Magazine Article


Ahead of the Game
Adding headshots and portraits to boost your bottom line.

© Sal Sessa

© Sal Sessa

© Sal Sessa

This was a shoot at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dallas where we setup a large white seamless to do headshots of both Emmitt Smith and his wife Pat Smith. We were on location to do production stills and headshots for the advertising agency representing them.
Click Here for full size image.
© Sal Sessa

Click Here for full size image.
© Sal Sessa

Click Here for full size image.
© Sal Sessa

In this digital age, seeking new ways to produce income is a must. As a corporate event photographer for 20 years, living in a town like Dallas, TX, with many large companies, I've recognized the need for good, reasonably priced professional headshots. So about five years ago I added these services to my already-established base of corporate clients. I named my new venture "Dallas Headshots" and use the domain name

Unlike my regular corporate photography, the headshot business is structured as a service based on the fact that "I come to you." A two-hour minimum includes up to five headshots. If more are needed, clients can pay for additional time and/or a price "per head" as well. Output includes same-day online proofs and one 5x7 high-res file, with minimum retouching. Payments are always made in advance by credit card, with a 50% cancellation fee. In order to make this a profitable venture, things must be done efficiently. You have to travel light, shoot without an assistant, and keep the post-production to a minimum.

Headshots versus Portraits

"Headshots" are defined as "head and shoulder" shots with our supplied background. Portraits have become "your office or off-site location" shots (can be 3/4, full frame, cropped tighter, cropped looser, etc.) using appropriate backgrounds relevant to your business or the image itself. I have a different rate structure for both services.


For headshots, I can set up in less than a half hour. I bring one camera case with two bodies and three lenses (24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4). Backup equipment is brought to the job in an additional case that isn't opened unless needed--this helps speed up set-up/packing of the equipment.

Another case holds two AlienBees 1600 lights and a pop-out silver fill card. I use satin umbrellas because they are quick to set up and break down. I bring a Denny Manufacturing TwistFlex background, which is compact to carry and expands to 6x7 feet.

The trick to these headshots is a very simple lighting setup: just one main front facing and slightly to the side, and a front facing fill. The purpose here is not to be dramatic or artistic--it is merely to get a nice, evenly lit headshot that's soft and flattering. And did I say quick?

These headshots can be done in less than five minutes each--and usually, that's stretching it. I can do a whole office in less than an hour, which is anywhere from one to 15 headshots. So I'm in and out in less than two hours (a half hour to set up, one hour to shoot, and a half hour to get out). Bing, bang, boom.


For executive portraits, my system is even simpler. I do these with one light and a fill card. The camera is on a tripod, with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, set about f/4.5 or so. I put the light close to the subject, off to one side, and the fill card right next to the subject on the opposite side. I focus on the eye and/or the bridge of the nose.

I do these as a 3/4 pose and sometimes use a chair or stair rail for a prop. To do these photographs, you need a bit of a large area with some nice warm lights and shapes in the background that you can toss out of focus. This is a great "look" that zeros in on the subject.

You just have to become crafty when imagining what the objects in the background could produce in the manner of out-of-focus shapes that will enhance, but not overwhelm, your subject. Also, to get these type of backgrounds, you may have to jack up the ISO a little and use a slow shutter speed to bring out the background. My typical portraits are ¼ second and f/4 or so. Your subject just has to know how to hold still when he or she is prompted.

With a little foresight, you can make any hallway or lobby look like a high-end studio--all with one simple light, a fill card, and some ingenuity.

Headshots and portraits are a great way to add income to your repertoire and can multiply your business in future referrals alone. Remember, "the more work that you do, the more work you get," and having access to companies of any size, with the ability to "get to know" your subjects personally, can only help to increase your bottom line.

Key points

• I include the rights to use these photos in any way the clients choose. Nine out of 10 times it is for a web page, or some type of simple archival purpose. Other times they're for brochures.

• You either have the personality for this or you don't. It takes a "people person" to do this type of photography. You have to be able to put folks at ease, and quickly.

• You have to not only be good, but you have to be fast. Know your gear inside and out. Have backup. If they even feel you're a bit unconfident, you will lose your credibility and cooperation.

Sal Sessa ( is a Dallas photographer with a background in photojournalism. He specializes in shooting headshots, executive portraits, and corporate events in Dallas, TX. As a corporate photographer for more than 20 years, Sessa has had the opportunity to photograph such personalities as both Presidents Bush, Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Gates, Beyoncé, and athletes including Emmitt Smith and George Foreman, among others. His corporate clients include GE, Ford Motor Co., Frito-Lay, JCPenney, Microsoft, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and UPS.