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Dec-19-2017

What You Can Learn From a Headshot

Posted by Tim under Personal

Recently, my yearbook photo was published online. It looked fine in the yearbook. It looked like every other faculty picture, so it fit its environment. But it looked awful in the context in which it was published. You’ll see that image on the left below. My shirt is almost the same color as the background. (Don’t pay any attention to its blurry-ness. That’s a by-product of stretching it to make it the same size as the one on the right). My smile is mediocre. It looks washed out and tired.

So a friend of mine, Stephanie Richer, suggested I get some new headshots made. It was the right suggestion at the right time, so I did. And here is what I learned.

Obviously, a yearbook photo is a photo-mill where you sit for less than 30 seconds, get told to turn your head slightly downward and to one side. A couple of photos are taken…and boom…you are dismissed for the next person. They look homogenous, and taken as a whole on a yearbook page, they work out okay.

A professional headshot is different. The photographer wants the finished product to not only be the best representation of his or her client, but also of their own work. The professional photographer tries to make sure the surroundings are somewhat unique and aligns with your personality or style.

The yearbook photo usually has two umbrella-style soft box lights used to both light you and the screen behind you. We don’t want any shadows. Everything is lit equally, and the background appears to be pretty much as in focus as your face.

The professional headshot takes lighting entirely differently. There is a soft box light off to one side in the front. It is set up light one side of your face, but allow the other to fall into shadow a bit. There is a reflector placed just below you to bounce some light back up onto your face and take out some of the heavy shadows of your chin or nose. And a light over your back shoulder to help separate you from the background that falls off into a heavy blur in order to truly highlight what the photo is about…your face.

The yearbook pose is “sit here, turn your body to the right, turn your face back toward me, down a little, and smile.” Snap. Done.

The headshot is quite different. I was sitting on a bar stool. I had to learn my entire body as far forward as I could toward the soft box light while putting my hands slightly behind my back. Then, I stretched my neck forward and tilted my head slightly. It was not a natural pose. It was a bit uncomfortable. But the camera catches something entirely different and it looks amazing even with an older gray-haired guy in the shot.

The yearbook photo is “smile.” It looks forced. It looks flat. It looks a bit uncomfortable.

The headshot is “I need to get you to laugh, because that looks like a  much more natural smile through the lens.” And laugh I did. Stephanie is quick-witted with a great sense of humor, and I was laughing in spite of myself. And, as long as you don’t laugh with your eyes closed, it looks like a very natural smile. (I chose a different picture for the comparison here in order to have a more even look across both images).

And here’s my take away. You’ve been very patient to wait for it.

In the classroom, everyone doing the same thing from class to class may be effective if you are trying to work on a factory model of education. But the bottom line is that it is flat, forced, and fake. It won’t have the impact for which you hope.

To teach, to teach effectively, one must be individualized. And a bit uncomfortable in the process. You need to be stretched. Contorted. And pushed to do things you ordinarily would not do. Kids relate to that like the camera lens relates to weirdly contorted poses.

Yearbook photos have their place. In yearbooks. Don’t be a yearbook photo in the classroom. Be your own personal headshot. The difference will amaze you.

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  1. Ann Barber Said,

    Both Stephanie’s skill with natural portraits and your inner charisma are showcased in the second portrait. Nice work!

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