Modern headshots are often horizontal and cropped close, leaving the top of the head out of the frame. I prefer this style and am always cutting off the top of the head. It makes sense to me to put the eyes in the upper third of the frame and on a horizontal portrait that leaves little room for excess hair. Peter Hurley discusses this extensively in his book. However, sometimes my modern artistic vision clashes with my client’s needs. If my client doesn’t get what they need from our shoot, then no matter how good the pictures are, I’ve given poor service and that’s what I’ll be remembered for. These two ideas will help you crop headshots for both creative impact and client satisfaction, which will lead to referrals and more business.

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This is the original picture straight from the camera at 16:9, no retouching and no re-cropping.

1. Shoot Cropped

It’s important that a portrait looks good on the camera. It helps your client see a great shot, and it helps you feel like you’ve created a good picture in camera. Clients often see their portraits small on the camera with the head cut off and love it, only to ask if there are any with the whole head later when viewing larger on the computer.The best solution for this is to activate the in-camera cropping. Many cameras allow you to choose to shoot the standard 2:3 ratio, but may also offer 4:5 (8×10), 4:3, 1:1, and 16:9. If you shoot RAW, then the original full-size ratio may be recorded, but it will show up in Lightroom cropped. Activating the crop tool will reveal the full-size picture. If you shoot jpeg only, you’ll be stuck with the crop ratio you chose in the camera. NOTE: You must test this feature before your next shoot. Don’t blame me if your RAW file didn’t keep the original dimensions. It works on my camera, but your mileage may vary.

Choosing 16:9 will let you frame the portrait with the head cut off, then in Lightroom, you’ll have access to more space above and below. This way, you get creativity and safety.

2. Deliver Multiple Crops

No matter how you orient the camera during your shoot, your client will inevitably want it the other way. Shooting cropped in the camera will leave you plenty of space to provide both horizontal and vertical portraits. And you should provide these. If you deliver a finished portrait with room to crop, your client will also inevitably choose the worst possible crop when they need a different shape. Just take a look at all the poorly cropped facebook profile pictures in your friends list.

You should deliver the picture cropped horizontally, vertically, hair cut off, space above the head, 16:9, and square (16:9 is the ratio of your television and smartphone). Your clients probably don’t have training in composition and aesthetics like you do, so it’s your responsibility to help them look their best in this last step of portraiture. Use language like, “Profile pictures are square and very small, so I’ve included this square crop that will make the most impact on Facebook and LinkedIn and even your business card.”

I used Perfectly Clear and Lightroom to retouch this portrait, then delivered the following crops. Click to view larger and the captions with ratios.

Your clients may not use the extra crops, but they’ll appreciate your forethought in solving a problem they haven’t encountered, yet.


Making modern business portraits and headshots is a pleasure and a good service that helps your clients succeed. Shoot cropped in your camera and provide all the useful crop options and your clients will remember you for excellent service. If you’re running a business, the quality of your service is far more important than the quality of your photographs.