Every professional needs a headshot. Whether it’s for your Ladders profile or your company’s corporate ‘about us’ page, it’s essential to have a solid image you can share widely. As a freelance journalist, all publications ask me to send along my short biography and a headshot. It’s part of the onboarding process, including all paperwork like contracts and banking information.
But if I’m honest, my headshot was a tad outdated—by four years. Since I’m only 31, I haven’t changed *that* much in a short stint of time, but I knew it was time for a new shot. I planned on hiring a local photographer in Boston in the Spring to capture the colorful blooms and sunlight, but like many others, my plans were derailed with lockdown orders.
So, when a photographer I’ve worked with previously posted about ‘virtual’ photo sessions, I was instantly intrigued. How—in the world—would that work? She’s located in the mountains of North Carolina, and I’m in the heart of the South End. To my surprise (and frankly, amazement), she pulled off beautiful shots by coaching my boyfriend through the process.
How did it work?
Photographer Victoria Grace McFall scheduled time in the afternoon when the light was the brightest in our apartment. We did a tour via FaceTime, and she scouted out the best spots. She then instructed my boyfriend on where to place me, where he should stand, and what to move out of the frame. She gave him tips on the best settings for his Canon point and shoot and then looked over his takes through video. We spent about thirty minutes taking images, and then sent them all to her. She edited them and returned the final proofs. Pretty cool, right?
McFall took some time to chat about the current photography industry and how you can also take your headshots at home. (And psst: no, a fancy camera isn’t necessary—and iPhone works just fine.)
What made you decide to try at-home coaching sessions with clients?
McFall: As a full-time photographer with no other job and a single mom of twin girls, I realized within a few days of North Carolina starting to lock down that I was going to have to get creative if I wanted my business to sustain us during this pandemic.
The unfortunate timing of weddings canceling didn’t help. Most wedding photographers consider winter their ‘slow season,’ and we use the income from the fall wedding season to get us through it until Spring when things pick up again. The state shut down two days before my first spring wedding. The timing was horrible.
For me, even if I had wanted to go against the county, state, and federal mandates to do ‘in-person’ shoots like so many others in my industry did, I wouldn’t have felt safe doing so, since my daughters were born premature and have outstanding medical issues that make them high-risk.
I read an article about a Florida couple who were doing engagement sessions virtually, and it helped me figure out how to make a one-year-old birthday shoot I had scheduled work. After walking her through taking her own ‘cake smash’ photos of her son and editing them went better than I anticipated, I started offering virtual services.
So far, I’ve done cake smashes, senior pictures, graduation pictures, and headshots this way.
How have they gone?
McFall: I touched on this above, but honestly, they have surprisingly gone so well. I laugh so much during them always because I am a very hands-on photographer, and through the phone, I can’t be. I’m also dyslexic, and trying to give left/right instructions via Facetime is like trying to provide left/right instructions in a mirror maze for me, so that’s the hardest part.
As a self-described control freak, it is so hard not to be able to hold the camera doing the shooting, but these shoots let me work on composition and posing skills that I don’t always get to think about regularly. So creatively, they’ve been a good exercise for me.
What were you looking for in my apartment as you scouted out spots?
McFall: I was looking for places with backgrounds that wouldn’t be too busy, for good light, and places that you could sit/stand comfortably. I also wanted the location to make sense not only for a photo but also for professional headshots for you, specifically, as a journalist. If you had been a chef, we’d have spent our time in the kitchen.
I also was looking for anything distracting or potentially personal information that you wouldn’t want in your photos. This is part of a photographer’s job and is part of the ‘clean up’ I usually do in-person, but in this case, I had to do my best to try and spot items via Facetime.
What if someone doesn’t have a fancy camera, but an iPhone? Can they still pull it off?
McFall: Yes they can. Honestly, for the sake of social media/professional blogs, iPhone photos sometimes look comparable. If you put a ‘fancy’ camera in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to operate it, and then hand them an iPhone that does all of the work for them settings wise? The iPhone photos will look better.
For the cake smash, his mom used an iPhone. And by the time I was done editing the images, there were very few differences. If she tried to print them bigger than a 4X6, it would be obvious it was a cell phone. For headshots, I think an iPhone would be perfect and for a lot of people more natural to use. I can edit cell phone photos even if I can’t edit them as much as I can a raw photograph of a camera enough that the before and after photos are still an impressive change.
What are some ways people can prepare their homes for an at-home photoshoot?
McFall: Clean like your most judgmental family member is coming for a surprise visit in thirty minutes. You know: toss random things in closets and under couches/beds. If you have an office, you want photos in, then be sure to unplug any unnecessary stuff to get rid of as many chords as possible and remove any documents with your address/confidential information.
Move things you don’t want in photos into the corner of the office where your photographer will be standing (aka your spouse, your friend, or your tripod). If you have wall art, you love but not necessarily in photos? Just take it down. Most photographers can easily remove any visible nail holes.
Open all of your blinds and pull back curtains to let as much natural light in as possible. Put things like dish soaps and sponges under the kitchen sink for now if you’ll be doing photos in the kitchen, so the counters are as clean/clutter-free as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and if something I think needs to be moved/hidden, I will tell you. Most photographers will.
Don’t worry about dusting things/wiping down stuff unless it’s visible from a distance or something you’ll be sitting next to for photos: like your desk, kitchen counters, favorite chair.
And most of all, have fun! It’s about demonstrating your personality and your style. Our job is just to help you capture it and make it beautiful.