How to take an AHS style headshot / portrait


Hello and congratulations on joining AHS! My name is Greg Samborski and I do all the staff portraits for AHS. Sadly, flying me out to take your photo isn’t in the budget, yet, so I’m going to have to virtually assist you.  If you haven’t already, please visit the AHS Team page to get an idea the feel we are going for…

Your Back? Great. Our goal is to create a visually engaging portrait that clearly communicates your authenticity, professionalism, warmth and uniqueness. Below I will give you step by step instructions to help achieve this.

7 Steps to Creating Your AHS Portrait

  1. Set a time
    Light is essential to making images so set aside an hour during daylight hours. One hour after sunrise and before sunset is called “golden hour” and offers some of the most flattering light.
  2. Enlist help
    Ask someone you feel comfortable with to be your photographer. Ideally someone who knows you well and makes you laugh. This may be a partner, friend or family member. Treat the hour session as a chance to catch up while you play around in front of the camera. You can even take a glass of wine with you, but remember just ONE glass of wine… and keep it off camera 😉
  3. Select your equipment
    Ideally you want to use a camera that offers some control over the settings like a DSLR, mid range point and shoot or mirrorless camera. This isn’t to say you can’t pull off a great photo with newer mobile device (something 2014 and newer). You can always try it first if you don’t have a big camera or bring it along and try both. The big benifit of the dedicated cameras is that you can shoot a RAW file which gives me more flexibility when processing.
  4. Setup your camera (If you can’t find these settings on your camera try googling your camera’s MAKE, MODEL and the desired SETTING)
    a. Camera mode: Select APERTURE PRIORITY. This is denoted as A or AV on most cameras.
    b. Photo Quality: Dig into you menu and set your photo quality to RAW. If there is no RAW option choose the biggest/highest quality JPG setting.
    c. White Balance: Set your camera’s white balance to AUTO WHITE BALANCE
    d. ISO: Choose ISO 800 – 1600.
    e. Focal Length: If your lens has numbers on it, get it as close to 85mm (or the equivalent on a crop sensor) as you can. If you don’t know what any of that means, just zoom your lens out. Look through the camera and zoom to the point where your other outstretched hand takes up almost the entire view finder/lcd. Another rough guide is stand about 1.5 meters away from your subject and zoom to the point where their bellybutton is at the bottom of the frame and there head is 1/4 of the way from the top of the frame when holding the camera vertically.
    f. Aperture: Adjust you APERTURE to 2.8. If you’re camera/lens can’t go this low choose the closest possible number. If you are able and want to use a smaller number like 1.8 you can but it can be tricky to get everything in focus. Be sure to review and zoom in on your images to ensure the eyes, nose and ears are all in focus.
  5. Find a GOOD location
    a. Lighting: Lighting is the most critical. It’ll give shape to the face, flatter the skin and bring out the eyes. Look for COVERED SHADE. A wall can provide shade but not covered shade, you want something above your head blocking the sky out too. You can find covered shade under a tree, balcony or even under the ceiling in your living room. Covered shade creates DIRECTIONAL LIGHTING. We want light that is coming mostly from one side. Not entirely but mostly. This kind of direction light creates a nice shadow on one side of the face giving it more depth. Look for a spot in covered shade. It should still be bright, you will be standing essentially in reflected light. Some good areas to find this kind of light are: next to a very large window in a home/cafe/museum, under a bridge or balcony, in the forest or heart of a city filled with sky scrapers. If you shoot indoors turn off any lights that are directly hitting you. Never use the on camera flash.
    b. Background: Once you have found great light keep in mind the background. Look for something with depth. That is, don’t stand up against a wall but rather find a scene that extends back from you for meters or even miles. The further away you can stand from an object behind you the more out of focus it will be creating that professional head shot look. Other things to keep in mind are distracting elements. Make sure nothing behind or around your subject steals the spotlight. Your eye will always go to the brightest thing in a photo so try and make the face the brightest object. Keep an eye out for bight areas in the background and try to avoid them. Also watch out for distracting lines and colours. Try not to let anything “cut the head” like a tree branch or wall.
  6. Pose and play: Our camera is setup, we found flattering light and a nice non distracting background. Now it’s time to pose and play. Here are some tips:
    a. Try to have the shadow/darker side of the face facing the camera
    b. Always focus on the eye closest to the camera
    c. Shoot a little wider than necessary, I can always crop later
    d. Try to come up with real tasks to keep things natural:
    Body Movements: “stand next to there, lean on that, cross your arms, walk towards me, sit down in that chair, jump!…”
    Head & Eye Movements: “look up, look down, look out towards the ocean, chin up a little, look over your shoulder…”
    Emotions: “imagine I just bought you your favourite cookies, give me your most intense stair, show me the expression you make when you see a puppy dog video on the internet…”
    You can mix and match the body movements with the head and eyes and emotions into endless combinations. Usually I go through the series in one pose like arms crossed and then do them all again in a new pose like sitting at the cafe.
  7. Upload your photos
    a. Before you wrap: Be sure to check that back of your camera before wrapping up to make sure you have at least 10 images you are satisfied with.
    b. Selecting your top 10: Choose your top 10 images based on the expressions you’re happiest with. Photoshop is amazing but it still can’t fix blurry images or the wrong expression.
    c. Transfer your files: Download the RAW files off of your camera and send them to me. If you have dropbox to google drive you can share the folder with me via email. A super easy service that doesn’t require an account is It’s fast, easy, secure and can handle large file sizes. If you can zip your files into a single folder it will help
    d. File Naming: Please create the following naming convention for your first file and then copy, paste and rename the other files changing the three digit number:

Well that’s it! I know it may seem like a lot of info but if you go through it step by step you should get pro results! If you have questions please email me. I’m looking forward to seeing what you send me!

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