Mastering headshot photography with Ivan Weiss

Ivan Weiss is a portrait photographer based in London. Born with a camera pointed at him, he grew up surrounded by photography.

His interest in portraiture was influenced by 12 years living in Florence. By 2011 he began transitioning out of a corporate career in media into photography. He creates images that reflect a fascination with classical composition, a delight in the technical possibilities afforded by modern equipment and techniques, and a sensitivity for human emotion.

In this interview, he provides tips for mastering headshot and portrait photography—from how to direct clients to get the best shot, to creating the best set up, and capturing shots with personality and depth.

Can you tell us a bit about the profile of your clients and the kind of work that you do?

I primarily shoot people in the performing arts, which means mostly actors but also dancers and musicians, people whose appearance is fundamental to what they do as a business. I also work with corporate clients and entrepreneurs.

What’s the difference between a headshot and a portrait?

Usage. All headshots are portraits. Not all portraits are headshots, unless you use them as headshots. First, you have to know what the purpose of the final photograph is and who it is that you are shooting. What do they do for a living? What do they need it for? What do they want to convey? Listen for your client’s needs, not necessarily what they say, but what they need.

“All headshots are portraits. Not all portraits are headshots, unless you use them as headshots. First, you have to know what the purpose of the final photograph is and who it is that you are shooting.”

If you ask five different photographers the difference, you’ll get six different answers. It’s common for photographers to say ‘oh, that’s a portrait, not a headshot’ and they will talk about what the photo looks like.

A headshot is also something that someone uses to promote themselves. They used to only be for people in the performing arts, but nowadays everyone needs one to promote themselves on their website, LinkedIn or their CVs.

You said to “listen to what your client needs, but don’t listen to what they say”, what do you mean by that?

As a photographer, you have to listen to the words they choose and take everything with a pinch of salt. What’s important about how I work is that my camera is tethered to the computer so the client can see what is happening as it is happening and we can decide to move forward or abandon. You have to meet your clients halfway. It’s my job to give them what they want but also to guide them. It’s not uncommon for someone to come in with a very defined idea of what they want and then end up choosing something completely different. They know what they want, but sometimes they don’t really say what they want.

“What’s important about how I work is that my camera is tethered to the computer so the client can see what is happening as it is happening and we can decide to move forward or abandon. You have to meet your clients halfway. It’s my job to give them what they want but also

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