Introduction: Character Headshot Photography

While studying art in school, I always wanted to try something new. I have always been into cosplay / conceptual art, character interpretation and re-enactment of pop culture. So, when I went to the Museum of Modern Art for the first time, they had a exhibition of Cindy Sherman's photographic timeline. In other words, the exhibition was displaying the very best of her photography from 1975 and beyond. In the end, I was thinking, "That's what I wanna do!" So, here I am going to share with you my secrets of the trade on how to do perfect character headshot photography!

Step 1: Research

When I started doing these headshots, I not only looked up to Cindy Sherman for inspiration, I also read 1,000 Incredible Costume and Cosplay Ideas, Fashion in Pictures and Icons of Fashion for even more homework. This was an easy way for me to prepare an original character or a re-enactment of an already made-up character.

Step 2: Hair and Make-Up

Now, once you decide what character you want to pose for the camera as, you're going to put together your costume and do your hair and make-up. I always love face painting and using make-up. So, in this example, I am doing a mix of Katy Perry and KISS' Paul Stanley with the blue wig and the black & white Kabuki style make-up. So, if you're a fan of Katy Perry or KISS, this one is for you! For my costume, as you're seeing, I am wearing a blue short sleeve jean jacket, over a yellow spaghetti strap dress.

Step 3: Set Up

Once you're ready, you are going to set up your photography space. Usually character headshot photography is done using a giant blank green screen. In that case, you would go out to a local photography store, like B&H and get yourself a pretty expensive green screen. But, since I didn't have one (or at least I'm about to get one), I had to use my white wall as my chromo-key backdrop. However, when I was editing my finished pieces, it turned out to look amazing! So, that could be something that you would do as an easy (and cheap!) alternative; not really ideal, but you'd get the idea! So, once you've set up your camera (I used a Kodak EasyShare CK180 point-n-shoot camera), you're ready to strut your stuff!

Step 4: Snap Away

Now, you're going to go all Cara Delevinge and snap away! I like to do about 7 to 10 headshots (probably more than that), up until the moment when I start picking out my best photograph. Here are just some of the photos taken for one of my latest headshots, derived from the preparation shots you've seen earlier in the "Hair & Make-Up" step. These are called "outtakes", and these are just drafts of your actual headshot, which can lead up to the best shot.

Step 5: Work That PhotoShop

Now, you're ready to edit your photos. Again, I usually about about at least 7 to 10 headshots or outtakes, because I want to pick my best ones, especially for those to be put on display in a portfolio if I wanted to.

If you already have Photoshop on your computer, like me, open that up, along with its counterpart, Adobe Bridge. Adobe Bridge has a great feature called "Camera Raw", and with it, you can edit a photo's exposure, brightness, hue & saturation, clarity, sharpness and noise reduction, to name just a few. Then, once you're done, you can continue to edit it even more, using the original Photoshop software. Just open it into a new document, cut out the backdrop and put something funky behind it, like how I did, an ombre-styled gradient effect! Once you've finished editing, you're going save those photos as both Photoshop and JPEG files. The Photoshop files would be used for future editing and JPEGs are your finalized images, ready for printing.

Step 6: It's Showtime!

Once you've done that step, you have finished your headshot and it's now ready for display! So, this is how my headshot looks like in the end! I have more to come, but you can see how making the perfect character headshot takes patience, skill, and most importantly, creativity!

Step 7: More Headshots

Here are some more images of my recent and early character headshots. Enjoy them!

P.S. Vote for me in the "Photography Tips & Tricks" contest!

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Bio: I am a conceptual artist, and my DIY projects are mostly inspired by pop culture (movies, music, sports, TV). I mostly specialize in painting, graphic ... More »
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