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Top 5 Tips for a Great Portrait

Posted on: September 23rd, 2013 by Jaime Klein

There are few times in our lives when we’re asked to pose for an official portrait. School picture. Wedding. Anniversary. Birthday. Arrest.

So many of us do it so seldom, that we are truly disoriented, uncomfortable and downright intimidated by the camera. So, when your boss says we need corporate headshots for our website, the reaction is invariably… “Oh crap!”

It doesn’t have to be.

As a portrait photographer (from actors to CEOs) I have a certain method which makes the process of sitting for your portrait easy, painless and actually fun.

Just remember these 5 tips the next time you need to pose and you’ll do great, or better than you ever thought you could.

1) Pre-Think

With years of experience branding television networks, I have found that reducing brand personality to a few descriptive words works best — and it can work to brand individuals as well. Simply put, reduce how you want to represent yourself to the world to three descriptive, powerful words that capture your “brand personality.” Confident. Intelligent. Trustworthy. Ambitious. Successful. Loyal. Thoughtful. Sensitive. Seductive. Tenacious. Diligent. Daring. Dynamic. There are a myriad of adjectives out there… when you choose yours make sure they are a smart combination of descriptive and aspirational. These words come in handy later.

2) Relax – It’s Digital

Gone are the days of snapping a picture, then asking, “Did we get it?” Now it’s more, “Let me see it.” A lot of pros review shots with their clients on the back of the camera, or better yet, they shoot tethered into a computer so they can both critique the images on a large screen. The photographer can apply filters, or black and white, or color variations, or contrast/exposure adjustments on the fly so the client has a good idea of how the final image will look. Some photographers feel this is too collaborative, I find the review process builds trust and fosters an open and honest relationship between subject and photographer. After viewing initial images, followed with gentle, constructive critique, my subjects are emboldened with new-found confidence and are actually enthused to step back in front of the camera.

3) Subtle Changes Mean A Lot

Because a headshot is just that, a shot of your head, the frame is usually chest up, or shoulders up — so, subtle changes mean a lot. You do not have to make completely different expressions to attain the perfect balance of looks and personality. Tiny, incremental adjustments can make a big difference. Tipping the chin a quarter of an inch, a lean forward, a slight head tilt, an imperceptible smirk, a partially raised eyebrow — all can speak volumes — and be completely different than the picture before. Also, and this is HUGE… do not hold laughter back! It creates too much tension in the mouth and jaw and you just end up looking constipated. Laugh freely… even to relieve stress. Chances are you will not use the laughing shot… but the two or three captures AFTER the laugh are gold. Your face is lit up, your eyes sparkle and your positive mood is palpable. That is exactly what you want to communicate to your potential clients/employers/agents/casting directors.

4) Communicate

Here is where Tip #1 comes into play. Once you’ve chosen your words, bring them with you to your session. Make sure they are tattooed on your brain. All photographers work differently, but here’s my system. I discuss in depth with you what your words are, why you chose them and what they mean to you… before we take a single shot. By the time you step in front of my camera, you’re ready. All my lights are pre-set, and I’m ready as well. I give you your first word… ask you to emulate it… believe it. Then… magic! Somehow, that word/tone/attitude is communicated on your face and captured in the image. It’s unmistakable… and unexplainable. I don’t know how it works, or why it works, but it does.

5) Hire a Pro

Please do not have your receptionist, spouse, friend grab a cell phone and snap a quick picture of you to post on your professional, polished website. You are charging for your services… or want to be hired… a professional portrait looks like you’re worth it. Lighting. Clarity. Backgrounds. Wardrobe. Hair. Expression. Message. They all mix together in a skillfully constructed mélange to communicate who you are in all your public touch points. You spend years developing your career and reputation, invest the extra time and care to sit for a pro portrait. Don’t skimp on this important piece of your personal brand.


Finally, as a portrait photographer, my goal is not just capturing how you look… but accurately reflecting who you are. It’s both a delicate balance and a powerful combination, and if done right, will make you stand out in a crowd.


Jaime Klein is a Los Angeles based photographer who specializes in corporate portraiture and actor headshots. Check out his work at

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