How to Take a Great Commercial Modeling Headshot (Part 1 of 2)

Expert Tips From Commercial Modeling Pros Aaron Marcus & Joe Henson

Commercial Modeling Headshot
Commercial Modeling Headshot. Aaron Marcus

A terrific commercial modeling headshot can open all sorts of doors in the modeling world, from your very first job to the job of your dreams. But what goes into making the perfect headshot? And how do you get one?

Just ask Joe Henson. As one of the industry’s premiere headshot photographers, Joe Henson has shot over 16,000 models, actors, politicians, and celebrities, from Annette Bening to Tyler Perry and everyone in between.

He knows everything there is to know about achieving a headshot that’ll grab the attention of agents, scouts, and clients. 

Joe was kind enough to share his unique behind-the-scenes perspective with Aaron Marcus, a professional commercial actor, as part of Aaron’s Acting and Modeling Success Summit. Here are a few of Joe’s insights:

What’s the difference between a headshot photographer and a “regular” photographer?

There are a lot of great photographers in the world, but not everyone can pull off a great commercial modeling headshot. It takes special skill to be able to take a model and put them into a context that can be understood by industry professionals. (Case in point: Joe has had clients whose husbands are award-winning Vogue fashion photographers but who had no clue what a headshot was all about.)

So, commercial headshot photographers are always thinking about and pulling together these three different aspects:

  1. The photography aspect: Knowing how to craft a good looking photo, including styling, body language, energy, expressions, finding the essence of the model, choosing backgrounds, etc.
  2. The modeling industry aspect: Knowing the different types of models that are being cast, and knowing how to fit the models into these types and make them recognizable. In other words, someone looking at your photo should immediately understand what qualities you have as a model to create a character, sell a product, and appeal to an audience.
  1. The people aspect: Being able to meet someone for the first time and make them feel at ease in front of the camera. This is often the most difficult part of the job!

How do commercial headshot photographers make models feel at ease?

Whether they admit it or not, all models feel some level of camera shyness. But when a photographer is calm, relaxed, and in control of what they have to offer, it’s only natural for the model to feel calm and relaxed as well. 

It also takes a lot of stress out of the situation when a photographer’s shots are tethered to a computer. That way, models can see their photos right off the bat and feel at ease knowing they’re getting their money’s worth.  

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Should models meet with or talk to the photographer before the shoot?

Every session is slightly different, but it’s not uncommon for headshot photographers to shoot people they’ve never met. That’s because a good photographer is able to make the experience seem like love at first sight. They cut through the static and noise and present the model with an environment they feel comfortable in—one without the realities of everyday life. Just beautiful lights, nice backgrounds, and connecting with the camera.

The result is a photo that captures the true essence of the person and that invites the viewer in.

What kinds of questions should a model ask when looking for a headshot photographer?

Finding the right headshot photographer can be difficult because you’re most likely looking outside your area of expertise. Maybe you’re new to the modeling business, or maybe you just don’t know what goes into making a great headshot. So when looking for a photographer, it’s okay to use your instincts.

First, are they a good photographer? Take a look at their portfolio and trust your gut. If they’re good at what they do, you’ll feel like the people look great and that they’re making contact with you. 

Second, are they excited about what they do? Do they love it? Are they invested in the quality of what they create with you?

Are they happy to share their talent with you? Passion is something that comes from a person’s core and you can easily sense if they love their job. This positive energy is going to carry you through your shoot, so it’s a bad sign if they seem burned out, overwhelmed, or unfamiliar with the technology they’re using.