Tips From a Pro: Here’s What You Need to Do to Get the Perfect Headshot Photo


Tips From a Pro: Here’s What You Need to Do to Get the Perfect Headshot Photo

There’s a lot to be said for the latest camera gear.  And since there are loads of photographers out there these days, many are pushing their skills to further and further heights.  I look at A LOT of photography.  And there’s one thing I often find missing in professional headshots.

You see, this photography medium is a two-dimensional one.  Until portraits are literally three dimensional, we will struggle to create a more 3D experience for the viewers.  In normal, face to face communication, we rely heavily on the non-verbal cues to derive the underlying meaning and context.  Based on the most commonly accepted wisdom out there, our body language and other non-verbal cues account for around 55% of what your audience (the listener) uses to decipher your message.

That number is contested, but even if that ‘statistic’ is a bit off, we’re talking about nearly half of our communication resulting from the physical experience of the human being standing in front of us.  And in a flat, 2D image we have to try that much harder to make an impact.

There’re a few tricks we use every single day in our studio to amplify the effects of body language.  But there’s one in particular that has more of an overall effect than anything else.  And it’s so simple

I affectionately call it ‘The Turtle’.  It’s a manoeuvre that results in an incredibly powerful, energy-forward position that is completely invisible to the viewer.  I make a point to say that the gesture is invisible because it feels absolutely ridiculous.  The result, however, is immediately seen and felt.

Check out this quick 1-minute video where I demonstrate the power of the Turtle.

Interestingly, we need to over exaggerate the body language we constantly rely on.  The camera is a fickle beast which is why so many people avoid them at all costs.  But this is one of those photo ‘hacks’ that improves everyone’s headshots.

For example, this is Peter.  He’s a pretty fit guy with a decent jawline, but even his images succumb to the dreaded chinless expanse of endless neck; while feeling needlessly distant.

With just a little Turtle, it feels like he’s leaning in (in a very subtle way) thereby enhancing his natural body language; making him feel more engaged and more ‘present’.  Overall, it’s the same vibe you create when you’re having a great conversation; where you lean in to signify your interest.  Of course, all that is usually subconscious in real life.  And the viewer will experience it unconsciously.  But we have to purposefully make that happen in a photo.

Some people like the benefit of having more impact in an image… and rely on that to get more attention from their market.  But there’s another huge benefit.  It is infinitely more flattering.

Here’s another example.  This is Jennifer.  She’s a lovely woman of a certain maturity and wanted to lessen the effects of a life well-lived in her headshot.  I’ve made a .gif for you to see the distinct difference it makes when The Turtle is used well.

So there you have it.  The Turtle solves two problems with one (albeit awkward) gesture.  First, it’s way more flattering and gives you a nicely defined chin/ jaw line.

But the second – and I would argue more important benefit – is an overall more engaged (and engaging) image by exaggerating the natural body language we use all the time.  We just need to give it a little extra push for the camera.

This isn’t just for headshots, either.  This works the same way anytime you are facing the camera.

So the next time you’re out at dinner with a bunch of friends and Janice hands her phone to the waiter for a “fun group photo”, just push your ears forward and TURTLE!  Yes, your friends will look at you funny and probably even comment…  But you’ll have the last laugh…  Trust me.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Sharon Chisholm

    Brilliant article Jason. I just came across the “turtle” for the first time when I was away at a business retreat. We were having our headshots done and there was a lot of laughter around this simple, yet very effective technique.

  • Anf

    So simple yet so powerful. Love it Jason! Turtle power!

  • Drew

    Darn that’s a very cool article. Love the practical help. Thanks Jason.

  • Cate Scolnik

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the tip – I love it! I’ve heard this before, but not explained so brilliantly. I’m going to be Turtling everywhere from now on! At least, when any cameras are out and about. 🙂

  • Rosemary

    I always say ‘lean forward’ when I have a group that I am having my photo taken with. Lose the chins, lose the retreated look, but to say ‘TURTLE” – hey, that’s so much more fun.
    I’ll acknowledge you, Jason

  • Tracy

    Turtle Power! One of your many gems 🙂

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