Four Keys to Headshot Photography Part Two


Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Bryan Duncan CD Cover – “Conversations”

Continuing with our four part series on the Four Keys to Headshot Photography, by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan, we are going delve into Four Keys to Headshot Photography Part TwoPositioning. Though my series was written so each of the four factors are meaningful on their own, I do advise taking a quick look at section one, Planning, just to get you up to speed and give you a greater sense of not only where we are going, but why. Once you’ve had time to absorb factor two, the next two are Painting and Expression.


Ask yourself, what is the client before you trusting you to accomplish? The reason I ask is that it’s vital to know the essence of your primary goal. Hint: the answer is not “to create a good photograph.” Sure, it may be why they chose you or articulated what they needed, but at the heart of why they are standing in your studio, trust me, it’s not just for the Headshot.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Headshot for Travel Agency Executive

It’s Headshot day. Now that your client is standing in front of you, looking their best with expectations running high, what next? Again, this blog post is not the proper forum for an exhaustive recitation, but there is a pivotal mindset, if effectuated, will go a long way to making your Headshots stand out from the crowd. At the heart of the matter, your new client chose you because they feel they can rely on you to make them appear confident and trustworthy. I strongly suggest that somewhere in your session, this tidbit of inside knowledge somehow find its way into your conversation. For me, it will come out when I’ve taken an exposure that I feel exudes confidence, and out pops, “Yes, that was very nice – that’s a very confident look.” Frequently, they’ll stop me and ask for the exposure number… You see, looking credible, confident and worthy of trust is what they truly desire. Your mission then is to position them in such a way so that when your lovely headshot is posted on their web/social sites, people will gaze at their face and think to themselves, “Now, here’s someone I can trust.” That’s it! – in the proverbial nutshell.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Four Keys to Headshot Photography – Fred Beato and David Pack

As a headshot photographer, I’ve ruminated about how others approach new faces and make their first impressions. In other words, I’ve carefully weighed which design elements attract, engendering confidence, and which turn people away? I then do my best to incorporate these features when designing my client’s headshot.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Headshot of Model on Beach – breaking my “rule” of turning client’s body at 45º.

Therefore, it should follow, a headshot photographer would do best to consider not only the client, but the client’s audience.

Are you with me so far?

Okay then, let’s get specific. We need to pay special attention – I am going to delve into a patch of psychology

So then, please consider that regardless of how hectic a person’s schedule, even the most successful among us will nonetheless make time for those who are of value to them. Yes, they may soon be flying out of town, running down the road for an important meeting, or simply rushing to be home with family. Regardless, it does not mean that they are not passionate about people and are not willing to take a moment out of their day to attend to others.

Though there are exceptions to just about every rule (including this one), it’s a truism that people want to do business with people who are busy, which they equate to being successful.

As this relates to “positioning”, active people are not likely to sit in lapdog like fashion, over eager to be liked or elicit approval. Why? They’ve got too much on their plate. After all, they’ve got places to go and people to see!

Quickly then, revisiting my notion of considering the client’s audience, I’ve noticed that people tend not to respond well to brick-walls. They are viewed as obstacles to overcome. Rarely do we think in terms of interacting with a barrier. Needless to say, the straight-on, imposing positioning of the client’s torso may not only be subconsciously interpreted as being deficient and unprosperous, but also not user-friendly.

Therefore, though not always the case, but again as a general rule, I tend to turn my client’s body away from camera center, at around at 45 degrees. Such is the attitude of positioning my clients for a Headshot portrait. My clients are moving forward and going places, but they also have made time to acknowledge the viewer by turning their head toward the camera. After all, their audience is important to them. The successful headshot communicates this fundamental message of acknowledging the viewer.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Headshots: Johnny Stanton – Cornhusker Quaterback

Once I’ve entered my camera room with my client, a typical headshot will begin by making non-verbal clues for my subject to sit on a three tiered set of stairs (I never been fond of posing stools), adjacent to my 6′ Larson Soft Box.

On a side note, I also wrap phone books in packaging tape and employ them as height adjusters. My phonebooks keeps torsos fairly straight as they sit. This helps to avoid the slouch, which can add years, weight and a tired looking client.

If my client’s have sat with their feet together on the same step, I kindly instruct them to place one foot either higher or lower than the other. I usually do not tell them which leg to switch, or at what step to position it. My goal is simply that they remind their body how to sit in a relaxed fashion, not positioned in the classic “toilet-bowl” pose.

At this point clients will relax even more, frequently resting/supporting their body upon their highest leg. Once they do, more natural expressions are soon to follow, or at least ones that are more freely released.

As the  conversation between my client and me proceeds, and I’m asking them to share more about their vocation, they typically begin to settle in even more and their seating arrangement becomes their own. This is usually a matter no more than a few minutes. Once relaxed, I’ll begin to slowly walk towards my tripod (which I rarely use), pickup my Canon 5D Mark II and begin creating exposures (I am aware I have not mentioned tweaking my light to their face – this is yet for another blog, Part Three, “Paint with Light”).

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Headshot Photography – Michael E. Gerber

Mind you, I as walk to the center of my camera room the client will frequently attempt to also turn their body toward me. However, as they do, I gently instruct them to stay comfortable, or say something like: “That’s OK, all I need is the attention of your face – your body is great where it is.”

The idea is to not necessarily tell them what to do, but rather give them permission to stay at ease. You see, for me, having my client’s torsos not only turned away, but that they do so of their own accord, engenders a more natural, honest reflection of who they are.

Remember, when their bodies are not facing the camera, it also denotes a feeling of motion, activity and enterprise – success. That is, they’re going places and have things to do (psychology speaking)! However, in spite of all they appear to have going on in their busy, exciting world, they still have time for their audience and are stopping but for a minute to look in their direction.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Executive at Strictly Vacations, Travel Agency – Santa Barbara

They’re in effect saying “I see you. You are important to me.” Thus, and by now obviously so, my client’s faces are turned back toward the camera (and sometimes not, as in the photographs of David Pack or Bryan Duncan), telling their audience that they matter to them.

Okay, so you might be thinking, “No duh, I do all the time!” Yes, this is probably true. But up until now, did you understand why? Did you consider the psychology behind the aesthetic?

It’s the mindset. It’s like the rudder of a ship. The rudder is such a small device, especially compared to the enormity of the vessel that contains it, but the rudder determines the direction that vessel with travel – ever more so when it comes to the successful Headshot session.

I know it’s much easier to simply paint-by-the-numbers, but once you understand why you do what you do, it will effect every aspect of your decision process. Not only that, it will help you position your clients naturally, effectively, and bring out their character. Along the way, you’ll also advance the relevance and credibility quotient of your headshots to new heights.

So then, is this everything there is to know about “positioning”? Not even close. However, this IS a blog, and I’ve already sped past the typical 500 word blog length (by over 1,000 words), which, I am told, is “snooze-inducing.” Hope I kept you awake.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography | Part Two by Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography

Band CD Cover – Flail

This concludes Four Keys to Headshot Photography Part Two. Part Three, PAINTING WITH LIGHT, is next.

So then, when it is all said and done, how might a Headshot photographer know that the session went well?

A successful Headshot photographer is one who often hears from his clients: “My goodness, THAT was quick/fun!” Or my favorite: “Boy, that was painless!” Should you be fortunate to hear these compliments, or variations thereof, count yourself a blessed photographer – move on, and then repeat for a lifetime.

Should you like to learn more than Four Keys to Headshot Photography Part One was able to convey,  you might want to inquire about my LOYD Program (lunch on your dime). Should you wish to then learn in a more intensive course, my consulting fees are reasonable. I am passionate about sharing my knowledge.

Anyone wishing to explore the possibility of having our studio create their professional headshot, the next step is to either contact us by email or give us a call (949.888.8071). I’ll spend whatever time it takes to familiarize you with prices and process, as well as arrange a time to meet and discuss your Headshot needs.

Mark Jordan
Master Craftsman Photographer
American Society of Photographers
International Photography Hall of Fame & Museum
Orange County Photographer of the Year
3-Time Honoree -EPCOT’S World’s Greatest Photographers Exhibit

When looking for a professional Orange County Family Portraits photographer, or Orange County Headshots Photographer please call 949-888-8071 or complete our online request form.

Four Keys to Headshot Photography Part Two

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