How to Shoot Better Portraits for Social Media

Dating websites and social media sites (more importantly) are places where people will want to look their best. Sometimes it helps to have a professional headshot of you for social media, but those headshots should really tell a little bit about the story of who you are. Environmental portraits do a great job of this, but so do portraits that include extra elements that can keep your subject’s mind busy but still showcase who they are.

For that, you just need to do some listening and envisioning.

Sit Down, Drink Some Coffee, and Have a Chat

Paige Owen Headhots 2016 by Chris Gampat (9 of 32)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 3.2

The absolute best thing that you can do as a photographer when you’re doing someone’s headshots is to listen to them. But you’ll need very specific information to really build a general idea of who they are. Here are a few ideas:

  • In 30 seconds, summarize who you are as a person
  • What were the three biggest events that happened in your life recently in the past year and how have they shaped you?
  • What’s your typical day like?
  • What do you do for a living, talk about your role.
  • What do you typically do for fun?
  • Who are some people that you talk to every week?
  • What are some of your most defining features to you?

Basically, you’ll need to build a “picture” of who this person is. By listening to them, you can visualize them doing certain things. Those are what you should capture if possible.

Start Assembling Wardrobe Options

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Rokinon 135mm f2 lens review portraits extras (1 of 3)ISO 8001-160 sec

Though sometimes going to someone’s apartment or house can be best, they can also come to you and bring a bevy of clothing options. These all depend on the roles that they play in life. If someone is a rock climber, then maybe shoot them in their gear. If they’re a chef, perhaps in a kitchen with them working. After you’ve listened to them talk about all these roles that they do, you should be able to envision them in it.

Shoot on Location

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 70-200mm f4 OSS Eli Samuel portraits (2 of 2)ISO 32001-80 sec at f - 4.0

Shooting on a location is sometimes to best way to really get someone to bring out their personality. If they’re in their natural environments, then you’ll be able to bring out details about them and who they are. Those should them be portrayed in the images that you’re creating. Here are some examples:

  • A baker in the kitchen
  • A gymnast at a gym or an urban playground working with whatever they can
  • A bartender behind the bar
  • A police officer in uniform or in an office/car
  • A taxi cab driver in his car
  • A biker with their bike and in a location where they typically like to ride.

Observe The Specific Shape of the Subject

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Little Miss Rollerhoops portraits (17 of 24)ISO 2501-6 sec at f - 8.0

Posing isn’t only about just putting someone in an environment, it’s about making them look their best. Everyone is a different shape, and so it can be tough to do this, but you’ll need to work your best. Here are some infographics to help.

The Phoblographer Infographic for face posing




Light and Shoot

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lomography Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm f2.4 art lens portraits with Amanda (11 of 11)ISO 4001-500 sec

After posing, lighting is also very serious. Lighting will change the mood of a photo tenfold if it’s done correctly. When combined with the right angles, it can make someone look more intimidating, personable, etc.

Chris Gampat Raiyan Saed's portraits (7 of 11)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 3.2

Generally, my rule of thumb is to light someone from above and off to the right or left. It’ll make them look better and the lighting tends to seem more natural that way too.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.