Julianna Haas: Headshots

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Photography and Text by Julianna Haas, Copyright 2016


The experience of taking head shots was as rewarding as it was difficult. At first I was overconfident with my ability because I assumed it was as simple as “taking close-up photos with professional lighting and a high quality camera.” However, I quickly learned that it was much more than that. During class practice when the lighting and models were already prepared for us, all I had to do was find the right camera settings to capture that right “moment”. Later, when I had to organize everything myself (from lighting rental to transportation, venue and models), I realized how prepared, organized and experienced one must be to become an outstanding photographer. 

With finding models, I was very fortunate to have my sister’s help. She organized her company employees (anyone who was new to the company or in need of head shots) to line up on my behalf. I found that when working with professionals instead of friends, there was a greater level of pressure (albeit self-enduced) to produce higher quality photographs. They were, after all, squeezing time out of their busy day for a headshot and I did not want to waste their time with inexperience! One thing that gave me a bit of stress was that I rented two “hot lights” and one bulb blew out at the beginning of the shoot. For some reason I was wary of using flash lights and wanted to use the hot lights, thinking it was easier to take photos in a constant light. However, I was shocked to learn that the lights are not constant–that they are actually burning hot and automatically go off in order to avoid over-burning. Therefore, I would turn the light off and on very frequently to give it cool down time. This, and the fact that one light had blown out, gave me a more difficult time during the photo shoot. Next time I will learn to use flash lighting. 

I quickly understood why we were instructed to have at least two assistants, one to handle lighting and the other make-up/hair/etc. Thankfully a few friends volunteered during the shoot to monitor the lights for me and move the models’ hair/face while I focused on shooting and directing. This was a huge help. In addition, another friend helped me to lift/carry the lighting equipment after the shoot (a service I did not know I needed at the onset and consequently, nearly died of when carrying everything from the equipment rental to my apartment.)

The Results: 

I learned some funny and memorable things, such as that the women were way more meticulous than men when evaluating the photos I took of them. The women, in their desire for perfection (and to look skinnier), actually helped me to reposition the light and make other minor changes to the set. In addition, I learned that having people in back of me interacting with the models (esp making them laugh) made for very animated, expressive photographs rather than dry and straightforward. I considered this a secret key ingredient in producing head shots full of energy and life. I also learned that post editing takes a tremendous amount of time and it really does help when models come prepared with blemishes covered, and when the lighting is perfected to avoid overexposure or glare on the face. Having experienced all these minor issues and tasks, I know now what to coordinate in advance to make future shoots more effective. From Assignment 1, I leaned that I need to 1) deepen my knowledge of professional lighting, 2) choose a better background or rent a backdrop 3) get lots of assistance, and 4) have as much human interaction as possible to capture moments of expression, energy and life rather than simply a face. 


About The Author: Julianna Haas is a graduate student in the School of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania.

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