Yehuda Levy's picture

Expression in your headshots


Have you ever thought about what your face looks like when you walk outside your house in the morning? I’m not talking about checking yourself out in the mirror before you go out. I’m talking about your facial expressions – how your face communicates what you’re thinking and feeling. Can you believe that your face has been on your head your whole life and you still don’t know what your expressions look like?!? Well, it’s true -- your brain has no clue as to what your face looks like when it creates an expression.

As a headshot photographer, the expression on the subject’s face is what can make or break the photograph.

So in order to get the best expression, we as photographers need to consciously take control and help create the best expression and bring it out of our subjects.

Peter Hurley, a New York based Headshot Photographer, author, educator, and founder of The Headshot Crew, has been working with the human face for over 15 years and has mastered the craft of headshot photography. He has created a recipe in headshot photography which will always get you the perfect headshot and blow your client’s mind.

Part of being a headshot photographer is also being a director. What do I mean by this? Well, in order to get a Confidant and Approachable look, (also known as C&A) we as the photographer need to take control over our client’s facial expression and DIRECT them into creating those expressions that we are looking for. We need to convince them to trust us.

There are those who will take our direction so well it seems that they are doing it on their own, and there are those who need to be directed throughout the whole session because they just can’t get it right. That is where we have to be at our best, stay vigilant, and keep control on our client’s expressions. Our direction is crucial for an outstanding headshot.

We need to have the technical aspects of the headshot down cold, so we can focus on directing. While our lighting is certainly important to a headshot, we should be working more on direction than our technique. Once we have our lighting down, we can use it on any face we photograph and never have to worry about it again. Although your lighting might stay the same for all your subjects, everyone’s face is different, and to get the same expression out of everyone we photograph is the hardest part of the job.

There are three main things on a human face that can move, but we are going to talk about two of them. The two things are our mouth and eyes and the third is eyebrows. We are going to speak about eyes and mouth.

We need to manipulate these two things in order to create C&A. So how do we do that? First the eyes. Confidence comes from the eyes. When a person is scared, what happen to their eyes? They open wide, just like deer in the headlights. When a person is confidant, what happens? The exact opposite – their eyes narrow.

So, in order to create a confidant look we need to narrow our eyes. Now, for most people, when you tell them to look confidant, they squint and narrow both the top and bottom lids of their eyes. The problem with this is you can’t see their eyes when they do this. They end up looking funny. The way to prevent this is to have the subject SQUINCH. Squinching is a word Peter Hurley made up, which means, “to narrow the distance between your pupils and your bottom eyelids.” So, what we want to have them do is raise the bottom lids without moving the top lids. Now, not everyone can do this because it’s not something we do naturally. But we can learn how to do it.

One problem with squinching is that if we were to squinch without a hint of a smile we would just look mean and unapproachable. So what we need to do is add a hint of a smile and combine the two in order to create C&A.

As headshot photographers, we never want to ask our subject to smile, because by saying “smile” we are creating a fake smile. Fake smiles rarely look good, unless the subject is really good at pretending to smile. Some people can make a fake smile look real, but not most people. What I like to do to get people to genuinely smile is this: I say, “Ok, give me a little smile. Ok, bigger, bigger, bigger, OK! LET SEE THAT SMILE!” and they start to laugh and I capture the smile. A genuine smile in a headshot is so contiguous it can start to make us laugh too, and that is the real feeling we want to portray in a headshot. It’s a genuine connection to keep us looking at the image and say, “I want to get to know this person! They look so fun and happy.”

So in conclusion, the headshot is all about expression and we as photographers need to learn how to draw out that ideal expression we are looking for to create the perfect image.


Yehuda Levy's picture

Quick thank you to Beth Madison for the professional edit kn the article.

Beth Madison's picture

My pleasure, Yehuda! Great job!

Pedro Jorge's picture

Very nice Yehuda! Where are you planning on publishing this article?

Yehuda Levy's picture

i have no clue! i got some good ideas earlier up in the comments. Do you have any ideas?

Jamie Kilgore's picture

Wow, very well written YUehuda! You should definitely publish! Great work!!