I need to do some headshots of myself for a gig I have coming up. My initial thought was to use a plain light background (as you see in many studio shots), but I've had some advice to use a dark background, which sounds like an interesting idea. I'll probably try out both to see which I prefer.

I'm mostly concerned with posture, composition, and angles. I read somewhere that it was best to shoot men slightly from above with the head angled up to avoid double chins, which, if I'm being honest, is a concern :-) I have an idea of my "best side", so of course that helps too. I haven't done much photography of people, so general tips on this subject would be appreciated. (I mostly do photos of stuff outside: flowers, buildings, etc., where the light is good and the subjects are already posed to their advantage).

The headshots will be converted to black and white before use.


4 Answers 4


In terms of equipment, the immediate obvious is that you need a tripod, but I'd also recommend a remote (preferrably wireless) so that you're not attempting to beat the timer. After that, depending on the seriousness of the shots, there are lots of ways to experiment, especially with odd angles and lighting. You're the subject and photog, so be patient with yourself. :)

Anyways, rather than re-create some existing excellent advice, the Digital Photography School has some good articles on the subject:

Self-Portrait Tips

7 Tips for going beyond the basics

Edit: Now, in regards to black and white... The sensor only records light intensity, the color it records at a given photosite is a result of a filter placed above it (the bayer array of 2 green, a red, and a blue) which are then combined to create the colored pixel. Net effect, to create black and white, the camera must convert, there's no other way. If you do the conversion in post-processing, from the RAW file, you will have better control of the outcome of black and white, so that would be my advice there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ cool links! i've subscribed to the digital photography school rss feed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 22:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the reply, and for the detailed explanation of black and white! My compact can take shots in B&W directly (presumably by doing the conversion automatically), whilst the D90 will only allow manual conversion to B&W. I guess this is where the confusion lay. \$\endgroup\$
    – alastairs
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 7:16

Personally, I think portraits looks best with a shallow depth of field (low f number). This will be a little tricky on your own so you'll need to think of some way to make sure your camera is focussed where your head is going to be. Then you'll want to stick your mug in that spot and fire off a couple of shots. I suggest just firing off loads while slightly moving your distance from the camera and hope you get lucky.

Some quick tips that popped into my head:

  • Make sure that the nearest eye is pin-sharp
  • Don't use on-camera flash
  • Don't smile like a loon. Relax your face and just think about smiling ;)
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for making sure the (nearest) eye is pin-sharp - that always makes for a striking photo \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 10:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestions for an aperture? For women and children, the really low apertures like f/2.8 seem good, but for men I've been wondering if something around f/5.6 is good. Opinions? \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lou O Bedlam (louobedlam.com/section/129954_DIGITAL.html) takes some great portraits and almost always at f/2.8 on a 50mm (on full frame camera). They look great. Wider than 2.8 is going to be really tricky to keep eyes sharp (although 2.8 is still gonna be hard for a self portrait). \$\endgroup\$
    – matt burns
    Commented Aug 22, 2010 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've had good luck with face priority auto-focus in live view on my D90 for this. It consistently nailed focus for me at f/1.8. If your camera has a similar feature, give it a shot! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 15:08

Shoot tethered if you can. Tethering means attaching your camera to your computer directly (typically via USB). With a tethered connection your shots will show immediately on your screen. That makes framing adjustments a lot easier, since you won't be rotating your camera to see your LCD after every shot.

For the Mac/Nikon, I use sofortbild; it's free and pretty good.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh wow, I didn't realise this was even possible without using Nikon's own (very expensive) software! Thanks for the link! \$\endgroup\$
    – alastairs
    Commented Aug 21, 2010 at 8:05

I have done this using a wireless remote and a couple of strobes with umbrellas. I used a white wall as a background and a chair at a slight angle. I used the face detection focusing on the camera (a GF1). I used a moderate telephoto 45mm focal length (90mm in 35mm equivalent) otherwise the nose will look large. It took a lot of attempts to get a shot I was happy with - you do have to be patient as if you can't see yourself it is difficult to make sure you are properly centered etc. However since it is just yourself you can play about with the lighting, orientation of the head and eyes and how you smile without worrying about time. Tethered operation may help with focusing and getting centered however you still have to look at the camera for the actual shot.


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