #2
Photo #3

To be sure we are concentrating on how clothing can add or distract from a portrait I shot these all the same so that the only difference is really the clothing.

First of all all three outfits look good on the model and the point isn’t about which one you like the most. The point in a portrait photo is which one makes you look more at the model’s face and less about the clothing?

Simple Tips:

  1. Avoid busy patterns as in Photo #1
  2. Choose a solid as in Photo #2
  3. Avoid Stripes as in Photo #3

Each person will look best in one of the following necklines: v-neck, oval or round.

Color choices can be tricky as well. Everyone will look good in Aqua. The reason for this is this is the closest to the complementary color for the skin.

While different ethnic groups have different skin, the general rule is it is more about how light or dark the skin is more than color differences.

However the other factor is our eyes and hair color. Complimentary and the same color are generally good on a person. Complimentary colors tend to make you pop more than the same colors.

The general rule which is often the most difficult to follow is always keeping it simple.

Lighting diagram used for examples

(2) Alienbees B1600
1-stop brighter on background than lights on subject

White backdrop
I recommend not having it perpendicular to the camera. Slight angle will help avoid light flare caused by light bouncing off background

(2) Alienbees B1600 with bounce white umbrellas

Nikon D4 with 28-300mm
No description for this item.

Tips for better profile photos

Clean and simple background inside.

All it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions.  This is how I started my blog about Skype Interview Tips.

Today if you do not have a profile photo you might look like a creeper on facebook.  There are 30 different types of profile photos according to Facebook

The discussion on LinkedIn is to have a profile photo.

I want to show you the variety of headshots you can have that are all similar except for one thing—the background.

Nice outdoor look for a background

As you look through these photos of my daughter Chelle, you may like one photo more than another, but notice how the background can set a mood, compliment or distract your attention.  Remember pretty much all the rest of the photo looks the same in all the photos.

I recommend a simple and clean background.  Next I recommend if your background has patterns or texture get as far away from the background so it is not so sharp and distracting.

The garage door is plain but the patterns are a little distracting
Background is simple and works OK

If want to make the photo outside go to the shade side of the house and have your subject face away from the house.  The open sky will light them and not direct sunlight.  This makes for softer light on the face.  Also, you can turn on your flash to add a catch light in the eye and give more life to the eyes.

To make your photo inside find a plain wall rather than a busy wallpaper or busy background objects.  Keep the light simple and soft, maybe a window for the light on the face.

If this is for something professional like for LinkedIn to find jobs, blog or website, get a professional to help you.  Remember you only have tenth of a second to make a good impression.

Background is OK, but is dark
Even tho subject isn’t next to background–it is still distracting
Background is distracting