How to take a selfie headshot

Some photographers would never post something like this. From an income standpoint, that makes sense, I suppose. I am always trying to find more clients, but more than any amount of money earned, providing a valuable service is important to me. I know that what I charge for a headshot session isn’t the cheapest in town or even in my neighbourhood! However, I do know that my knowledge and use of body/head positioning and expression direction provide my clients with photos they love. If another photographer can deliver the same experience for $49, they really need to raise their rates!

I know that not everyone who wants or needs a headshot is going to come to me. I’m okay with that. And I know that there are times, like these, where it may be impossible to walk into a photo studio and have a professional headshot taken by a photographer specializing in headshots. When I poke around LinkedIn, I see SO many really awful profile photos. It takes restraint to not beg them to hire me to shoot their business portraits and headshots. Cropping that photo someone took of you at the family BBQ to just show your pixelated face doesn’t look professional. It could actually harm your business profile when you consider how you only get one shot at a first impression.

So, seeing as we’ve been at home for so long and only recently have photo studios reopened, I thought I would write a guide on how to shoot a passable selfie headshot, in case you need one but can’t get it. Read it all below. And if you’re in Toronto (or you’re a fan of paying for other people’s travel) and you are looking for a great photographic experience and even better results, give me a call.


- Use natural light (but don’t actually shoot your photo outside).

- Take your photo around 2’ away from but facing a window. The sunnier the day, the further back from the window you should be. You want soft, diffused light and you want to avoid glare on your skin.

- Make sure your background isn’t busy. The ideal is a plain painted single-tone wall with nothing on it. Keep about a foot off the wall so any shadows are soft. Bedding can sub in for a backdrop if you’re inclined to do so.

- If you have to choose between the window and the wall, choose the wall. Exposure can usually be improved in post-production. 

If you have to choose the wall without window light, make sure the lighting is even and indirect. Overhead lighting will put pockets of shadow in your eye sockets. Use a flash as a last resort. You can diffuse the harsh flash from a phone by covering it with a piece of tissue paper.


-Use the best camera you have, at the highest resolution your camera allows

-Look into the lens

-Keep the camera lens level with your eyes. Don’t shoot from high up or down low.

-Frame yourself in the shot from just above the top of the head to just above the elbow.

-Don’t cut off shoulders/outside edges of arms. Don’t cut off any part of the body.


-Take three photos

    • One with straight shoulders, head on to the camera
    • One each with your left and right shoulder turned to the camera. 

    • Don’t turn more than 10º. Turn (don’t twist) from the waist by stepping the lead foot out a few inches. 

    • Turn your head back to the camera. If that’s difficult, untwist your shoulder back.

- Keep your arms at your sides. Do not fold your arms or clasp your hands together.

- Tilt your chin slightly down

- Try to not ‘over-smile’. Huge toothy smiles like someone is demanding you say ‘cheese’ look inauthentic. Small smiles are just as effective. A small smile starts with a lips straight inline, then pull up the edges of the mouth back toward the ears.

- Try to avoid jewelry, zippers, big buttons, etc., anything that might be distracting. If you wear glasses, make sure they’re pushed back on your nose.


- Is the shot in focus?

- Are you looking at the camera?

- Is your chin tilted down?

- Is the exposure good or is the photo too bright (highlights/glare on your skin) or too dark?

- Do you like the photo?

If you answered yes to all 5, POST IT!

Camera bags on a budget

I’ve always been a bit of a bag collector, not just camera bags. It can be an expensive hobby. And so can photography. I put my money in camera bodies and lenses. Accessories can be equally expensive but there are good quality budget items available. 

I don’t know what attracts me to the perfect mix of utility and design, but man, I have a few and have coveted more that I’m too conservative to buy. That being said, I have 4 camera bags that I generally use, for different purposes. Here are the formats I use and what I put in them.

1. Camera backpack

My camera backpack is my go-to these days, for location shoots and for travel. As my kit has grown, a shoulder bag is no longer my all-purpose carrier. I used one for years almost exclusively, and while it held everything I needed plus a bit more, I also found myself with a sore trapezius muscle at the end of a shoot. To deal with my growing herd and my no-longer-young back, I almost always use this. If it’s a shoot that requires two bodies, I’ll always transport them in this bag. It has room for my Nikon D750 with a 70mm-200mm attached as well as my Nikon Z 6 with a 24mm-120mm plus space for a flash or an extra lens. Even if I don’t need both bodies, I’ll use the bag because the padding and adjustable dividers guard my gear well. I’ve flown with this bag three times. It fits the overhead compartment easily and even fully loaded with my 15” MacBook Pro, the weight distribution and straps makes this a very comfortable backpack. They no longer make this exact version, but it can still be found. If I had to buy a new one, I would likely go for a Fastpack BP 250 AW II. 

2. Shoulder bag(s)

I use two shoulder bags depending on what I’m shooting. As a general walking-around bag, when I only need two lenses, I use something like this. The one I use is no longer available for some reason, but it allows me to carry my 24mm-120mm ƒ4 on one of my bodies, as well as my 70-200 ƒ2.8. The two outside pockets allow me to pack a flash (if it’s not a concert shoot) and my 50mm ƒ1.4 (in case the show is lit by a candle and an iPhone). The flat back pocket holds my lanyard and cred holder. Bag number two I use when I’m shooting an arena show that requires my 200-500 ƒ5.6. This bag allows me to carry a body, that lens, plus one more. And I can hook my monopod to the handle with a carabiner. 

3. Single-camera and lens bag. 

I use this for when I’m just walking around taking street photos. Mine is a groovy old 90s version that’s forest green and tan, but the functionality is the same. I put this strap on it for cushiony comfort. But the bag holds everything that I need when I’m a bit more casual with my photography. The inside pouch will hold something flat like extra SD cards, while the outside pouch will hold an extra battery, a tiny folding tripod, a cloth and my keys, with room to spare.

For the age-old and possibly controversial question, what is IN my bag(s)? I do have a few items that I make sure I’m carrying whenever I’m out on a shoot. And some things that maybe you’ve never thought of…

But that will come in a future post.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Beginner tips for shooting concerts

Here is a list that I run through my head when the viewfinder is at my eye to ensure more keepers. I’m rushing to put this up but I intend for it to be a living breathing thing that I’ll update occasionally as I make new observations or continue to make the same mistakes.  If you think you’ve learned it all, you’ve got a lot to learn.

My first concert photography experience was an immediate rush. Having performed on stage before, for me, shooting a concert is the closest I’ve felt to playing in concert. I finished the night both full of adrenaline and exhaustion. And I was left looking for the next opportunity. I made a lot of mistakes that night and being honest, I still make some of them. 

Shooting a great concert photo can sometimes feel like trying to shoot a bullseye on a moving target while riding a unicycle. It’s not easy. But it sure is fun. If you’re interested in concert photography, start small. Look for a local music venue or a local band that’ll allow you to practice. More than anything, shoot a TON of photos. Try everything, try different things. Examine your work with a critical eye. Being obvious, keep doing the things that worked and try to stop doing what didn’t. Or try to refine what didn’t quite work. Maybe with MORE work, it’ll work. Enough of that word.

This should go without saying. You love concert photography because you love music, right? Well, music will get a whole lot less enjoyable if high concert volumes ruin your hearing. Wear earplugs. Without fail. You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars in custom-fitted ones. You only need a handful of cheap foam ones in your camera bag. I use Ear Peace and have a pair in every camera bag. I also have a pair of -30 dB shooting plugs for arena pits where it can be much louder than club shows. Before you buy your next lens or even lens cap, invest in your ear health.

Know your basic shots. 

I have a list in mind of what to photograph. It includes ensuring to get a full body and closeup headshot of each member (including the drummer) individually, a wide shot of the entire stage. 

Always shoot RAW. 

Concert photography is almost always low light photography, so being able to get the most flexibility and options can be the key to making a good shot great. Shooting RAW allows you to make advanced edits to light and colour. Shoot for the best in-camera, but shooting RAW gives you the opportunity to adjust when necessary. And in my experience, that’s pretty often. 

Avoid photos with the mic (or anything else) obscuring the face
I only keep such a photo if another aspect validates it – if the lighting, expression or composition rises its quality above an average ‘mic in the mouth’ shot. I always wait until the singer steps back for a breath. The same applies for ‘Pinocchio’ photos. And yes, for artistic reasons, maybe you want to keep them anyway. My bare minimum is that I need to see at least one eye to make it a keeper. I also try to not cut off headstocks of guitars (or human body parts)

Fill the frame
I make sure to not leave a lot of empty space above or below your subject, except for artistic reasons. Often, stage monitors (speakers that allow performers to hear their own or other band members’ vocals or instrumentation) will get in the way of everything below the knees. I generally will crop the bottom of a photo like this that’s otherwise worth it.

Capture motion, expressions, action or shared moments and exchanges of the artist

I’m always looking for something to elevate my photos above one with someone performing on stage with lights behind and on them. The photos I’ve taken that I love most always include one of these extras

Get the shot, but experiment too

After you’ve captured your basic shots, feel free to experiment with composition and cropping. I have a style that I’ve been developing that I spoil myself with after I get the shots I need

The rule is respect. Respect the rules. 

Not just the rules of the specific shoot, but also the rules of respect for everyone else at the show. First, respect the rules of the shoot. if it’s three songs or half a song, don’t fire off another shot after the allotted duration. Just leave the pit and thank the security staff on the way out. Yes, the lighting may have been suboptimal to your artistic desires, but that’s how it goes. You’re not just representing yourself (and the publication you’re shooting for), you’re representing all concert photographers. Don’t get pissed off at audience members and don’t stand right in front of them for longer than it takes to shoot a photo. They paid. You didn’t. Get your shot. Get out of the way. If there’s no pit, ask a rail rider if you can stand in front of them for a song or two. I’ve asked people at the front if I can switch spots with them and offered them a print in return. It’s a pretty good $7 investment to get better shots. Respect security. They’re not just there to protect the artist. They’re there for the photographers too. I’ve seen security catch crowd surfers before dropping the boots on photographers in the pit. They light our ways in the dark. They watch our bags while we’re shooting. They deserve tons of respect. They have a job to do, just like you. Always thank them on the way out. Respect other photographers. Photography isn’t a competition. You found that amazing vantage point where the singer is perfectly framed with a fine brush of rim lighting. Don’t own it. Get your shots, move to another spot. Let someone else take a turn. I know, it’s tough to give up a prime camping spot, but it’s the right thing to do. Plus, you don’t want 93 versions on an almost identical photo. You want lots of different angles and heights. Don’t wear a backpack in the pit. I’ve only been in one pit that was deeper than three feet. I still put my bag side stage. Tap a shoulder before passing behind a photographer as a courtesy. 

And finally, be a nice member of the photography community. Chat up your fellow shooter before the lights go down. At least offer a smile and a nod. Afterwards, introduce yourself to other photographers. If you intend to shoot more than one show, it’s nice to know who you’ll be seeing at future shows. We have a great community of music photographers here in Toronto who regularly meet up via a Facebook group. As they say, find your tribe, love them hard…

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