How to Take Your Own Headshots

Do you need professional headshots fast? Is your website designer pestering you for an updated “about page” photo? Are you just starting your business and need headshots on a budget?

Here’s the solution: you can take your own headshots with your cell phone.

But you don’t have to just take a selfie and call it a headshot. No sirree bob.  You can take a photo that doesn’t look like a selfie.

(For the record: this is a selfie. With my cell phone. Not a headshot.)

Lighting your own headshots

The first step to taking your own headshots is to find your lighting. The goal is to avoid awkward shadows, make your eyes sparkle, and minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

These two photos were taken in the exact same place, but in the left photo my back is to a window. My eyes are dark and sunken, the lines around my eyes are more pronounced, and my face looks wider.

By pivoting about 45 degrees, the window light is sparkling in my eyes and everything about my face looks more flattering.

In sum: face a window for easy flattering light.

Pro tip: intentionally choose the background.  Do you need a neutral, solid color for your headshot? Find a wall that suits that need. Don’t let your headshot be ruined by a stack of dirty dishes or pile of unpaid bills.

Angles for Your Cell Phone Headshots

Your goal in taking your own headshots is to intentionally craft the image the showcases the best you in a professional manner. Picking your angle is crucial to that goal.

The camera needs to be at eye level or a little higher.  I repeat: at eye level or a little higher.  Watch how the double chin disappears and my eyes grow in size  just by moving the camera a few inches higher.

Pro Tip: The object closer to the camera will appear the largest.  When in doubt, let the eyes have it.

Use a Tripod for your Cell Phone Headshots

So far, all these photos were taken hand-held, at arms length to demonstrate lighting and angle. But check out what happens when I put my cell phone on a tripod, add in a prop, and aim for a natural smile.

Boom.  Lifestyle portrait perfect for a website “about me” page.

Tripods are the cell phone photographer’s secret weapon.  They’re small, light-weight, and transform a selfie into a self portrait. Plus, a tripod is cheaper than a photographer’s fee. Promise. 😉

Pro Tip: Use Portrait Mode and the Self Timer.  Most cell phones these days have both. The portrait mode allows for you to turn a distracting background (my kitchen, in this example) into an asset. And self timer? Allows me to take a photo without actually touching the camera.

Editing Your Cell Phone Headshots

The goal of your cell phone headshots is a flattering image. Editing isn’t necessary, but it can help the photo sparkle (without actually sparkling of course!).   The effect of edits should be subtle (I don’t want to notice the filter!) so be mindful of the full effect; don’t get carried away by dramatic tone shifts and funky options.

My final suggestion? Be happy so you look happy. Take time to practice smiling – know how to smize (smile with your eyes) – so that you can reflect the you that clients will see in person.

Take Excellent Photos with Your Phone

You might think great photography is all about  the camera you use, the lens you choose or the editing you do.

While toys and tools can be beneficial (and fun!), you don’t need to go out and buy a new camera in hopes of improving your photographs.

Start with implementing a few of these tips. 

Photo Tip 1:  PUT THE LIGHT BEHIND THE CAMERA

When in doubt, put the light behind the camera. As in, be in the shade but with your subject facing the light.

Inside your house? Use a window to create good light. Stand with the window behind the camera and the subject facing the window. 

Outside? Stand under a tree (diffusing the harshness of the sunlight!) with your back to the yard and the subject facing the yard.

Now, full disclosure, my next tip will be to put the light behind the subject, so there’s always an exception to every rule.

The underlying goal is to know your light and know what will work best in your circumstances.

Photo Tip 2:  PUT THE LIGHT BEHIND THE SUBJECT.

Remember how I said in my last tip that I was about to contradict myself? Yup, here we go.⁠

In photography, the goal is to know the rules so you can break the rules.⁠

I repeat: KNOW the rules so you can BREAK the rules. ⁠

Fun fact: I am hard-core a rule follower so if you are hearing from me to break the rules, you KNOW I believe that’s the most important rule.

See, putting the light source behind you is great for solid photos and is essential for indoor photography or if you’re trying to minimize wrinkles (uh huh, that’s your pro tip: softer light means fewer visible wrinkles), but for truly magical photos I believe the key is backlight. ⁠

Sometimes the backlight is creating a dramatic magic like during this mountain top sunrise, but sometimes the backlight is just softly kissing the back of your head for a warm glow of happy definition.⁠

But ultimately the key is to know your light and make intentional decisions about what you’re doing with the light.⁠

Photo Tip 3: MOVE YOUR FEET 

Some photos are, admittedly, about being in the right place at the right time. ⁠ Like on a mountaintop at sunrise as a backpacker crosses the stream.

But other photos are about creating the right place at the right time. 

The principle stands: move your feet! ⁠  You may not be able to hike a mountain for sunrise but you can move forward in a crowd to photograph Niagara Falls without the fence in the photo.   

⁠ No zoom lens or fancy camera or radical preset can make up for a sloppy composition or lazy photographer. Move a few steps toward your subject, or a few steps to the right/left. Know what you want in the frame and move a few steps to get it.⁠

Photo Tip 4: KNOW YOUR CAMERA.⁠

Your camera is going to take fine pictures no matter what you do, BUT here’s the thing: YOU ARE SMARTER THAN YOUR CAMERA (sit on that for a minute: you are smarter than a computer!). You just need to KNOW how to speak its language and what settings to experiment with so that you can photograph the moment you want to remember. 

Maybe that means exploring portrait mode or maybe you should tap to expose or maybe you just need to know how to turn off (or on!) the flash.

I can teach you more in my course “Take Excellent Photos with Your Phone”—start to finish, including footage from an actual shoot, I will show you how to take amazing photos that you’ll be proud to print and enjoy for years to come.