Although I would much rather be taking pictures of food, this past week I had to bite the bullet and take some pictures of… myself. I really hate having my picture taken, and I know I’m not alone. But in this age of the digital portfolio, a great head shot can go a long way in presenting yourself to your audience, be it clients, readers, customers, or potential employers.
This is not a “selfie” – it’s a professional self portrait. I think that many bloggers, and even business people in all types of fields, make the mistake of using a casual “selfie” as their profile picture on their website or even as their email photo. A few weeks ago my husband asked me to take some pictures of him to use in his professional email, and I realized that he was onto something. I had procrastinated enough with my own, and it was time to face my fear of being photographed and just do it.
In a world where money is no object, I would have gone to a professional, paid to have my hair and make-up done and had the photos taken. In fact, when I asked for tips on my facebook and instagram accounts, many fellow bloggers highly suggested that I hire this out. I don’t necessarily think this advice was wrong, but right now I am not making large (or even small) amounts of money with my blog, so before I hired this out, I wanted to use the resources I had and try doing it myself. I’m actually really glad I did, and I learned quite a few things along the way. In addition, I’ll also tell you about some things I have learned about photography in general these past couple of years that have contributed to my success with not only this self portrait, but with my improved photography in general.
Use Natural Light
First things first: use natural light. This might seem like a no brainer to some people, but in case you are a total photography newbie, the best light is natural light. To be more clear, do not have artificial yellow indoor lights on or anywhere near where you are taking photos. I took my photos in my guest bedroom because the biggest window in my apartment is in that room. The window was on my right, and it wasn’t an overly sunny day. Cloudy days are actually great for photography, but if you have to take your photo on a really sunny day, you can put a thin, light colored bed sheet over the window to get the same effect. I took my photos in the late morning, so the sun wasn’t shining directly in the window. And of course, there were no other indoor lights on in the room.
Use a Few Key Tools
Whether you are taking this photo all by your lonesome, or even if you have a buddy to press shoot for you, use a tripod. I have a very inexpensive tripod, and it’s a worthwhile investment because it can help with all sorts of photography shots and help prevent camera shake. Me and my husband set it up to the left of the big window, about 3-4 feet away from the window and about 7-10 feet away from the wall I was standing in front of. I used the self timer feature on my camera which allowed me to have ten seconds to get ready for the shot.
When it comes to your camera, use what you have until you feel you have to upgrade. I started learning about photography with just my iPhone5, and with just an camera phone you can learn a lot about light and composition with lots of practice. But I have since graduated to an entry level DSLR. I use a Canon Rebel and I highly recommend it for people starting out and exploring photography.When I say entry level, I mean that you will spend hundreds, not thousands. For almost a year I shot in automatic mode on the camera, just with the lens that it came with, and my pictures still improved ten fold. With the digital camera, my shots were clearer and less grainy. After a while, I grew to the point where I wanted to be able to control the camera more and choose where my focus point was, and manipulate how much light the camera was letting in the lens. At this point, I knew I was ready to learn about shooting in a manual mode.
I learned the basics of shooting in manual mode from this blog post on ClickItUpANotch.com, and I am currently working to master those techniques before I move onto more advanced photography. Let me tell you, shooting in manual mode was extremely daunting at first, but that blog post explains it VERY well. After just a few shots of shooting in manual mode it wasn’t so scary after all, but I realized immediately I was ready to buy a new lens. To achieve the lower aperture I was learning about with manual mode, I selected this lens. As far as lenses go, it’s one of the least expensive upgrade options, and while I may buy a more expensive lens down the road that has more capability for different types of shots, the one I bought is what I consider an “entry level” lens that broadens my abilities, without breaking my bank.
That being said, I did shoot my head shot in manual mode. I achieved this by using my husband as a stand in so that I could adjust the aperture and focus manually, then he left the apartment for work and I was free to relax by myself and not feel as self conscious. If you don’t have someone you could have stand in your spot while you adjust the shot manually, you can always shoot in automatic mode. If you are using a camera phone, many times you can still fix it on a tri-pod and use a timer feature or app right on your phone.
Try Several Backgrounds
My personal feeling is that less is better. A while back I tried to take a few pictures of my husband in front of a brick wall because I thought it would be “artsy,” but I felt it was really just too busy for my tastes. So for this self-portrait, I decided I wanted simple. I tried it first just in front of the plain off-white wall in my apartment. Not bad, but not great.
Then I taped my “chalkboard” vinyl photography backdrop on the wall and stood in front of that. MUCH better. It just made my skin tone glow better. Everyone’s skin tone is different, so try a light background and a dark background. You don’t have to buy a photography background, and instead you can run down to the dollar store and get a white poster and a black poster and try each one.
BUT if you are looking to up your photography, and especially food photography, vinyl backdrops can be a great option. They are easier to store than bulky wood surfaces, you can clean them easily if food spills, and they are pretty cost effective. I have about 4 different ones from a brand called Swanky Prints and I love them!
Try a Few, Simple Outfits
Just like the shade of the background made a difference, the different shirts I wore made a difference too. I knew I didn’t want a print, so I ironed a few different options. I thought about taking one in a chef coat, but the ones I have right now are red and blue. I tried on the red one, and decided almost immediately I didn’t like the way it made my face appear too rosy. Plus, I just wasn’t feeling the chef coat vibe. I also tried an apron over a white shirt. Since it was a head shot, the apron just looked weird. Might be better in a full body shot, but not here, so I took that off and tried just the plain white T…. and that was the winner.
I tried a few different necklaces and went with a multi-colored beaded necklace. Not crazy, but just interesting enough against the white t shirt and the black chalkboard background. For my husband’s head shots, he wore something he wears to work regularly – a collared shirt, a tie and a bright sweater, and he looks great against a white background.
Simple Hair and Makeup
This was a tip from a few friends, but honestly I don’t wear elaborate make up anyway, so I they just reinforced what I already thought initially. I tried photos with my hair curled and with it straight, and I personally thought it looked better in the photo with it straighter. You want to look put together, but not elaborate, clean and pretty, but not overly made up.
As for the make-up, part of the success I can attribute to switching my make-up a while back to Jane Iredale. Jane Iredale has a reputation for looking great in photographs anyway, but it also happens to be mineral based, gluten free, and great for your skin in general. When I switched last fall, I started with this starter kit to see if I would like it. The samples were small, but I fell in love with the make-up.
Now I use the Smooth Affair Primer first, which smells great and works well as a moisturizer and primer. I use the Circle Delete #2 under my eyes, on my eyelids and on any blemishes, and then I brush my entire face with the Amazing Base Loose Powder in Warm Silk. Then I use a darker shade of the Pure Pressed Base in Coffee to contour my face, which is great for me because I have a very round face. Contouring creates more definition in my face, and makes it appear slightly slimmer. I brush the Coffee shade on the very top of my forehead at my hair line, under my cheeks, on the sides of my nose, and under my chin. To apply both the base and the darker contour shade, I use this awesome Mac brush. I happen to like blush, so I use the Rose Dawn Bronzer on the apples of my cheeks. For eyes, I use Jane Iredale eyeliner on the tops only, and Tarte Gifted Mascara heavily on the top, and just lightly on the bottom lashes. Tarte mascara is the best ever, and is also mineral based and gluten free, and does not bother my eyes like literally every other mascara I have tried. For lips, I used Nars Lip Gloss in Greek Holiday and Jane Iredale Lip Pencil in Earth Red, but blotted so it wasn’t too much lip.
Basically, this is the same makeup I wear for everyday, but I went slightly heavier on the contour shade and the mascara than I normally would have. I want my makeup to enhance the features I like the most, not detract from them. I want people to see me, not my make up. That’s my opinion anyway.
If You Think You Aren’t Photogenic, You Might Just Need Practice
I do not feel like I am photogenic.That does not mean that I think I am ugly, I just don’t feel like I look as good in photos as I do when I look in the mirror. For instance, my brother’s girlfriend has a BEAUTIFUL, toothy smile with great teeth, and looks wonderful in every singe picture, every single time. She does not take a bad photo. (She’s also a beautiful, kind person to boot!) But my smile is nothing like hers. My natural smile with teeth looks crooked and forced, so I practiced a closed mouth smile. I think it works great for me because I am naturally a pensive, quiet person, and it conveys that nicely. Find your best smile with teeth or without, practice a bunch and use that. I’m also one of those people who has “resting bitch face,” which means that my natural default face looks like I’m angry, even when I’m not thinking about anything – it’s just true. I also have a round face, and I’m not the thinnest girl, so if I hold my face at the wrong angle, hello double chin! To say the least, I get very nervous about taking a photo. I also found that I needed to actively try and not squint when I smile, raise my eyebrows just a little, and keep my eyes wide, but “happy.”
So I practiced for a good long while taking many throw-away pictures figuring out which position made my face look the way I see it when I look in the mirror. Honestly, I think there is no set pose that works for everyone. Some people have a good side, and I discovered that I look best straight on. Some people suggested chin up, some said chin down. Chin up made me look ridiculous, but maybe it works for some. I found that if I leaned forward just a bit, stuck my neck out just a bit, angled my chin slightly down, and put my arms together behind my back… that was my sweet spot. It took a lot of practice to find it, and lots of trail and error. Which brings me to my next point…
Take Your Time
This took me a while. If you aren’t naturally photogenic, be prepared to take many photos to get that one that looks passable. See that collage above? That’s just a fraction of the photos I took. Not all winners. Now, you will always be your own worst critic, and I know I am. I thought this process would be disparaging, and although it was hard at first to take a bunch of terrible pictures, it got better. I started to find what worked, and I practiced that over and over and eventually got a photo I was really proud of, but there were LOTS of photos I immediately deleted off the camera, and even still many more that I discarded once I looked at them in the editing process. All photography is a game of numbers – take a LOT of photos to get a few you love. Over time it will take fewer numbers of photos to get “the shot” but in the beginning especially, take a LOT of photos.
Headshot Katy Galvin
I’m really happy I did this. I got one great self portrait photo that I am really proud of, and coming from someone as un-photogenic as me – that’s really something. I’ve already used this photo in so many different places, and it makes me feel that much more professional and confident. So don’t procrastinate as long as I did – bite the bullet and get a great professional head shot you can be proud of, for a fraction of the cost of a full blown photo shoot.