Whenever I do a head shot session for an actor, musician or entrepreneur, I look at it as an opportunity to forge a genuine connection with the person in front of my cameras so that they come across authentically in their final portrait, and that their images are in line with their brand.

Primo Head Shot Tips

No matter what line of business we’re in, we’re all brands! Our personalities, how we dress and how we interact with others are all part of our brand, and capturing that in a photograph or a photo series can prove to be a challenge.

Here are my four best tips for creating authentic head shots:

1. Really Get to Know Your Client

I always recommend that photographers spend time getting to know their clients before the day of the shoot. Not only does this help create a sense of trust to combat day-of jitters, but it also gives plenty of opportunity for you to foster communication with your client and get to know what they hope to achieve with their photographs.

Getting to know the client also gives you a chance to understand their fears, where your services can solve their problems, and how to provide increasingly better service as time goes on.

Consultations with me are also a must! If I can’t meet a potential client for coffee then we schedule a Skype date and I go through a series of questions with them to help me understand their business and the value that they provide.

For a larger shoot where I am providing a series of images for a website, there might be several meetings before we get into the studio. While this means I do a lot of work up front, it also helps me create images that my clients feel truly resonate with who they are.


2. Have them Identify their Target Clients and “Branding Words”

For a recent shoot with a client, Rachel, who is a Life Coach, we had several meetings where we dug into her brand identity and looked at the overall market together to see what other brands and websites she was resonating with.

I asked her about her ideal client and what that person is experiencing before they encounter Rachel’s services, as well as what she wants them to feel as they browse her website, and finally end up contacting her to set up a relationship.

During our conversations words like Graceful, Authentic, Connected, Depth, and Self-Empowerment were coming up again and again. Because Rachel’s brand of coaching is an extension of herself, I wanted to make sure that our photos communicated those ideas.

If I were working with an actor, I would want to know the kinds of companies they are looking to be hired by, or the kinds of commercials they want to be considered for.

This also requires that the client has a clear idea of themselves and their messages before they step in front of the camera.

If a client isn’t clear, it makes your job a lot more difficult. I also never try to sell a client on a larger package than what they’re ready for – if they only need a single head shot to get them started, then that’s what I recommend.

While there are some photographers out there who will create a brand identity for a client, that’s not where I do my best work. So I look for a level of clarity from my clients before recommending any of my more extensive packages.


3. Coach Your Client through Posing and Connection

During a session I almost never stop talking or moving, so I always have a lot of water on hand.

Unless you’re working with a professional model, dead air is a confidence killer in the studio. I’m always showing the client the pose, letting them mirror me, and then talking them through tiny tweaks.

I jokingly call the posing “Photography Yoga,” because I understand that they feel like they’re stretching and moving their bodies in unfamiliar ways. Letting them know that I relate to how they feel is important, as is giving them positive feedback while they’re moving.

If a pose isn’t working, I don’t communicate that. I simply say, “Great, let’s move on to the next pose! Now what I want you to do is:_____.” That way they don’t feel as though they’ve failed and I haven’t lost the connection or their trust.

The same thing goes with expression. I watch the client’s eyes the entire time during our session. If I feel tension in their expression, we take a break and work out our facial muscles together. Yes, I make the silly faces with them!

If I feel like I’m losing connection, I change things up. In a recent session I saw my client begin to fade before we were finished, so I suggested a water break, a wardrobe change, and a quick walk outside to see if we could find some fun outdoor locations. It was a great way to revive her energy and focus.

4. Create Variety and Value

If I book someone for a basic headshot session, and they feel that they got enough value to upgrade to a larger package when we’re doing our viewing then I always let them know that it’s an option.

Using locations and wardrobe is another great way to create an immense variety for clients to choose from, and therein create another level of value for them. Just make sure that these choices are relevant and resonate with the brand identity that you’ve previously established.

For example, if you’re working with a yoga instructor, you will want to look for locations that give a sense of peace and enlightenment – like a park or a zen studio. Unless the instructor has a brand that is all about finding zen within an the harshness and waste of an urban environment, you won’t likely want to be shooting in an abandoned industrial park.

By the same token, if you’re photographing a lawyer, you will want to advise them to stay away from wardrobe choices like flowing tunic tops – again, unless they are a humanitarian vegan lawyer who is crusading in third world countries for human rights.

So for my client Rachel, I wanted to create a few looks that spoke to her professionalism and education, so we did a few looks with crisp blazers and simple jewelry. These would be images that she would use if she were speaking at a high-level conference or were to publish a book someday.


We also wanted something that spoke to her softer side, so we created some casual looks that gave you a peek into who she is as a person.


Lastly, because she works with a lot of clients via technology, I wanted to create images that gave a sense of physical context. So we looked for places that would make a visitor understand the environment in which she works: doorways, porches, and a welcoming back patio.


Once the shoot is over and you’ve sent the client their proofing gallery, there are still ways to provide value. I always offer to go through the client’s favorite images with them to see which would work best for their website or project. This is where a lot of my upgrades happen, as well as discussions for future shoots.

With these tips in mind, you clients will feel more confident and guided through their experience from start to finish and hopefully you’ll have return clients who spread the love about your amazing work!



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Published by Jen Kiaba

Jen Kiaba is an award winning Fine Art and Portrait Photographer working in the Hudson Valley, New York. Her images have been used by New York Times Bestselling Authors, on book covers world wide, and on websites like To see more of her work, visit her website (linked below).

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