Headshot Photography Workflow

Headshot photography doesn’t need to have a very complicated approach. All it takes is the right setup and honest collaboration between the photographer and the client. It also requires great knowledge of lighting a face, and last but not least, great interpersonal skills. Vanessa Joy demonstrates what it takes to make great headshots:

Joy likes to have some of the lighting setup ready by the time her client walks in. But she leaves the rest of the setup for after the client walks in. This allows her clients to see the kind of effort that goes into setting up a shoot and appreciate the work that she puts in. Of course she also wants them to see the value of the effort that they are paying for—other than the final product.

At the very beginning of the shoot, Joy prefers to get a couple of frames done very quickly. One where the subject is looking to the right and another where the client is looking to the left.

headshots in the studio

Once the images have been imported into Lightroom (she is shooting tethered), she asks her client to come and have a look. Everyone seems to have a preference for which side of their face is “better,” and it’s good to respect that.

Joy then rearranges the lighting. She turns off the light on camera left and brings it in closer to be used merely as a reflector. The key light is now the one on camera right.

headshot photography workflow

During the shoot, Joy provides her client with constant feedback, including the correct head and chin positions. This is essential feedback for anyone without modeling experience. Not knowing how to stand in front of the camera usually means standing awkwardly.

photo shoot workflow

One tip that Joy shares is to ask the client to look slightly above the lens. This way the eyes look a little more open. The adjustment is subtle; it shouldn’t look like that the client is looking off-camera.


Feedback flows from both ends, as Joy asks the client to choose the images he thinks are best in order to  identify a pattern of head positions, facial expressions, and body positions that the subject likes. This also gives her the opportunity to look at the technical aspects of the shots to find out whether the exposure and other parameters are to the client’s taste.

headshot tutorial

Establishing an efficient workflow for headshots can make your photo shoots run smoothly and keep your clients feeling confident.

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