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Why You Should Never be Seated in Your Headshots

My first job as a photographer back in 1986 was doing baby portraits. We charged a “sitting fee” for the portrait session. This was the minimum amount we had to charge to cover the cost of doing business. This covered our overhead and admin costs. Not the film, the developing, or the prints. Those were “extra” charges even though without them, you pretty much had nothing but some guy in a dark room making funny faces at your kids.

So, this charge was literally what it cost to sit in front of the camera you didn’t get anything for it. This is what it cost to be there.

I’ve had many photographers use the term “Sitting Fee” or “Portrait ‘Sitting’” throughout my career. I believe this sets a preconceived notion in the photographers and the customers that the subject should be seated. I learned long ago that being seated for a portrait created many problems that were hard to overcome unless the person was standing. This is why I have all my customers stand for their headshots, regardless of whether I’m doing executive headshots in my studio or company headshots on location.

First, it sets the stage for the customer, the subject, to be a passive participant in the process of being photographed. This is not what most people want in their headshots. I have people stand so they can move naturally and be active participants. I also find this engagement resolves much of the anxiety almost everyone feels when being photographed.

Second, it compromises our posture because when we sit, we relax our back, and this causes our shoulders to slump. When you’re standing, you naturally hold yourself erect without thinking. (You can “sit up straight,” but that’s an unnatural posture that is uncomfortable and looks forced.) even then, I find I’m asking people to imagine a hook on top of their head pulling their spine straight.

A side by side comparison of a good men's headshot and a bad men's headshot.
The difference between a fake smile and real one is felt, not seen.

Third, we rest our weight on our pelvis and spine, causing our posture to change dramatically. We roll our weight backward to rest on our spine and pelvis. This causes us to pronate our necks and lower our chin to counter the backward tilt of our frame. This posture communicates passivity and a lack of energy. When we’re standing erect, we lift our heads and chest; body language communicating confidence and enthusiasm.

Always stand for your executive or company headshots:

  1. You’ll feel more confident if you’re on your feet.

  2. You’ll hold yourself erect naturally, and you’ll display better posture.

  3. You’ll be sending positive messages with your body language. I’ve found these messages have as much of an internal effect on my customers as an external effect in their headshots.


Dean Birinyi is an award-winning photographer, founder, and owner of Professional Headshots Palo Alto and Silicon Valley Headshots. He specializes in expression coaching to guide his customers on presenting themselves as confident, approachable professionals ready for the next opportunity.

#professionalheadshotspaloalto #paloalto #womensheadshots #mensheadshots #bodylanguage #engagement #passive #executiveheadshots

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