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DIY Headshot Tips: A Handy 5 Step Guide

If you’re looking for diy headshot tips it’s probably because you’ve discovered how difficult it can be to capture a flattering headshot yourself. As a professional headshot photographer I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard, however, there are a few key things you need to do to make your photos look professional.

In this post I’m going to share some of the ways I help my clients get better headshots from their sessions with me. I’ll also show you a few beginner and budget friendly headshot lighting set ups you can use to light yourself. 

5 Steps for How To Take A Headshot With A Phone:

  1. Polish Your Appearance
  2. Dressing For Your Headshot
  3. DIY Headshot Lighting Set Ups 
  4. How To Make Photogenic Facial Expressions
  5. Editing Your Photos

Before we get started, this post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.

1. Polish Your appearance – DIY Headshot Tips

diy headshot tips

To get the best headshot possible you’re going to want to try and get everything as perfect as you can in camera (without editing). This means you’re going to want to polish your appearance by doing the following before you take your pictures.

  • Remove eyeglass lenses
  • (Women) Get your hair cut and or colored. Practice natural looking makeup looks if need be.
  • (Men)  Get your hair cut, and groom any other visible body hair.
  • Whiten your teeth
  • Choose your headshot attire
  • Use setting powder

By considering all of these things mentioned above before your headshot session you’ll significantly improve your appearance. As a result your headshot will naturally look better in your finished photo

Most of the points mentioned above are self explanatory, but I want to emphasize that both men and women should at the very least use setting powder prior to photos. This will help you look less shiny from any oil and sweat that naturally form on your face.

2. Dressing For Your Headshot – DIY Headshot Tips

diy headshot tips

Dressing for your headshot is easier than it is for most portraits because only your top will be visible in your final photos. That said, you’re still going to need find a color that compliments both you and the background you choose for your headshot. 

If you’re unsure what to wear I recommend you first start with this post about how to color coordinate your outfits for photos. Once you understand these simple fundamentals about how to pop and coordinate colors, it will make choosing an outfit a lot easier. Make sure whatever you choose from your closet is in good condition and not pilled or anything. If you don’t have anything that will work, these posts about headshot attire for men and women should help you quickly find something nice.

3. DIY Headshot Lighting Set Ups

Now that you’re looking good and have your outfits ready, it’s time to capture your headshot! Creating professional looking headshot lighting at home is pretty easy once you know what to do.

To help you better understand how to light your portrait, I’ve included a couple different headshot lighting diagrams below so you can build the set up for the lighting style you like most.

The first headshot light setup will be for those on a budget and will use just natural light you can find in you home. The next two headshot lighting setups will augment your headshot further with the use of additional lighting. 

Remember that more gear won’t always make your headshot look better, but better gear will always yield superior photos in capable hands. If you have better tools available to you (like a digital camera) I suggest you use them when capturing your headshot.

Window Headshot Light setup

The window light set up is the least expensive headshot look to do. For this look you’ll use a window in your home as the main light source.

Northern facing windows are generally best for this as these windows won’t get any direct sunlight coming though them. This will give you soft flattering light that is easy to work with. For best results try and position yourself as close to the window as possible. Getting closer to the window will make the light softer and make the shadows more dynamic. 

Note that because you’ll be using your window as the main light source, this will limit the direction you can take your photo from as you stand in front of your window.

To clean up the backdrop of your headshot, I recommend getting a seamless background. Also note that for this light set up, a white seamless background will likely look grey as less light will reach the background in relation to your face.

Gear You’ll Need For Window Light Headshot

Ring Light & Window Headshot light Setup

Where the first setup used just the window as a light source, this light setup will use both a window and a ring light to illuminate your face. For this look, the window will still be the main light source, but instead of standing in front of the window you will instead orient yourself so the window is to your left or right. This will create a cross light pattern on your face.

Again you’re going to want to capture your photo while standing pretty close to your window for the softest light. That said, you may notice that before you turn on your ring light, the shadows will also be very dark. To fill in these shadows, you can simply turn up your ring light to fill the shadows in to your liking.

This setup will create nice flattering light on your face and will also give nice catch lights in your eyes from the ring light. You’ll again note that a white seamless background will look grey with this set up as more light will reach your face before it touches the background.

Gear You’ll Need For a Ring Light & Window Headshot

Window + Video Light + Strobe Headshot Light Setup For White Background

diy headshot tips

Since most websites have a white background, capturing your headshot on a white background can make for a really clean and seamless look across most of the internet. Unfortunately though you’ll need need to invest in a little more gear to get a true white background headshot like this. 

For this look, your light setup will start off identically to the window light only setup mentioned earlier. Next you’ll add in a strobe that you’ll trigger with a digital camera. The cheapest modifier to get your background pure white will be an umbrella. That said, when I create white background headshots for my clients I use two strobes modified strip boxes so I evenly light the background completely behind my client. 

You can stop your setup here if you just want the white background. If you want to add that little extra pop of rim light coming in over her left shoulder (camera right) you’ll need to add an LED video light.

Gear You’ll Need For Window + Strobe + Video Light

4. How To Make Photogenic Facial Expressions – DIY Headshot Tips

Portrait of Jason Guy
Self portrait headshot of yours truely

The expression you end up choosing for your headshot is a lynch pin element that can either make or break your portrait. This is why most people stress out and say they aren’t “photogenic.” Fun fact, you can actually learn to be more “photogenic” by practicing a couple easy tricks in front of the mirror. 

Firstly, confidence comes from the eyes. To convey confidence and engage with the viewers of your headshot you’re going to want to learn how to squench. The video in that link will show you how convey confidence with a flash of your eyes in just a couple of minutes. 

Second, approachability in your facial expression comes from the mouth. To demonstrate appraochability non-verbally, I like to direct my clients towards subtle smiles that don’t go too large. This is because big smiles will exaggerate wrinkles on the face and can feel overbearing as a first encounter.

Since the smile is the nonverbal cue that makes a headshot inviting, If you just do the squench and don’t smile you’ll usually just come across as pissed off. If you’re having a hard time capturing a genuine smile, try keeping your jaw relaxed with your teeth about 2-3mm apart. Once set up, you can then experiment with different smiles and laughs until you get an expression you think is a keeper. 

5. Editing Your Headshot – DIY Headshot Tips

Diy Headshots

If you followed all the steps well up to this point, your photos should look great without any editing. Even if you do decide to do some editing, having a good clean capture to start from will always yield higher quality photos then if you try to fix stuff later because of sloppy photography.

For most people that just want to retouch a few minor blemishes, photoshop express is my favorite mobile editing app. Mobile apps like Photoshop Express are easiest for beginners to use. 

That said, to get the finest quality edits you’ll need to edit your headshots on a desktop computer or laptop. I use Adobe Lightroom for global editing of things like white balance, black point, etc. and then do my pixel level editing in Adobe Photoshop.

If you’re already familiar with these programs and have a subscription absolutely use them! For everyone else, using a mobile editing app will be more than sufficient and way less complicated then the desktop editing programs.

Desktop Editing Apps (Best)
Mobile Editing Apps (Easiest)

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I hope you found these diy headshot tips helpful. If you want learn more about how to take your own headshot you can check out this post for more diy headshot ideas. Alternatively, if after reading this post the thought of taking your own headshot still feels over whelming, you can contact me here and I’d be happy to discuss capturing your headshot for you.

If you have any questions about anything, please leave a comment below and I’d be happy to help you out. Otherwise, so long as you follow the directions outlined in this post, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to create a quality headshot that you can use to better represent yourself online!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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