image of a woman taking a selfie

Why phones are not great for Headshots

Stephen Gaskellheadshots Leave a Comment

Phone Cameras are Great!

So let's use them for everything!

It's true though, isn't it? Phone cameras are brilliant. You only have to go to any event, any concert, any.... well, any place at all really... to find someone with their phone out filming or photographing what's going on, capturing memories. Having the ability to have your communications device, information centre and camera in one handy package has captured the world in just 15 years, and there's no going back. Thanks Steve Jobs.

But good as they are, phone cameras are not brilliant at everything. I've just come back from Skomer, an island just off the south coast of Wales, where the public can go look at nesting Puffins in the wild. So many people with phones there, snapping away at the little creatures. Oh boy are they going to be disappointed at the results when they look back! The already small birds will look so-o-o far away, occupying so little of the screen. Not many megapixels per puffin so zooming in won't help. I don't think the current holder of the wildlife image of the year is worried.


But Why Does Everything Look So Far Away?

I was stood pretty close, honest!

All-purpose cameras like phones and disposables tend to have "wide-angle" lenses.

What the hell does that mean?

Well, it means it has a wide view of the world - in other words it can see quite a bit over on the left, the middle and quite a bit over on the right. It fits a lot in. Hence "wide". But in fitting a lot in, everything has to be quite small (otherwise it wouldn't fit on the screen).

So they are great for landscapes because you don't just want that tree over there, you want the whole horizon and the mountains. A perfect choice for phone cameras and disposables because they are pretty much guaranteed to fit in anything you want to photograph.

But there's a problem. Lenses distort the view of the world - all lenses - and they distort more the nearer you are to the lens. The way wide-angle lenses distort is by stretching the world front to back. In other words, near things look really near, and far-away things look miles away. And that happens really quickly as you move from the camera.

Look at this image of me and friends. They are stood right next to me, yet my head is two (or even three) times bigger than theirs, and the people at the back of the room not 20 feet away can hardly be seen. The world has been stretched.


Selfies for Headshots

Just say no!

Remember why you want a professional looking headshot. Your headshot is your calling card. It introduces you when you're not there to introduce yourself. You want to look professional, competent, approachable, likable. You can read more on why your professional headshot is so important today on this page.

Look at this image - same guy, different lens. One looks like a human, the other like a human that's had his head crushed like a melon.

The distortion we've mentioned is playing a big role in screwing up his headshot and not delivering those pro headshot attributes we want.

Your phone camera is not faulty. This is just how it is. Your arm just isn't long enough to get out of the "heavy distortion zone".

But if you really want to use your phone for your headshot, there are things you can do to improve matters.



Improving your chances of getting a decent Phone Headshot

It's possible ...but no guarantees

OK we know where the most distortion is... it's close to the lens. So if you want a better phone headshot you need to move away. The further the better really.

But this is the flip side problem; the more you move away, like our little puffins, the more you shrink. So that means you will need a helper or somewhere to prop your phone up and switch the phone over to self-timer-mode.

It will be a compromise between distortion and the size of your head! Far enough away to reduce distortion but not so far as we can't see you.

If you have a telephoto lens, great! Use that. That will allow you to move the camera further away from you.

Do not under any circumstances be tempted to zoom in with finger gestures on the screen. Cameras differ from model to model and make to make but often zooming is purely fakery and is really just cropping the image. You're better off doing that on a computer or even on the phone AFTER you've taken the image.

Make sure you have some nice light on your face, stand near a window if you're indoors. If outdoors, no direct sunlight casting harsh shadows - stand in the shade if you have to. Look directly at the camera lens and go for it!



How professional do you want your headshot to be

So as we've seen, you CAN use your phone to take create a headshot. If all you need is "any old headshot", great! Go for it. And hopefully some of those tips above will help maximise your chances of success. 

But at the end of the day, people come to headshot photographers for a very good reason: those selfies just aren't good enough. They want to take their professional look to the next level.

A good headshot photographer doesn't just have the right equipment. He or she  is 20% photographer and 80% psychologist. They will put you at ease, be your mirror, explore all the different angles, bring out various expressions and find out what makes you look like you. They will take hundreds of pictures until they hit upon that one that you're looking for - that entirely natural expression. You will look approachable, confident and likeable.


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