What Makes A Good Headshot?

Next time you or someone you know needs a new headshot, take the time to ask yourself, “what makes a good headshot?”
To me, and I’ve been working as a professional photojournalist for over thirty years, a good headshot needs three things.

1: Good light (light that shows 3 dimensionality of the subject)

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Studio headshot with grey backdrop and highlight on back of head)

2: Good face (it should show who you are and your face needs to fill a good portion of the frame)

Jennifer Robles is photographed Wednesday December 14, 2016 in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by William Thomas Cain) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Outdoor headshot with background out of focus)

3: No hands (no hands in face. hands are a distraction that take away light from the face)

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 20: Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry poses for photos at the Four Seasons Hotel March 20, 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Berry was in Philadelphia for a showing of her new film "Perfect Stranger." (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images for the Boston Globe) (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

(Above – Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry in front of tan wall)

This are three basic rules of thumb. Another factor that needs to be thought about is, what image are you trying to portray in your headshot? Is it for business, acting, modeling, etc.??

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Studio headshot on Grey Backdrop with no highlight on head)

Your headshot should portray what you need it to for whatever the ultimate usage.

Most times what I see that photographers tend to provide for clients is not a true headshot, but a nice portrait. That’s all well and good, but if it doesn’t suit your purpose, it is useless.

REHOBOTH BEACH, DE - JANUARY 25: Deborah Sharp who survived a five day ordeal in which she was raped and kidnapped in 1998, poses for a photo January 25, 2006 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images) (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

(Above – Portrait in home)

In my last year working as a staffer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, I worked on the picture desk for a time. In that time, I had many business portraits come though the desk for profiles or news blurbs of people ‘s comings and goings from companies. I’ve seen them all. Nice simple images with a solid grey background to outrageously lit (overlit) headshot with a background of all different colors, cloud backgrounds and lots off what says they are not to be taken seriously. Many of the worst looked like high school portraits. Trust me, you don’t want that.

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 13: Heather Kumor Photographed by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com for Fox Rothschild) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Studio portrait on white backdrop – 3/4 length for client website in which the 3/4 view was requested)

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 13: Heather Kumor Photographed by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com for Fox Rothschild) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Studio portrait on white backdrop – full length for client website in which the full length view was requested)

That said. Here are my thoughts on what makes a good headshot for various uses.

I believe that a serious business headshot should generally have the subject fill the frame in a diagonal pose, with their face towards the camera. Hands should not be anywhere near the face and mostly be at your side or folder in front of you and never be part of the composition. And, a grey backdrop is appropriate. A cloud or various color backdrop is highly inappropriate for any kind of business headshot. If you ever go to a photographer that offers you that, run. By all means run like there is no tomorrow. That will not help you to be taken seriously in business.

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 9: Professor Jeremy J. Siegel (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Black Star) (William Thomas Cain/Black Star)

(Above – Headshot with more dramatic light on burgundy backdrop as per client request)

A more casual business portrait can be made outside, in a shaded area and either lit by available light or strobes (that means flash). Positioning should be the same as a serious business portrait, but in a nice outdoor setting.

5/13/11 12:53:17 PM -- NEW HOPE, PA. -- Veronica Haggerty -- Photo by William Thomas Cain/cainimages.com (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – more casual headshot outdoors with available light)

I believe that an acting or modeling headshot should have the same good solid light in the subjects face. Maybe not as three dimensional, but more frontal lighting. Maybe the composition should be slightly more diagonal.

One of the things that many people mistake for a headshot is an image that is more apporopr=iately used asa  portrait. A portrait generally shows more of an upper torso type of image which can or can not include hands. Generally, I always prefer that people rarely place their hands up to their face as the light tends to land on the hands and become a distracting plane in the image.

In the past when I was casting for a photo shoot, I would ask models for headshot. You would not believe how many models think a headshot is a three quarter length image or even worse yet, a full length photograph. I probably don’t need to tell you that those were the first ones tossed in the can because they couldn’t follow directions.  So, when someone asks you for a headshot, please, please, please, make sure that is what you provide. And make damn sure that your photographer can provide what you need to put your best foot forward, whether for business or modeling and acting. If you feel they can’t, move on to a photographer that can do it. Correctly.

4/26/11 2:39:27 PM -- Blue Bell, Pa. -- Fox Rothschild Attorney Jennifer L. Schwartz at work in the Blue Bell, Pa. office April 26, 2011. -- Photo by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images for Fox Rothschild. (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – In office on location portrait with studio lighting)

When I do a headshot for anyone, the first thing I ask is what is their end goal? What do they want to headshot to show? How would they want to be portrayed? Once I have an idea, we can then plan on wardrobe. I always suggest keeping things simple. In many cases dark earthy colors tend to work best. Stay away from any kind of patterns. That might take away from your face.

Dr. Aakash Shah poses for a photograph outside Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Wednesday, November 16, 2016 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images for Ursinus College) (William Thomas Cain/Cain Images)

(Above – Outdoor portrait lit with a portable strobe and backlit from the sun – the key here was to have the background in shade to make it recede in space)

The way we’ll set up headshot shoots is either individually or have a headshot day where we’ll block out a four hour time slot at a company and they’ll have 8-10 people set up a time for pictures. We actually just did a few headshot shoots over 7 hours where we were able to shoot 35 and 45 respectively.
This is done by bringing my mobile studio on location. It’s pretty simple. Lights, reflectors and a stool. People.

Each of the shoots takes maybe 15 minutes. The subject them will receive a link to a gallery of images for them to choose their favorite. In some cases we’ve actually had them choose the image they prefer on location by providing a laptop and showing  the images as we shoot live.

Next time you have to get a  headshot, think of some of the suggestions I’ve made here. The most important thing is to keep it simple. Show your best self and your headshot will be golden.

 (William Thomas Cain)

(Above – Just for fun – Portrait of dogs outdoors)

The day I met the Berenstains and found we shared the same education and a mutual friend

Back in 2001, on this date as a matter of fact, I had the coolest assignment to photograph Jan and Stan Berenstain, creators of the “Berenstain Bears” childrens’ books.

I was even able to have stuffed versions of Sister Bear, Pappa Bear, Momma Bear, and Brother Bear in the image for fun.
What was supposed to be a 30 minute shoot turned into a 3 hour gab fest. We got to chatting and I mentioned that I had actually studied illustration and painting at University of the Arts, and it turned out that they had gone to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art with my old high school art instructor, Ed Smith. If not for Ed Smith, i may not have been accepted to the school. He wrote me a hell of a recommendation when I applied and also helped me receive a partial scholarship. They told me old stories about their days with Smitty at college and what the school, which eventually became Philadelphia College of Art and inevitably The University of the Arts of today. What a day. What glorious people. Sadly, the Berenstains have both passed on, but their son continues the family business.
As for Smitty. Well, he’s still around. Probably making someone laugh, listening to the Grateful Dead and sketching.

Greatest Chefs In Philadelphia History

I believe this image is from some time in the mid 90’s. I was assigned to shoot an Iamy, or David Iams society assignment. The event was at the home of #Chef George #Perrier (2nd from left). It featured some of the greatest chefs in Philadelphia history cooking on the grill. The one I most remember though, is Chef Tell (left), born Friedman Paul Erhardt who owned Chef Tell’s Manor House in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. It was a place that my wife and I frequented often and got to know Chef pretty well. He was a wonderful, jovial fellow always looking to put a smile on your face as well as feed your tummy. I recall one assignment where he was teaching a grilling class at his restaurant. He was showing the folks how to grill steaks. While I was photographing him, after one demonstration he handed me a fork full of steak and wanted me to taste it. As politely as I could, I declined because I don’t eat red meat. He snickered, then put his massive hand upon my shoulder, and squeezing the back of my neck said, “You’ve got ball my friend. No one tells me no.” Uh, oh!! I thought. Scared to death because he was a big imposing fellow. Then he busted out laughing. Received that he didn’t kill me, so did I. He never let me forget that night. Teased me whenever I stopped by.

I have to tell you. I always had the best doing experiences at his place and wish he was still around today. What a nice dude. To this day, I miss that guy.
That said, I can’t recall who the other chefs are in the photo. #cheftell #erhardt #perrier #dining #masterchef #genious #cook #dine #philadelphia #restauranteur #legend #manorhouse #greatfoodgreatcompany #easterbrunch #grill #barbeque

Dentist Cares For HIV Patients

This is from an unpublished photo essay I worked on in 1989 at the Infectious Disease Clinic at Temple University. I spent a few days following around Dr. Michael Glick, who had started the IDC a year earlier. No one in the Philadelphia region was offering dental care to HIV patients at the time. Click and his staff were the only ones doing so that I had found at that time. Here are some archive images, from way back then.

HTML 5 Version Slideshow:

Villanova Defeats IUP 94-49 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia

On Saturday I photographed the Villanova and Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) basketball game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Villanova won the game 94-49.  The team unveiled their 2016 NCAA Final Four Championship banner in a ceremony before tipoff.
Here is a slideshow.

Full gallery available at: http://cainimages.photoshelter.com/gallery/IUP-vs-Villanova-at-Wells-Fargo-Center/G0000mIWZafkQ4NA/C0000A6_tA8BOb6M

Why Do Students Not Take Deadlines Seriously?



When I was teaching at a university, one of the biggest problems I found was that students never seemed to take a deadline seriously. It is one of the simplest rules. Get your assignments in on time! Not sure why that is so hard. Maybe they need to manage time better. Some of the excuses are plain stupid. One student said she had to work, another had a death in the family, another had her gear stolen. In that case, I asked for a copy of the police report. Never did receive it. I don’t think the student realized that faculty members speak with each other and that I was told the student had used the same excuse a semester before.

Last year I had a student challenge her grade. She believed she deserved a better grade then I had given her. I told her I didn’t give her a grade. She earned it.

She asked that I review the reasoning behind the grade she had earned.
So, I did. I made note that 8 out of 10 assignments were not turned in on time and they were almost a week late in most cases. One was never even completed. Another notation I made upon review was “student did not follow directions.” In that case the assignment called for one program, which was readily available on campus, but the student chose to use another program. Thus, not doing the assignment the way it was intended.

When I explained that her lower grade was due to the fact that she didn’t follow directions and couldn’t meet a deadline. She still didn’t understand.

This was my written response to her.

“I teach part time. I make pictures full time and have been doing so for 30 years.
I have never missed a deadline.
My father died.
I didn’t miss a deadline.
My dog died.
I didn’t miss a deadline.
My house flooded.
I didn’t miss a deadline.
The list goes on.
No excuses. Just meet the deadline.
Sometimes my deadlines are weeks or days. Sometimes they are hours.
I still haven’t missed a deadline. And that dates back to when I was a student attending University of the Arts.
I have also worked as an assignment editor. I call a photographer with an assignment. They get it in before the deadline. If they do not, I never call them again. End of story.
A photographer gets one shot to make a good impression. Meeting deadlines is key.
If I’m an art director and assign you to make a slideshow using this new software called Lightroom. We want to show what it does. You decide, since you don’t have it, you’ll use another program. I know Lightroom can be easily downloaded as a trial. You submit your slideshow, 6 days after it was due. Missed the deadline and totally screwed up my production schedule. The worst part is that as I look at the slideshow, I realize that it was not done with the software I, as the art director, hired you to use thus negating the whole project. Wasting my time, your time, and screwing up your clients production schedule. Do you think that the art director would ever call you again. The answer is no. Your one shot at making a good impression is gone.
The reality is that an art director or photo editor does not care if your father, dog, your house was flooded, you had studio problems for another class, etc… They care that you get the job done correctly and on deadline.
I appreciate the fact that you said you worked hard on the assignments. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. 

You obviously have some talent, but I’ve seen is flashes of brilliance with long periods of mediocrity.”

Unfortunately, I sometimes believe that students think we are insane and that we ask these tasks of them to make it harder on them. In actuality, we ask these students to do these tasks so they will have the knowledge and fortitude to succeed in the career they’ve chosen.

Hopefully, she gets it….soon.

Georgian Court University Commencement 2014

The next day I photographed the Georgian Court University undergraduate commencement.
Here is a sideshow from the Baccalaureate Mass and then the Ceremony.

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Georgian Court University Graduate Student 2014 Commencement

Last week I photographed Georgian Court University’s grad student commencement ceremony. As always, it was crazy but fun. Luckily, the rain held off so the students could march past the fountain and eagle sculpture during their processional. I met a nice couple who had met at the college during their grad student studies and just married two weeks before graduation. They hadn’t even gone on their honeymoon yet. Click the link to see the full gallery.
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Photo Illustration Eyes in Mask Philadelphia Illustrator Artist Photographer

Playing with some old images and made a photo illustration as a demo for my Surreal Digital Photography class.
This is the kind of stuff I wanted to create while attending University of the Arts. Problem then was that it was frowned upon to use photos in illustrations. A while back I had to photograph one of my old professors at the college who told me that this is all the students do now. The illustration was created using Adobe Photoshop CC.

Looks like I was ahead of my time. 🙁

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More Black & White Silver Lake Park Dover, Delaware

One of the classes I’m teaching this semester is a Black & White Digital Photography class at Wilmington University‘s Dover, Delaware campus. We were looking for somewhere to shoot and one of the students suggested we head over to Silver Lake Park. Open space, tress, even a cemetery next door made the place sound awesome for black and white. It didn’t disappoint. While the students were shooting images looking for good, fully toned black and white images, I spend the time making pix that were a little more high in contract, because that was to be the assignment for the following week. Here are some of those images.

Never Thought…

A few weeks ago, I got screwed over by a so-called friend and former student who has worked with me as an assistant.

Lesson learned here is to NEVER, EVER do something without the photography agreement signed, sealed and delivered.

It started out innocent enough. A former student had asked if I would photograph his/her wedding. I was honored and agreed. It was then suggested by one of us that he help me with a job that I had in the books to work off some of the fees for the wedding. Made sense. I’d have someone capable of helping out with a shoot and it would knock a bit of money off the wedding photography package. I never though I’d get screwed over.

There wedding was over a year away. No paperwork. I’ve committed to photograph their wedding on said date. Just an agreement between friends. Paperwork to come later.
Most packages include an engagement portrait session that is free. Out of package the session is $100 which can be applied to the actual wedding package upon booking.
I’ve never done an engagement session and not booked the wedding.

The job I needed help with comes and goes, former student does nice job that day. Their wedding is still over a year away. No paperwork. We’re good.

A few months later former student emails and asks if we can do the engagement portrait on such and such a date. I said fine, I can make the date work. That afternoon I receive an email from a bride asking about my availability on the former students wedding date. I say “no can do” booked that day. No paperwork. Just an agreement between friends. Paperwork to come later.

Engagement portait date comes. That morning, before I leave for the shoot, my wife asks if I have the paperwork complete for the former students wedding date. I said “No, although I probably should. But, it’s a former student, I don’t think I’ll get screwed over.”
She reminded me that I always say never work without some kind of formal photography agreement. I agree, but state that it’s a former student and “friend” not likely to screw me over.

That day, another bride inquires as to my availabilty on the former students wedding date. Sorry, I’ve committed to another wedding. In fact we just did their engagement portrait today.

Engagement session goes very well. In fact the bride says “thanks for a wonderful day and awesome pictures!!!!!!” Pictures were very well received. After the session, I spoke with the couple about their wedding, how they saw it, what they’re looking for photographically, as well as how much time and if they want albums. They proceed to tell me how much coverage, the amount of guests, locations, etc… All good. I’ll send them some packages built around what we’ve discussed. At this point the wedding is 13 months away. I offer discounts worth 20% plus the money off for helping with that job a few months before, but if they book more then 12 months out, I’ll add another 10% off.
OK. So now, the discounts are worth 30% plus.

Former student then asks about downloading some pictures. I state that “You have access to download from when we work together.” I’m thinking they’ll download a few pics. No big deal.

No paperwork. Just an agreement between friends.

All good. I send the package info. Discounts are worth $1,100 plus. No paperwork. Just an agreement between friends.Wait a week, don’t hear anything. When I do hear back, they want to know how much without a book. I tell them. Fine. Wait another week. Now we’re less then 12 months out that extra 10% has to be pulled from the table. Discount is now worth $900. I email stating that and ask if they want to proceed, at the same time I offer to give them an album as a gift. Again stating that the book is worth $200 keeping the actual value of the discount at $1,100. Wait again.

A day later, they respectfully decline my package a full month after we’ve shot the engagement portrait, and I’ve turned down two other brides. WTF!? Quite frankly, they went over their budget and can’t afford the package. Really!? The numbers have been the same for the past month. You realize this now. Oh and by the way, even if they could afford it, they don’t have the deposit.

So, what can you afford? They give me a number. Best I could do for that is a six hour with one photographer, not eight. They insist upon eight. No can do. Good luck. We part ways.