Lessons: 15Length: 1.8 hours

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3.4 Personal Style

Every photographer needs to develop his or her own approach to headshots. In this lesson I will share some of my own preferences and tendencies and why I think they work for me.

3.4 Personal Style

Hi, I'm Scott Chansen. Welcome back to Headshot Photography. In this lesson we're gonna be talking about developing your own personal style and vision as a photographer. Style is one of those terms that can mean so many different things to so many different people. In my mind style is a sort of indescribable but very distinctive character that emerges from your images. Every decision you make, and some that you don't make, influence this character. Things that influence your style are your composition, your posing, the lenses that you choose, the lighting that you choose, settings, post-processing, and countless other small decisions that you make as a photographer. The thing that makes a style specifically yours is your ability to reproduce that character from shoot to shoot. This is a process that usually happens pretty organically. As you spend years honing your craft, you will develop patterns in your decision making that will lead to a visual style that is all your own. The reason that developing your own distinctive style is so important, is that it is what will separate you from all the other photographers out there. When people see your images, they will say I want to hire this guy because I like the way he does this or the way he does that. It will also mean that you get to work with clients who get it, and who are more likely to trust you to do good work. If you're a new photographer or you're just starting out in a new kind of photography, then you haven't had time to develop the style yet. But that's okay because the journey to finding your style is probably a lot more fun than actually having a style. You get to experiment and shoot in a way that allows you the freedom to see what works best for you and to see what you enjoy doing the most. Okay, so all of this is well and good. And if we were talking about doing photography strictly as art, with nothing but aesthetic value to keep in mind, then I would say go crazy and be super creative in your photography. However, if you want to be able to make a living with headshots, it's imperative that you create commercially valuable images that are able to accomplish the goals of your clients while still setting yourself apart creatively. You will have to walk a pretty fine line as you push yourself creatively but also try to stay within the confines of usable headshots. The key I think to being able to walk this line is to know the rules and how to follow them, but then also to know when and how to break those rules. So, let's go back and take a look at some different components that make up your style, and some of the general rules that govern how they're used. First, let's talk about composition. Composition is basically where you as a photographer decide where to place the different shapes and lines that you're photographing in your image. One of the most basic and powerful rules of composition is the rule of thirds, and learning to use this rule was definitely one of the biggest steps forward in my photography compositionally. So what exactly is the rule of thirds? The easiest way to understand the rule of thirds, is to divide your image into three equal segments vertically and horizontally. Now, you want to place the focal point of your image near one of the spots where these lines cross. The reason that the rule of thirds is so powerful is that compositions like this cause your eye to be drawn towards the edge of the image. And once it sees the focus point of the image there, your eye will want to wander around the rest of the image to see what else is going on. This creates a more interesting and dynamic image, that draws your viewer in to interact with the image. And I think it works much better than having your subjects centered. When your focal point is centered, the eye will just kind of rest there in the center, and it won't really explore the rest of what your photo has to offer. To apply this rule to headshots, we have to determine what the focal point should be for a final image. And with headshots, the focal point is always the eyes. It's well known that the eyes are the window to the soul, and the very first thing that we're drawn to as a viewer in a headshot should be the eyes. So I almost always try to push the eyes of my subject towards one of the top thirds in my frame. I use the rule of thirds for 99.9% of my headshot photography because it produces images that are attractive to just about anyone who sees them. And the goal of my photography is almost always to make my subject look attractive. Another consideration with the composition of headshots is cropping. There are many options to choose from when it comes to cropping. You can crop loose or you can crop tight. You can crop vertical or you can crop horizontal or even square. The basic rules for cropping headshots are based on the idea that the entire goal of the photo is to show off who your subject is and to make people who see the photo want to interact with them. So here's how I accomplish this goal through cropping. First, I crop tight enough to fill the frame with my subject. Here's an example headshot that's cropped too loose. I think that this is wasting space. On the other hand, this photo is too closely cropped, and I think it's leaving out valuable information, like body type, clothing style, and hair. Here is the sweet spot for me when it comes to cropping. You can see the whole frame is pretty much filled with my subject and not wasting any space. Overall, I think this is the most efficient use of space for showing off my subject. And it still adheres to the rule of thirds. I like to get my cropping in camera. This means that I like to frame my subject in the view finder just the way that I want the final image to look. This saves me a bunch of time in post-production, but it also sometimes limits my options. If you're the type of photographer who wants to take your time and figure out your cropping in post, then you can shoot just a little bit wider and give yourself some room to crop in. Cropping in post is also a good idea when you're starting out, because it gives you one less thing to think of while you're shooting. And it also gives you some safety to crop into afterwards. The next aspect of your shooting style to develop is your posing. There are many options when it comes to posing. And I think you have quite a bit of freedom as you develop your own style. As we spoke about earlier, each different type of headshot has its own sort of guidelines to work within. But here are a few guidelines that should apply across the board. The first is face direction. I often have my subject face the camera and then turn their body just slightly towards whatever light source I'm using. The two main things that this does is that it slims the body just a bit, and it makes the image just a bit more dynamic and interesting. And when you combine this posing and the rule of thirds, you end up with a very pleasing photo. Just make sure that you frame your subject so that they're facing into the frame. You don't want them facing out of the frame which gives a very unnatural feel and it makes the viewers feel uncomfortable. Face direction is definitely a style thing, and I know quite a few great head shot photographers, who shoot pretty much all of their headshots straight on. The next thing to think about in posing is the height of your camera in relation to your subject. By changing how high your camera is, you can dramatically change the feel of a photo. You can shoot from a high angle like this, the advantage being that your subject's eyes are even more central to the photo because of the perspective and the focus fall off. The disadvantage is that it feels like it makes your subject a little bit weaker, and maybe even subservient, like a puppy. The other extreme is to shoot from a low angle, like this, the benefit being that it makes your subject look strong and confident. The downside is that it makes your subject's face, and especially their eyes, smaller and harder to connect with as a viewer. I generally like to stay pretty much neutral and try to shoot from just about the same level as my subject's eyes, or maybe just a tiny bit higher. The funny thing is that I'm a very tall person. So even though I say I like to shoot at eye level, my style has naturally drifted towards shooting a little bit down. When it's all taken into account in the end, it's a good idea to just make sure that whatever camera position you're using, you use it subtly and not go overboard with it. The next thing that will affect your personal style is the equipment you use and the settings you choose on that equipment. There are so many options and combinations to choose from. And I believe that this is a huge area where you can have the freedom to create your own style. My only real advice in this area is to spend plenty of time experimenting and playing with different lenses and settings, until you find a direction that feels right to you. I think that the biggest area, that allows the most freedom to develop your style, is lighting. Since photography is literally just drawing with light, this kind of makes sense. Again, there are millions of options when it comes to lighting your subject. If you doubt it, just do an Internet search for lighting diagrams and see how many different ways there are that you can light a subject. The best way to get started with developing your lighting style is to study the classic portrait lighting setups like loop lighting, Rembrandt lighting, split lighting, and butterfly lighting. If you don't know what these are or you need to brush up a little bit, I cover each of these setups extensively in my course Intermediate Flash Photography. The second part of that course will give you the building blocks that you need to develop your lighting style. Ultimately, the only real rule when it comes to lighting is to make sure that it's flattering to your subject. The final major piece to developing your very own style is post processing. And just like lighting, there are tons of options. And you could spend hours tweaking on your images. If you're shooting images of things and objects, then the sky is the limit as to how far you can go when it comes to post processing. In this course, however, we're talking about shooting people and producing images that provide a realistic representation of what these people look like. Because of this, there are definitely some guidelines you need to follow in your post production. By far, the most important thing to do in post processing is to protect the skin tones of your subject. No matter what crazy filters or light room presets you use, it is imperative that the skin of your subject looks natural and pleasing. This means no orange skinned oompa loompas or green skinned lizard faces. And also, like all other areas we've talked about so far, subtlety is very key when you're doing post processing. And it's very easy to overdo it. I like to keep my post processing pretty simple. I don't want to stylize my images too much and make them look too dated or something I'll be kind of embarrassed by later. The other important thing about developing your style in post-production like in many other areas is to maintain consistency. I've done this by creating a Lightroom preset that I apply to every headshot as soon as import them, and then I adjust the images from there. This makes sure that all of my images have a look to them, and that all of my images have that thread that kind of holds them together. It also helps me sell myself as a headshot photographer, because I can show that I can control my images from the beginning all the way to the end. Okay, so I think that should be plenty of options to get you started as you start to develop your personal style. But I want you to think about just one more thing as you move forward in developing your style. No matter how much experimentation and practice you do, you cannot develop your style in a vacuum. You must seek out other photographers and creative people to help you develop your style. It has been so immensely important to me to have a community of people to turn to for help, and for inspiration, and for feedback as I move forward as a photographer. So, don't be afraid to ask for feedback and criticism from people that you trust. It will only make you that much better as a photographer. And whatever you do, don't use the excuse of, no, that's just my style to get away with doing bad photography. If someone you trust gives you criticism, take it in and let it make you a better photographer, even if you decide that that advice was wrong. Okay, so now you're well on your way to having your very own personal style. In the next lesson, I'm gonna take you behind the scenes of an actual headshot shoot for a client of mine. I will show you how easy and simple it is to start shooting headshots right away.

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