How To Take A Headshot When You Can’t Afford To Pay A Professional

It’s true when they say that first impressions are important, so don’t waste yours on a fuzzy, low-quality or poorly exposed headshot.

First impressions are vital in the world of business. These days, potential employers and clients have the opportunity to make a quick assessment prior to even meeting you in person. Your LinkedIn profile shot, website headshot or promotional photo (even your FB profile pic) speaks to your personality and professionalism.

Paying for a photo shoot with a professional photographer is a good way to get great headshots, but this can be pricey for those just starting out. It can be tempting to pop a selfie into your profiles, but poorly lit, out of focus photographs taken from odd angles rarely make the grade. There are some easy things you can do to get a good headshot without having to break the budget with a pro.

Frame it

Framing your photo well will make your photo look professional. Read up on the rule of thirds and decide whether you’re going to take a “head and shoulders” shot, one from the midline up or a full standing picture. You might like to take a mixture to have some variety on hand.

Professional headshot photographer Dylon King says of framing, “Composition can make all the difference to a headshot! Think about the final image before you take it rather than trying to fix it later. Frame the subject a metre from a neutral background from the chest up. Shoot from slightly above the subject’s eye line for the most flattering angles. Fill the frame with the subject rather than cropping away extraneous photograph afterwards.”


It’s important to think about what will be behind you in the picture. A background that is free of other people and distracting text is a must.


Focus refers to the part of the image that is sharpest. A headshot that features a crystal clear background and fuzzy face looks unprofessional. If you find that your photo is out of focus when you look at it on a larger screen, take it again.

Most point-and-shoot cameras have automatic focus settings, as do phone cameras. On your phone, tap the screen on the part of the picture you want to be in focus (hint: your face). On a camera set to automatic focus, have the camera pointed at your face and half-press the shutter button to lock the focus in. If you’re using a dSLR camera to take your headshots, you will be able to focus your camera manually to get a really precise image.

It can be difficult to control focus in low lighting on phone cameras or cameras on automatic settings, so if you’re having trouble getting a sharp image, wait for daylight to hold your shoot.


Natural light is your friend for taking flattering photos with good exposure. Indoor lighting from lamps or fluoros will wash you out and add strange colour to your image, while nighttime photography using a flash rarely turns out quality images.

Dylon’s tip is to, “Find some filtered, natural light to work with and avoid direct harsh lighting. A makeshift light filter can be as simple as stringing a white bed sheet up above the subject allowing soft sunlight to filter through.”


Oh hey, didn’t see you there.

Head to a window or take your camera outdoors and look for soft, indirect lighting. Bright sun will overexpose your photo, so a cloudy day is ideal. If you’re really dedicated to the cause of creating a great headshot, the magic hours for photography are just before dawn and dusk.

Photographer for a day

With all decisions to be made about composition, framing and light, let alone pressing the shutter button, taking your headshots by yourself can prove a challenge. Recruiting a trusted friend for a few hours to help take your headshots will help lighten this load.

Choose your photographer wisely, ensuring they are someone who will help you feel comfortable. Make sure that both of your schedules are clear for at least an hour or two so you can hunt down great light and backgrounds and change outfits a few times if you wish.

If you don’t have someone to help with your photos, get familiar with your camera’s self-timer device. Most cameras (even on phones) will allow you to set timers of various lengths, and take a number of photos in one burst so you can alter your pose or facial expression. Investing in a tripod will help, though at a pinch you can easily rig up your own.

Give it some personality

Getting comfortable in front of camera can take some time. As you warm up, experiment with adding some of your own personality to the photos. This could be as simple as the outfit you choose to wear, how you choose to stand, a very ‘you’ facial expression, or shifting your location to reflect your work. Writers might like to take some photos of themselves near their writing desk, for example, or technicians could take a few pictures in a lab.


Once you begin to have fun with your photos keeping in mind the basic elements of photography, you’ll get great results.

Lauren Sherritt is a playwright and freelance writer based in Brisbane. Lauren’s work has been featured online at Junkee, The Financial Diet, Birdee, LifeMusicMedia, lip magazine and Australian Stage.