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13 Unique Headshot Ideas for Your Next Portrait Shoot

Nearly every portrait photographer will be asked to do headshots at some point in their career. While preparing a three-point lighting setup is pretty straightforward, taking the same headshots all the time can get pretty boring — for yourself and for your subjects. Besides, people need photos for different reasons: a school yearbook, a corporate press release, a casting call. While some portraits may have to meet certain size and style requirements, others can be more flexible. If you’re trying to find some variety in the studio, use one of these 13 unique headshot ideas for your next portrait shoot to make your subject stand out.

1. Use active poses

There are a few conventions that you’ll want to adhere to when shooting headshots. After all, the main thing that distinguishes a headshot from a portrait is that a headshot is closely cropped and usually shows the subject from the shoulders up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring out your subject’s personality by asking them to take an active pose. Get your subject to move around a bit, relax their shoulders, and get comfortable. Give them a prop to hold on to off-camera if they appear fidgety. You can even capture your subject stepping toward you mid-stride.

2. Find creative angles

Headshots are typically shot in a studio with a plain backdrop. But if your headshots are looking too flat, try capturing your subject in front of a more dynamic backdrop, such as leaning against a fence or in front of a doorway. You can keep the background blurry to avoid drawing attention away from the subject, but with the right perspective, it’ll give the portrait some depth.

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3. Shoot in front of exposed wood or brick

Exposed brick backdrops are a pretty standard headshot idea, but there’s a reason they’re so popular. Why brick? Because they give the backdrop color and texture. Wood paneling is great, too, for a hip, industrial vibe. Rent a photo studio like this one in Midtown Manhattan, NY, which has multiple backdrops to use, including exposed brick, timber walls, and a white cyclorama.

4. Rent a studio kitchen

In order to get the most authentic headshots, capture your subject in a place where they feel at home. For professional chefs, that might be a studio kitchen, such as this one in Seattle that has lots of natural of light, plain white ceilings, and shelves full of kitchenware and cookbooks. You can search on Peerspace for other venues that are the right fit for your subject’s profession or personality.

6. Use architectural elements

Pose your subject in front of an archway for a confident corporate headshot. For example, have your subject stand with their arms crossed in front of an imposing building or monument. Find a Peerspace venue with a memorable archway, fountain, or statue, such as this unique courtyard ringed with arches in East Williamsburg, NY.

7. Take advantage of natural backdrops

Brick walls and other man-made backdrops can work for corporate headshots, but sometimes you want to go for a more natural look. If your subject is the outdoorsy type, you can pose them in front of a grassy field, a park, or even a forest. Stand on a bench or rock looking down on the subject. Again, you can keep the background blurry to avoid distractions, but even just the hint of grass and trees gives off a more “natural” look than a green paper backdrop.

8. Use lots of color

Corporate headshots shouldn’t be too busy, but if you’re shooting headshots for a creative type, anything goes! Try shooting in one of these exciting Peerspace venues, including a bold, vibrant space or a chic, aesthetically pleasing studio in Downtown LA. Or, set up shop in this warehouse full of colorful shipping containers in San Francisco for unique headshot ideas incorporating eclectic lighting and fabric installations. 

9. Include a pet

If your subject has a small pet that can fit on their shoulders — such as a bird or a cat — or even a small dog they can hold, include it in your headshot to show off their personality. For example, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor often posed with her pink poodle, as seen in this classic portrait.

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10. Leave the hat on

Depending on your subject’s hobbies and interests, their headgear can say a lot about who they are. If your subject is a cyclist or a swimmer, they don’t have to lose the helmet or goggles when they step in front of the camera. Capture your swimmer with their swimming cap still on or with their goggles pushed back over their forehead, still dripping with water, for an active shot.

11. Step back in time

One unique headshot idea for an author or professor is to style their headshot as a period piece. Go for a Sherlock Holmes vibe by posing your subject in the parlor of this historic Queen Anne mansion that’s available to rent on Peerspace. With five fireplaces, patterned wallpaper, and a glass-enclosed model of a sailing ship, this venue gives off a stylish, professorial vibe.

12. Shoot in a glass house

Get creative by incorporating glass and mirrors into your headshots. This mirrored glass house in Joshua Tree, CA, combines with the reddish desert rocks to create a futuristic, sci-fi aesthetic from both inside and out. Or, rent the “Chromacabana,” a multicolored glass structure in Highland Park, CA, for more psychedelic headshots.

13. Pose with an instrument

Finally, don’t forget to include any tools or instruments that show off your subject’s industry or personality. Whether it’s an artist’s paintbrush, a handyman’s toolkit, or a cellist’s instrument, posing your subject with their tool of choice is a must if you want to convey who they are to anyone who glances at their portrait.

Headshots are like book covers: they’re often used by a casting director, hiring professional, or some other decision-maker to form a snap judgement about a subject. A memorable headshot can help your subject get a job, land a role, or build up a reputation as a public figure.

Instead of settling for the traditional headshot formula, work with your subject to come up with a headshot idea that truly represents them. If you need a photo studio or creative space to work in, search on Peerspace for a one-of-a-kind photoshoot venue near you!

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