People often ask me about the pros and cons of environmental headshots vs. studio headshots and why I specialize in the latter. To be sure, a good headshot photographer can make an effective headshot in a studio or on location, but I prefer to be in the studio for making the most effective headshot with the added efficiency and convenience of a studio setting. To understand why, I’ll explain what makes a good headshot and why it’s easier and more convenient to make good headshots in a studio.
What makes a good headshot? A good headshot will make a human connection in a world where human connections are hard to make anymore. In two seconds or less, a headshot has to catch someone’s attention, make a good impression, and if everything is perfect, communicate something human like “I’m fun,” or “I’m cool,” or “You can trust me.” To start, it’s difficult to catch people’s attention at all these days, and when they do, headshots usually stand out for looking bad more often than they do for looking good. If someone does look at your headshot they’ll only look at it for two seconds or less and usually in a very small format, such as a social media profile picture, or a business card thumbnail. The split second first impression will be made by the image quality, as people can instantly tell the difference between professional and amateur photography. If the first impression is good you might catch their eye for another second, and that’s when a human connection can be made if the viewer looks deeper into the eyes and facial expression. Therefore, it’s very important that the eyes are properly lit, the subject has a great facial expression, and there are no other distracting elements competing with the face for precious split seconds of attention.
So what’s the problem with environmental headshots? The most common problem is the background, it’s usually distracting, taking attention away from the eyes and face. When you’re shooting outside in nature or in an urban setting it can be difficult to find a background that is better than the simple white, gray or black seamless background we use in the studio. It can be done, but may require some scouting or some luck to find, resulting in a longer, less efficient session. More often, environmental headshots have really bright green backgrounds, power lines or street signs coming out of the back of the head, or other architectural lines intersecting the face in unpleasant ways. An interesting setting may make for a great environmental portrait, but it usually does more harm than good in a headshot. Outdoor headshots are also very dependent on weather and shooting during a particular time of day when the light is nice, two inconveniences that are avoided with studio headshots.
There are additional benefits to studio headshots that result in better pictures and added convenience. Most importantly, we have total control over lighting in the studio. Light is the most important element in photography and it is especially crucial in headshots and portraits. When it’s done properly, light gives shape to the face, puts a sparkle in the eyes, and flatters the skin. In the studio I use 4 lights with big light modifiers carefully placed to make the most flattering light possible. To take those lights outside into the wind and elements is a much riskier venture that requires a bigger budget to accommodate. People are also more comfortable in the studio and it shows up in the pictures (I've written about this previously here). There are fewer distractions and the privacy helps people to feel less self conscious that other people are watching them pose, which is very common when shooting in public locations. All of this allows me to draw the best out of my subjects more easily when I’m in the studio, saving time while improving the results.
For all of these reasons, my best advice is that there is no substitute for a studio headshot. Yes, you may want to supplement your online presence with environmental portraits and editorial portraits, and there may be certain uses for them (about me page of a website for instance). But environmental headshots will rarely perform as well as studio headshots for the things people most commonly use headshots for, and they are generally more convenient and cost effective to make. If you need a headshot in Boise Idaho please get in touch through the contact page here.