Monday, 3 March 2014

Headshot Photography Part 1 - The Modelling Portfolio Headshot.

While putting together the new Modelling Portfolio Headshots page on my website over the past week; I got to thinking about what's involved in making a great headshot and the wide variety of pictures that we all call a Headshot. And I was quite surprised as I went through many pictures from many shoots, at just how many different types of headshot there can be. Some are more fashion, some more portrait some are this and others that! So I've decided to write a series of blog posts about the different headshot types. In this blog I am going to look very specifically at what I think makes a good Modelling Portfolio or Comp Card Headshot, and my approach to making them. In later blog posts I will look into other aspects of Headshot photography that is often called something else; Beauty photography comes immediately to mind.. But right now it's what makes a Modelling Headshot and how I take them.

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Modelling Headshots. Classic Kent Johnson Fashion Photography on Instagram - Sports and Fitness Modelling

So what is a Model Headshot and what makes it different from say a portrait? I think the BIGGEST difference is the intention that the picture is going to be used for. "Intention; what does that mean?" If you think about modelling, it's all about fashion pictures and runway shows, its all about clothing and products; and sometimes its about the models themselves, but by the time a model has become that successful; they have already become a perfect fashion face.. The intention of a great headshot is to grab the viewer, to hold them and even to beguile them a little; its a hook to catch the viewer with, to book jobs with, to launch a career with. A picture to never forget! The intention is very important and it's the photographer working with the model that creates that special intention which is why you really do need a photographer who understands what fashion and modelling is all about.

I suppose one of the first things I should say is that although I make a lot of headshots; I do not have an exact formula for creating the perfect headshot. Just as no two models are the same no two shoots are exactly the same, there is no 'set' lighting; I approach every portfolio and headshot shoot as an original. But something that is the same on every shoot is this; to get the best pictures of the model possible; not just good shots, great shots; that goal is always the same.

Classic Kent Johnson Fashion Photography on Instagram - Asian model headshot in black and white

On most of my folio shoots the team and I work through 3 or 5 looks including hair and make-up changes, and as you can never really predict which look is going to deliver that killer headshot; I always stay aware of possibilities for a headshot while shooting. I do this by changing my relationship to the model as I shoot; this may mean moving in closer to see how the face responds to a certain lens, or changing lenses to change the perspective of the face. All the while chatting away to the model and setting the tone of the shoot. But I seldom think only about the face. A portfolio shoot requires a range of different shots and different fashion looks so I concentrate on getting each-shot each-look in the bag and all the while; keep looking for that special moment, the 'correct' mood and attitude that will make the perfect headshot. Of course I direct the model as well and as you can see from the screen shot "proof sheet sequences" below; sometimes I move in and out of a variation on pose that is working to keep it fresh while at other times it's better to slowly work with minor changes. It's about being sensitive to the model and the process of making the picture.

Modelling Headshots. Stunning black and white headshot , Studio Modelling Portfolio - fashion and beauty. Photographed by Kent Johnson.

Headshot photo sequence - full length leading up to headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

How to make a headshot. Headshot photo sequence - mid length leading up to headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

Mid length headshot, hair blowing in breeze, Studio Modelling Portfolio - swimwear, fashion, beauty photography by Kent Johnson.

Headshot cropped, hair blowing in breeze, Studio Modelling Portfolio - swimwear, fashion, photography by Kent Johnson.

Headshot cropped tight with Black and White converssion, hair blowing in breeze, Studio Modelling Portfolio - fashion, photography by Kent Johnson.
Changing the camera set-up created a different energy while photographing the same 'look'. Different crops and a B&W conversion from the same image.
Headshot photo sequence - mid length warm tone, leading up to headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

Mid length Headshot photo sequence - mid length warm tone, leading up to headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

For Natalia's portfolio shoot and headshot you can see the sequences below, we are moving through variations in a seated pose, slowly coming closer creating a tighter frame, capturing the intimacy and energy of the moment. The process created a  number of possible headshots as well as many good options for selecting the most suitable lingerie shot too.
Modelling Headshots. Modelling portfolio Black and White, tight, close Headshot,  model with tattoo, hoop earrings and wild hair. Photo by Kent Johnson.

Mid length Headshot photo sequence - mid length seated leading up to headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

Mid length to tight Headshot photo sequence - mid length seated leading up to a tight headshot - Photographed by Kent Johnson.

Seated Black and White Lingerie shot, Studio Modelling portfolio shoot by Kent Johnson.

No matter that every shoot is different, the fundamentals are always the same; first, set the model at ease. I often take some 'Polaroids' at the beginning of the session before Hair and Make-Up to break the ice, and these shots are useful as agency Digitals. Beautiful hair and make-up, of course, but not too overpowering; its about the model not the make-up. Even no make-up at all can work as in Caitlin's hat shots below.

The right light! There are no lighting diagrams on this post because I do not have pre-used lighting set ups. I believe every face is different and deserves it's own light, experience with lighting equipment (including the the sun) and at reading light, and not relying on what worked last time keeps the pictures fresh.

Black and White or Colour?  Thankfully with digital this no longer has to be a permanent choice, though when I feel a shot is B&W I tend to set the camera to shoot in B&W with the option to convert back to colour from the RAW file.. I have long loved Black and White photography for its ability to streamline detail; and as such Black & White is still very popular for headshots.

Hayley Wilson, Mid length Headshot, Green Eyes Red Hair, Annie Hall Style Headshot, Men's shirt and tie by Kent Johnson.

Platform Comp Card for Hayley - Headshot, swimwear, lingerie pics by Kent Johnson.

How much of the body should be shown in a modelling portfolio headshot? Typically all of the head though often cropped into the hairline at the top of the frame, the picture most often finishes just below the neck above the breasts, but not always; it can be tighter or longer, though I do not think I have ever seen a full length image on the front of a comp card. Still, there are no hard-and-fast rules here other than the one rule; the best picture possible; the strong, the distinctive, the great shot, the killer headshot.

That said modelling agencies will very often have a very particular idea of how they feel a model should look on their comp card and in their portfolio; and that will be the look for the market that they are selling a model into. Think categories like Fresh Teen vs. smouldering Femme Fatale! If your agent has you pegged as 'natural and  fun teen' market there is no way your headshot is going to be of you as a smouldering Femme Fatale; even if you can pull it off; that shot will most likely have to wait for another time, at least to go into your book. The best picture will be the best picture of you as the agency sees you-and-your-market. Modelling is a business after all.

Classic Kent Johnson Fashion Photography on Instagram - Mens modelling headshot in black and white.
Call or Email to Book you Portfolio Shoot TODAY! Kent 0433 796 863
Series of four mid headshot pictures of Caitlin playing with Akubra Hat. Modelling Portfolio shoot by Kent Johnson.

Model Comp Card, headshot on front, 4 images on back, from a Modelling Portfolio Shoot by Kent Johnson, Sydney Australia.

Modelling Headshots. Colour Headshot on modelling Comp Card for Hannah. Photography by Kent Johnson

So the headshot does not only represent you at your best, it also represents your 'look' in the marketplace which is an intent very very different from a simple personal portrait. The picture will be a rectangle, vertical, 'portrait' and not horizontal, to optimise the card and so your picture fits on the website and the wall at the agency along with all the other models cards at the agency. And these days, I think that even though I have never seen a square headshot on a comp card, its not too bad an idea to have a headshot that can crop square for Instagram too.
Headshot Photography Part 1 -  The Modelling Portfolio Headshot by Kent Johnson.

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If you are still wondering what a Model Comp should look like it is well worth taking a look at the pictures on the modelling agency web sites. The style will vary from country to country and from agency to agency. One of my favourite inspiration headshot pages is Women Management in New York and you can see their 'Wall' of headshots here,

And lastly if you have any questions about Headshots I am more than happy to have a shot at answering them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and you can follow me here on Blogger or on Facebook to keep up-to date with more Headshot and Photography posts to come.

Call or Email to Book you Portfolio Shoot TODAY! Kent 0433 796 863

Photography - Kent Johnson
(61) 0433 796 863 Sydney, Australia


  1. Nice photographs! I do agree with you. The perfect headshot is any aspiring model’s biggest weapon in this dog-eat-dog industry. It is vitally important to be able to take a really good headshot, in order to give your potential clients an idea of what they have to work with and how one can best represent their brand. :)

    Mike LeMoine @ Maverick Web Marketing

    1. Hi Mike,

      yes the headshot is a vital part of marketing equipment. So too your 'standard' full length and mid shots that really show what the model is like from top to toe; essential pictures for booking work from, not too creative but not boring either, it's a fine line and one that must be done correctly. And thanks for the compliment.