How to Take Corporate Headshots: A Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s be honest, there’s something powerful about being behind a camera and having a subject trusting you to make them look amazing. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You want to go all Nigel Barker on them and snap hundreds of perfections. Oh, but slow down tiger. These are corporate shots, not New York Fashion Week. But don’t worry, taking corporate headshots involves just as much creativity and organization.

So how exactly do you take corporate headshots? When taking professional headshots you must do all that you can to make the subject the star of the shot while being creative. This is done by choosing flattering poses, attractive facial expressions, proper lighting, and simple yet creative backgrounds.

Focusing on simplicity and subtle beauty is key. You are working with a tight crop, so it is important to handle even the smallest detail. It may seem like a lot to consider, but when it’s broken down, each component, once mastered, will lead to amazing corporate shots.

The Sitter

The most important detail you need to focus on is getting the subject to connect with you and the camera. This connection will shine through in their posture and facial expression. When the sitter is comfortable and relaxed, odds are you will end up with more usable shots than not.

Let’s jump into posing. Getting the right pose doesn’t have to be complex. It’s best, to begin with whatever makes the client feel comfortable. Sometimes, a sitter may unknowingly relax into a flattering position. Tell them to freeze and snap away. If however, your client is less photogenic, you will have to test out a few poses of your own choosing.

It’s best to remember that subtlety can go a long way. The slight turn of the shoulder or lift of the chin can give the photos a dimension that would otherwise be missed. Don’t take too long trying to find the right pose. If you can’t find that sweet spot, allow the sitter to choose whichever pose they are comfortable with.

As with posing, facial expressions are also a matter of feeling natural. However, a client’s facial expression is often dependant on how comfortable you’ve made them feel or how well you are able to connect. If you are distant and cold, the sitter may naturally take on a plain boring expression.

While facial expressions are best when natural, it would be ideal to remind the client of the following tips:

Don’t smile too hard

No one wants to see an overachieved smile. Don’t be afraid to instruct the subject to relax their cheeks. A nice inhale-exhale moment will do the trick. Remember, natural smiles appear when a person is laughing, so be funny!

Stern Looks are Often a Turn-off

Unless you are a CEO who has no one to impress, your client is looking to score early brownie points from just an image. With that being the case, having a stern or serious look is not always ideal. Your client may be generally friendly, but if their photo features a hard look, they will come across as standoffish. Avoid the Jerk Face, make them smile.

Softness is Key

Calm, soft, relaxed expression = personable and easy to work with.

Never ever forget that the sitter will feed off of the photographer. Want good images? Create a good environment.

Choosing a Background

When taking corporate headshots, a solid white background is a safe (and the most common) bet. It’s a good way to keep things simple while allowing the sitter to be the prime focus.

If you want more options or a little more pizazz, a colored background may be the way to go. Solid red or green may be a little too bold, but many professionals opt for two shades of gray. No, not fifty, just two. The lighter gray is often centered on top of a darker shade, creating a spotlight effect.

Having a fancy backdrop could cost you a pretty penny. If, however, you are on a tight budget, never underestimate the power of DIY. White foam board or a black sheet pulled tautly will do the trick. Don’t get too inventive, you don’t want to come off as unprofessional.

There is a 100% free option. Go outdoors! Mother nature offers us the most beautiful background there is. Grass, trees, mountains. They can serve as a natural (and free) alternative. Be wary, however. You do not want the background to steal attention from the client. Be sure to keep the landscape a bit out of focus.

It would also be wise to shoot from various angles to make use of the background. Use up shots for mountains, down shots for grass, and close shots for trees.

There’s nothing wrong with an industrial background either. If you have a brick wall or unobstructed city building, then by all means. Just make sure you have full creative liberties before you get too ahead of yourself.


What is a good picture without proper lighting? Getting the right lighting is very important. Too much and you risk overexposure, too little and you’ve got an anonymous witness on the 11 o’clock news. That may be an exaggeration, but the issue still remains.

Choosing the right type of lighting depends mostly on your environment. Say you are shooting in a room with cheap fluorescent light flooding the space. Please, do not contend with that tragedy. Cut off the lights and find your own.

You have several options for providing light. We’ll begin with the free kind.

There is only one light source that is far superior to any bulb ever made. The sun! Yes, that glowing orange ball in the sky makes for the optimal light source in photography.

Natural light will always make a subject look their best when compared to artificial lamps. No matter the complexion, the skin often glows when basked in sunlight. So shut off those lights and open the windows.

Before you go snapping away, you have to understand positioning relative to the light. Using sunlight has one major drawback; you cannot control its movement. Instead, you must manipulate your set in order to get the best use out of those glorious rays.

Always place the sitter behind or to the side of the natural light source. For example, if you have one large window as your only source of lighting, move your setup and the sitter so that the light shines on either side of them or directly on their front.

If the sunlight comes from behind, it’ll flood too much light into the camera giving you severely overexposed images. Don’t ruin your shots. Get it right.

If, however, sunlight is not an option, you must rely on artificial light. Softboxes are the way to go. Lamps and umbrellas are also options but they are not perfect.

#Team Softbox

A softbox is a light source that traps light inside its walls, then filters it through a special material. This material disperses the light emitting a soft glow.

Due to the softness of the light, softboxes can be used in almost any setting. Big spaces, tiny spaces, and even outdoors. What makes softboxes the best option is that it is versatile. These compact light sources can go anywhere and be used at a moments notice.

Although you may only require a standard small softbox for corporate headshots, there are a variety of boxes that serve different functions. Do a bit of research to decide which bests fit your photography style and technique.

Umbrellas: An Underdog Story

Reflective umbrellas often get a bad rap. As time moves on, photographers are beginning to leave them in the past. Why? Because technology has advanced enough to give us better options. It’s as simple as that.

Back in the day, umbrellas were used to bounce light from a lamp and reflect onto the subject. It was great and all, but its light would flood the room. Once the light reflects off of the umbrella, it would spread in a general direction with no point of focus.

This spill of light can then reflect off of anything else in the room and bounce back to the camera lens. In order to control the direction of the light, you would have to move the umbrella closer to the subject. And well, you can’t have a black pole in your corporate headshot, can you?

On the plus side, umbrellas are easy to put up and pack away. They are also cheap, so you could buy more than one umbrella to help properly angle the light.

If you’re looking for a cheap option, or you want to feel nostalgic, an umbrella will do the job.

In all, a softbox works best while the umbrella simply works.

Related Questions

Does the type of camera I use matter? Yes. Different cameras have different components that work best for different situations. With headshots, you want a DLSR camera equipped with a focal length lens and possibly a crop sensor. All is present within the Canon EOS 80D but shop around. You may find cheaper options.

How do I position a softbox? Softboxes work best up close. Move the box as close to the subject as possible without it being an obstruction or invasive.

What if I don’t have creative control? Most times you won’t have those liberties and you probably wouldn’t have enough time to utilize them if you did. Keep it simple. Get the subject in position, make them laugh and feel good, snap continuously. You won’t need to be too creative if the subject is taking wonderful shots.

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