Headshot Style and Spec Considerations

On occasion, I get inquiries (usually from corporate marketing or HR professionals) where they are quick to indicate that they're only interested in 'outdoor' or 'natural light' headshots. In other cases, they might indicate that there's a corporate spec requirement from headquarters, or that I must shoot on a certain backdrop type or color. Most of this is generally fine. If you have preferences as to the backdrop color, style or other non-human components in the headshot, you should certainly share those things with any headshot photographer candidates that you're speaking with to be certain that they can provide something to your liking.

However, it's very important not to prioritize those things above the quality of the human expressions you see in a photographer's work. After all, the headshot is primarily about a head - specifically, yours! Unless your hands are tied by corporate spec, you should NEVER choose a photographer solely based on the type of light or backdrop they specialize in - it should always come down to their ability to coach and direct you to a good shot coupled with solid technical skills. Busy backgrounds can become distracting very quickly, and unless they are well blurred, outdoor scenes can detract more than they add. There are different styles of corporate photography (such as environmental portraits) that are well served by a good environment in the background, but a commercial headshot is not one of them in my opinion. I've chosen to showcase clean, simple backdrops in my portfolio. However, I shoot a lot of different backdrops and specs for my clients based on their requests. The main ingredient in any case is a happy human, so be sure to keep sight of that.

Speaking of natural light - there is a misnomer that natural light is somehow better than artificial light for headshots and portraits. It's true that natural light can be very flattering, soft and generally a beautiful method of lighting people when deployed correctly. However, other than these properties - quality (color rendering), color, intensity, size and direction - light is light whether it comes from the sun or elsewhere. Any photographer that tries to convince you otherwise is lacking some technical understanding that might be hindering their abilities. I've seen it many times where a photographer who lacks studio lighting skills may tout 'natural light' as the only way you should go simply because they have nothing else to offer. This is a disservice to their clients, as studio lighting can provide a consistency that can't likely be achieved in any natural light situation. For example, if you have a small team of people that need headshots across more than one location or more than one date, natural light with an outdoor background may be a poor choice due to the inability to keep all of the shots consistent. Likewise, a photographer who refuses to provide outdoor or natural lighting by request may not have the skills or experience to pull that off either. Any conversation about creating headshot photography across multiple dates or locations should include discussion about lighting techniques, backdrops and consistency. If those things aren't discussed up front, it's probably not reasonable to expect stability for your team's headshots across locations and time.

John Glover