Author headshot for Anne Helen Petersen

Headshot sessions fascinate me because of the gamut of people that end up in front of my camera. The authors that I've worked with have been some of my favorite clients and Anne Helen Petersen definitely fits into that category. Writing is definitely a skill that for the most part eludes me but as is the case with photography, I'm always impressed with people that are able to make careers out of endeavors that for the most part, everyone does. 


The author portraits of Anne Helen Petersen were for her timely book titled - 'Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman' - published last summer. Photographing authors opens up literary genres that normally would not be part of my usual reading list but I'm always curious to read their work after getting to know them through my headshot sessions. Ten "unruly" women are profiled in Petersen's book, from Serena Williams being labeled as "too strong" to Hillary Clinton's characterization as being "too shrill." The book is a great read and definitely hits home for me. I'm lucky to have a couple unruly women in my life and make no mistake about it - this is definitely still a man's world - but the book provides a little hope that change does happen through strong women that are resilient to the attacks they inevitably endure. 


Why YOU Need a Professional Headshot

Let’s face it, fair or not, humans formulate opinions based on appearance within a fraction of a second and that is not hyperbole - two Princeton psychologists found that it takes merely a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face.

I’m going to venture a guess and say that the experience and education you bring to your field took more than a tenth of a second to acquire. Don’t let your professional brand be jeopardized by a poor headshot -- perhaps the one a friend took of you at a bar or a not-so-professional setting, or the overfiltered, grainy Instagram selfie from last week. And as it relates to a business, employees are often referred to as a company’s greatest asset so don’t cheapen your brand by having bad photos of your people.

Professional headshots aren't what you remember from grade school

But here is where I need to alter your perception from that of a traditional headshot. When you think of getting your portrait taken at a studio, maybe you are harkened back to the 1980’s images like this:

I didn't want to pick on anyone else's embarrassing photo so I created this glorious self-portrait without the consent of my dog and part-time assistant, Buddy.

I didn't want to pick on anyone else's embarrassing photo so I created this glorious self-portrait without the consent of my dog and part-time assistant, Buddy.

Remember the tenth of a second judgement discussed earlier? If someone is seeing your face for the first time via a headshot on social media, what would you want them to take away?

Confidence with approachability

If you are thinking about doing business with someone for the first time, what will your impression be if they look like they are either nervous, uncomfortable, or boring in their headshot? This is where the confidence is obviously important. Whether you are hiring someone or doing business with them, you are trusting them with your time and money, and their appearance of confidence is going to do a lot to provide you with the confidence that they have the ability to get the job done. On the other hand, confidence without approachability isn’t exactly desirable and most of the time can leave you with a perception of arrogance. And who wants to work with, or give their time or money to, a prick? No one. Approachability in a headshot portrays that people can work with you, trust you, and enjoy being around you. (Full disclosure: "confidence with approachability" is a phrase I learned from the headshot master - Peter Hurley)

Getting the look

Choosing the right photographer is key to getting the confidence with approachability look, and it’s the responsibility of the photographer - not you - to create that moment. Face it (I know, bad pun), getting your headshots taken can be intimidating. The setting is just you, the photographer, a camera, and a bunch of lights. There are no candid moments like that of a wedding photographer taking pictures of the groom when he first sees the beautiful bride (or groom). The moment has to be created, by the photographer, to make you forget that you are in front of the camera which can be tough to do when it is less than five feet from your face.

So when it comes to selecting a headshot photographer, take a look at their work and more specifically their subjects’ expressions. All professionals should be able to provide a well-lit, properly composed photograph but the differentiator is in the expression. You’ve only got a tenth of a second to make an impression so make sure you are hiring a headshot photographer that will bring out the best in you.

Executive Headshots in a Crunch

More often than not, when it comes to shooting headshots of executives, time is limited and this held true for a recent shoot of the new Chairman of Arup Americas - Andy Howard. But that wasn't the only reason I was crunched for time on this particular shoot. Normally when I've been hired to shoot headshots at businesses in Manhattan, I bring a certificate of liability insurance specific to the building. But this shoot was a last minute call, a couple hours beforehand, so getting a certificate wasn't going to be possible in that timeframe. When I arrived at Arup's downtown office, it seemed that the building security might not let me in. After chatting with the building security for about 30 minutes including multiple calls between Arup and the security guard, I was finally allowed to enter, phew! 

At this point, I had about 20 minutes to scout locations and create two different lighting setups - the client wanted a headshot of the Chairman with the adjacent building in the background and then another headshot on a white background. I ended up getting both setups finished right as Andy came into the room for his shoot. At that point we had approximately 10 minutes to nail headshots at both setups before he had to attend another meeting. It was definitely a little stressful but we had fun and ended up with some great shots. Here are two of the six Arup ended up acquiring from the shoot:


The headshot above was the photograph selected by Arup for Andy's profile page and press release announcing his promotion to Chairman of the Americas.


Gravitating to Gray

Although most of my headshots are shot on white seamless backdrops, it is fun to mix it up to achieve a different look. Changing the background to gray or black gives a completely different feel to the image and can be better suited to complement certain expressions by toning down the overall mood of the image. Check out how the gray matches the quiet confidence expressed in this headshot of writer/director Jess Carson:


Now compare that image to the headshot below and you can see how the white background is more suited for her expression of playful exuberance:


Another item to note is the use of fill lighting in the two images. Although both images used essentially the same angle on the main light, the amount of fill light was reduced in the first image to further enhance the drama by deepening the shadows on her face. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes commentary in future blog posts!

Headshots for Gibney Dance

Actors are not the only performers that need headshots! Recently I had the pleasure of shooting headshots for eight dancers from Gibney Dance. Gibney Dance is a pretty cool nonprofit where one of their missions is uniting victims of domestic violence with dancers "to bring the possibility of self-expression where it would otherwise not exist."