Larrow also recommends taking the same photo for 15 minutes a day for one to two weeks, combining those sessions into a half hour every other day if needed. The advice he’s given to trans friends who are in the process of transitioning and trying to figure out how to pose and photograph themselves is useful for anyone: Find an interesting piece of light and study yourself in it. Try things and ask yourself what your image is conveying.
Find the Right Background
You don’t need a fancy photography studio. A little creativity can go a long way. “I shoot 99 percent of my self-portraits in my bedroom, just setting up my $19 backdrop stand that I got on Amazon, hanging a white sheet over it, and having fun,” says Silva.
He also likes to stock up on color, going to fabric stores every few months to pick up pieces that inspire him. He recommends buying pieces that are about 1 yard wide and 2 or 3 yards long. They’re not only cheaper than a 9-foot seamless paper backdrop roll, they take up less storage space.
If you have dark hair, Larrow says, use a light-colored backdrop. Otherwise, there’s a good chance your hair will meld into the background. If you’re wearing bright colors, it’s better to take yourself (and your selfie) outside than to shoot inside against a white wall, where “the light is going to reflect that, like a highlighter-yellow jacket on your skin.”
Dörr is also a big fan of outdoor portraits. “I’m fascinated by nature colors and shapes, and I feel that the human figure, or portrait, gets an extra layer of cognitive representation when they are both together,” she says. “They complement each other.”
If you’re a nature person, the outdoors may be the ideal setting for a professional headshot—just make sure there are no trees sticking out of the top of your head.
Karah Mew, a documentary-style portrait photographer in Portsmouth, England, recommends using contextual environments. If you’re going for a corporate vibe, for example, you may want to shoot in an office space. If you’re an artist, she suggests using a studio space.
Wear Something Classic and Know Your Colors
Does your skin have warm, cool, or neutral undertones? If you don’t know the answer, learn what colors (whether for background, clothing, or makeup) look good on you. One shortcut: Look at your veins. If they look greenish, you may have warm undertones. If they appear blue or purplish, you probably have cooler undertones. If it’s hard to tell, your undertone could be neutral. Warm undertones look good in reds, yellows, golds, and warm earth tones like brown and sand. Cool undertones look good in blues, purples, silver, and cool earth tones like grey. Neutral tones can wear almost anything, but photographers generally advise people to avoid black, white, patterns, and super-bright colors in headshots, because these can be difficult to expose and distracting to the eye. (Bright red is famously one of the most difficult colors to photograph, often appearing too vivid and oversaturated.) If you want to play it safe, go for lighter, muted colors and earth tones.
Style is highly personal, but if your goal is to create a versatile headshot that won’t look dated by next year, stick with something timeless, like a solid-color pocket T, Silva’s go-to. Dörr, who prefers classic and timeless clothing, agrees. “Keep it simple,” she says.
Check Your Camera Settings
Before you start shooting, choose the highest possible image quality, one that will give you more detail and flexibility when you have to crop and edit. Some smartphones include a RAW format setting, which results in massive uncompressed files. Photographers prefer that, because it allows them more control over the final image. The downside is that RAW images require more editing. If you’re comfortable with post-processing, including how to export images to JPEGs, RAW files are your best bet.
If you have a manual white balance setting on your camera, adjust it before you get started by looking at white objects in your viewfinder. They might appear too warm or too cool, which can affect skin tone as well.
Use a Tripod
Holding your phone, selfie-style, is OK for a snapshot, but for a self-portrait you’ll get better results without your arm in the way. A monopod (aka a selfie stick) lets you get the camera farther away, while keeping your arms closer to your body. Your best bet is a tripod or photo mount, though Silva has propped up his phone on a windowsill using a water bottle, or placed it in the nook of a tree. Larrow’s tripod hack is to put a phone on a pile of books on top of a table, making sure it’s at a 90-degree angle and roughly at eye level. “Having the camera too low will make you look really large, and having it too high will feel like 2004 Myspace,” he says. “It’s just a strange perspective.”
If you don’t have a tripod, ask someone else to hold the camera and shoot, but be clear on what you want in the frame. It’s also smart to mark your spot with masking tape so you’re always centered as you’re trying out different positions.