For Critique Headshot Help


Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
Hiya folks.

I tried to do some headshots for a friend, which she needs for a bike website. So that's why the bike features in 2 of these 3... It's a part of the headshot. What I did was meet up with her for coffee before work, then scouted out some fall colors. The sky was a solid grey sheet cake of clouds with nary a ripple or hole to be seen, just Medium Grey as far as the eye could see. So I got low contrast light (a good thing?) but colors didn't really pop. Maybe it was for the best. I used the XT of course, and the 56 lens. I tried to vary the aparture and not shoot purely wide-the-hell-open, but I did blur out that background pretty well in most of the shots.

How did I do? What could I have done better?

A wide shot

A medium-wide

And finally a closer crop, sans-bike

Helpful comments could very include tips on how to handle her, not just the camera. I feel like I knew what to do with the XT, more or less.


Top Veteran
Feb 1, 2013
Marlow, UK
The second picture is my favourite of the three, and I hope your friend would be very happy with it as a portrait. She has the most natural expression in this one, I think. The flat grey lighting is flattering to the subject and is definitely working in your favour. The colours look great to me.

As the bicycle is part of the story, I think I would have featured it slightly more prominently in that second shot, to make it absolutely obvious that it's a bicycle and it's supposed to be there. In the context of a cycling website that's probably not so necessary, but seen in isolation one might (briefly) wonder what she's holding there.

For my tastes I think the depth of field is rather too shallow. You've done a fantastic job of separating your friend from the foliage behind, but it has a slightly unsettling effect - I think my eyes are trying to pull that background blur into focus and failing. Is there some PP at work there too?



supernatural anesthetist
Sep 9, 2011
Cumbria UK
First shot. Nice and relaxed but her left hand needs a job.
Second shot very nice. Think I would have had her hold the handlebars purely to give her something to do with her hands.
But hey, I rarely shoot people so I'm sure you did a better job than I could have done.
Third shot, the smile looks a little strained and she is missing a limb.
I like the second. I would be happy with it. If you get the chance to repeat the shoot, I would use that pose as a starting point. Oh, Square fits the bill too.
Lovely colours :)


Super Moderator
Nov 11, 2011
Milwaukee, WI USA
+1 on most everything said above.
I would also like less background blur. Isolating the subject is fine, but the background here tells part of the story. Detail in the leaves and the ability to better make out the sidewalk/fence line would be nice.

I think she looks a little nervous, but she shouldn't be....the camera likes her. I haven't done any shooting like this, but I've read that talking with your model while you're shooting can set them at ease and make them feel less like a model and more like themselves resulting in more natural postures and smiles. I think at that point, though, you likely need to be shooting bursts and capturing more frames to get the right one.


Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
"Was there post processing on that blurry background" - no, just the massive 1.2 aperture. It was all lens. These have had the slightest bit of tone mapping, if anything, and that's about it, post-wise. Basically SOOC, because I didn't think I could improve them much.

"Nerves etc" - You know, I tried to talk and shoot at the same time, and was able to do it to some degree, but as soon as I got too into the banter I would not have the brain power left to frame and adjust. I wouldn't *think* it would take much effort, but I found myself wanting to say a few words and then shoot.

"Burst" - Is probably a good idea, in retrospect.


Super Moderator
Aug 13, 2011
Sunny Frimley
Bill Palmer
There's nothing wrong with the photos, although none of them are what I would call "headshots" - I'd be a lot closer for that. They are more "environmental portraits" but that's fine. In that regard, #1 is too "windy" and her arms look uncomfortable. #2 is pretty well spot-on, giving us a feel for the lady in context of the bicycle #3 tells us less about her. Specific to #2, I like the leading lines of the fence and the OOF path in the background, although I would try a slightly narrower crop, thus:

...I've also taken the liberty to burn in the left hand side of the lady's face, and rotate by one degree to the right, as well as altering the colour slightly to make her look a little more tanned and a little less flushed.

As to getting your subject to relax, banter is the key. I explain that I am going to "snap away", then I get the subject to put their chins on their chests, then stare at the stars, look behind to the left - who's that behind you on the right?! - then look straight at the camera. This usually relaxes and makes them laugh, and leads to some cracking eye contact. Do that a couple of times by which time they have relaxed a bit with the "idiot photographer", then get them to talk; ask simple questions that require complex answers, like "how did you get here today?" or "Tell me about your last birthday." The idea is to put them in a "happy place" where they are thinking about the story they are telling rather than the camera pointed at them. If you keep your questions short and simple, you don't break your own concentration. Don't hide behind the camera, show your face occasionally and laugh along with them and react positively to what they are saying. Don't fiddle with it, or tweak for too long - you should be ready for them and you will give them confidence if you yourself are in a flow state. DON'T break off halfway and show them some of the shots you have been taking - you will "break the spell" and have to start again. In fact don't show anything but the finished articles, no matter how much they ask!

I really hope this helps - sorry for the ramble!


O.* Gonzo's & Bentley's Dad
Jun 5, 2012
Austin, TX
a wireless off camera flash, even hand held as far as yer arm would stretch would add some extra punch to her
or on a cheap stand. $100 or so for a yn 560iii, 1 transmitter for camera, and a cheap lightstand
it would give you a lot of extra options for intended photos

id also have had her riding back n forth as i turned around over and over and she came and went and got some snaps of her actually ON the bike, plus it would have had her laughing that youd have to keep whipping around as she passed and just the fact she was riding in little 20 foot strips over and over. might have helped get something more genuine and less "smile for the camera" out of her face emotion wise as well. the first shot looks like some genuine emotion, the second less so, and the 3rd feels like a very phony smile

for another pose, i prolly would have had her sit under a tree, lean against it, hold a book in one hand like shes readin, while holding an apple with a bite out of it in the other hand, just looking at the book, with the bike leaned on the tree around from her
and done it in a pano wide shot so she coulda used it for the header of a page somewhere

she just SEEMS like someone who would eat an apple under a tree that she rode her bike to while reading a book
lol :)


Hall of Famer
Mar 27, 2013
What is the message you want to give?

I think I'd go more sideways on this & try putting her & the bike on some town hall steps (or something)


Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
So I DID initially have her riding the bike, and getting her in focus was a nightmare. Eventually I opened up the aperture a little, to like 5.6, and it was obviously easier, but the continuous focus was just NOT cutting it with the 56 on. It was odd... ordinarily it blows the first photo in Continuous High, then locks on and holds well enough. She was going very slow just to make it easier for me, and still the damned thing just wouldn't lock on. I got some, but in all cases,

1. She was much softer than these stills, and
2. her facial expression was much less good


Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
Also, that first shot, I did crack her up. I know her well, we play in a band together. I managed to say something funny at first, and then the pressure began to mount and I couldn't repeat the feat.

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