Trying to get a good head shot

Tim Sanders blogged about the importance of having at least one really good picture. It’s true: a good head shot adds a dash of personality to blogs, slide decks, corporate directory profiles, and everything else that forms part of your personal brand. If you don’t have a picture on your blog yet, think about adding one! Besides, photos tell stories. =) Here’s the story behind my current profile pic:

Last January, a colleague asked me for a high-resolution head-shot that would be included (along with something I said) in one of their annual reports. I no longer had the high-resolution version of the profile picture I was using at the time. Besides, I’d taken that picture myself in 2005 using a point-and-shoot camera and my desk lamp (you can see the ceiling of my dorm room at Graduate House!), and it was definitely time for a change. But where was I going to find a low-cost photographer on a Friday evening?

Right next to me, apparently. I asked W- to take my picture. It was a good opportunity to try the 50mm lens he got me for Christmas. We’d both read plenty of photography books, so we knew that we needed a plain white wall near a window with good light. The only suitable one was the wall directly across the bathroom, so W- set up the tripod across the threshold and I quickly put on some foundation and tucked my hair into a bun.

The window light was coming from my right, and the shadows were a little too dark. I tried turning this way and that, but I couldn’t turn too far towards the light because my face would then be at the wrong angle. The tripod was stuck in the doorway and we couldn’t move it further. Hmm…

Fortunately, reading books on photography and blogs like Strobist gave us the confidence to try a little lighting. W- had splurged on an external flash unit, though, and we put that to good use. J- got conscripted into holding the large white sheet of paper that was our reflector, and we bounced the light off that in order to fill in the shadows. W- also fiddled with the manual-focus lens until he felt that things were reasonably in focus. (Apparently, it’s hard to get the eyes sharp when the subject’s giggling too much because of the art direction and the assistant’s antics.)

Naturally, J- wanted her picture taken too. (I remember some particularly good zombie-J pictures from this session.)

I was still breaking out in lots of pimples at the time, so I edited the most promising picture in Gimp in order to tone down the distracting bits. I didn’t think I could do anything about my teeth (short of braces–tried them, couldn’t stand them), so I left those alone. Anyway, I ended up with a profile picture that made me happy and taught all of us a little more about playing with light.

My picture’s nowhere near as awesome as my mom’s, but that’s because my dad’s a professional photographer. I’d love to practice taking portraits of friends, and once we either have that yard sale or put all the extra stuff away, maybe I can have people over again… =)

  • http://hypatia.ca Leigh Honeywell

    Portrait-taking sounds like a good project for Unpatched Tuesdays :)

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Leigh – Or when Simon Law is in town! =)

  • http://nii.ahene.com Nii A.

    I ran into your Web 2.0@work decks at Slideshare… great job summarizing what took me a good three months to realize at eBay ;-). Should be required reading for any new college grad..
    Adding you to my RSS
    -N

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Hello, Nii!

      Glad you liked it! I’ve got more tips and I’m curious about what you’re learning, too. We new hires can help each other out! =) Time to dust off that blog? ;)

  • http://www.daysstories.blogspot.com mom

    Sorry, Sach, but my picture was taken by Carlito Felicen-So, a photographer from Cebu. Your papa does not really do portraits so he has stayed away from doing them. He says he does not want us looking like food, cars, buildings or products – which is what he does well. Or God forbid, looking like buildings from the air, since he is also an aerial photographer.

  • http://randell.ph/geeky/ randell

    When talking about good head shots, Leah Culver comes to mind.

  • M. Grégoire

    Good post. A few years ago, as a gift from the kids to my parents for their anniversary, we had a family portrait taken by a professional photographer. Definitely money well-spent. Recently I’ve realised that I have no nice photos of myself, so I think I probably will follow your advice and get one done.

    P.S. Don’t worry about the teeth. You have a nice smile.