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7 Headshot Photography Mistakes Beginners Make and How to Avoid Them

Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you have to act like one
Photo of headshot photography

Shooting headshots is a great way to make money as a photographer but it’s not as easy as it may look. In fact, because headshot photos are something clients will likely use nearly every day whether they’re an actor or a real estate agent, if you make them look bad, they will likely never want to hire you again.

Consequently, it’s easy to make headshot photography mistakes, particularly if you’re a beginner. In the below video, pro photographer Pete Coco shares seven headshot photography mistakes beginners make and tells you how to avoid them.

“I truly believe we are in a golden age of headshot photography,” Coco says. “In this post-pandemic world, your image and online presence has become more important than ever and the need for high quality headshots and portraits is probably at its highest level in decades. Having said that, it’s become incredibly difficult to become a master at headshots. So today I want to detail seven mistakes that beginner headshot photographers make in order to help you avoid these common pitfalls.”

Mistake #1: No Calibration

“One of the easiest things to do which beginners often overlook is to calibrate your monitor,” he notes. “As a beginner this seemed incredibly complex to me for some reason, so I avoided doing it and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But it’s as simple as getting a calibration device and spending ten minutes running a tool to ensure that your colors are correct.”

Mistake #2: Awkward Poses

“Awkward turns and poses. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: beginners often want to overdo it when it comes to posing. The truth is, the more headshots I take, the less I try to pose people. I’ve found that the more I turn them, the less natural they look.”

Mistake #3: Weird Lighting and Shadows

“I feel that many beginners feel the need to create some sort of dramatic lighting for every person’s corporate headshot. Here’s what I suggest: if you’ve never taken a headshot before, before you go out and spend thousands of dollars on lights, just start by using natural light.”

Mistake #4: No Attention to Detail

“When it comes to headshots, attention to detail is everything. Beginners are naturally overwhelmed thinking about camera settings, poses, light positions and other things, so the details can easily get lost in the sauce.”

Mistake #5: Crappy Gear

“As beginners we don’t want to invest multiple thousands of dollars in gear, so we go on Amazon, and we buy some dirt cheap LCD panels or a couple of non-dedicated flashes with inexpensive softboxes. This is a huge mistake because those low-end products are not at all reliable.”

Mistake #6: Kardashian Level Retouching

“If you’re a beginner, I admonish you to learn how to retouch properly now. Fact is every single image needs to be retouched before leaving your studio even if it requires very little work. Retouching is as much an art as a science and the best retouched photos do not look like they’ve been retouched at all.  Subtlety is key.”

Mistake #7: No Clothing Options

“As a beginner I remember feeling bad about asking my clients to bring a lot of clothing options with them to their shoot. This, of course, is completely ridiculous because if your client shows up with zero options or just one or two, it makes it much more difficult to get great headshots.”

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