Learn How to Shoot a Cinematic Headshot

The cinematic headshot is an eye-catching look that can really stand out from the more standard headshot against a normal background. This great video will give you a look at how it is done and the sort of results you can achieve.

Coming to you from Manny Ortiz, this awesome video follows him as he creates a cinematic headshot in the style of Fstoppers' very own Dylan Patrick. The cinematic headshot is a highly stylized look that can really make a subject jump out from a stack of other headshots, which is part of what made it so popular, particularly with actors. It's also an excellent exercise in managing on-location lighting, choice of background, coaching your subject, and more. As Ortiz mentions, it can be tricky using smaller modifiers, though you might choose them simply because they're more portable, but it's certainly very doable with some careful precision, as you can see in his results. Even if it's not your style, I recommend trying it simply to give your lighting and composition some practice. Check out the video above for Ortiz' full thoughts. 

And if you really want to learn everything there is to know about creating cinematic headshots, check out "The Cinematic Headshot: With Dylan Patrick!"

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Cinematic is internet buzzword off the week?
Next week on to 'editorial' again?

"Cinematic" was an annoying buzzword is video gaming a while ago. In that case, it was just often a cynical ploy to drop resolutions so consoles could keep a steady framerate of ~30fps. Not sure what the deal is with it being in photography. Maybe it is the next trend like HDR.

At any rate, I've read both of the articles on cinematic photography on this site and I am still rather unsure of what it is.

The whole need to define things in this business glazes me over. Destination photography, editorial, cinematic, fine art, award winning, etc, etc.

In business you need to tell the customer what you are selling that makes it better or different from the next photographer. If I market my work as cinematic, the customer will see it as better, even it it is cinematic in name only. Sort of like artisanal.

If I tell my clients I’ll shoot cinematic headshots they will ask me to quit the buzzwords. I like straight talk.

No doubt that "cinematic" is a thing. But just exactly what is it that makes a shot "cinematic"? The example in this article doesn't fit into what my understanding of what "cinematic" is. I'm not saying that my understanding of what is cinematic is the end all be all, but I think that it's quite subjective.

Cindy Sherman is Cinematic - the above photo is just a nice headshot

I don't know who Cindy Sherman is, so I'll take your word for it :)

Look for one of the most expensive photographs, I think its still in the top 5 of most expensive photo's ever made. (not in production cost but what someone payed for it that is).

her newer stuff..yeah.. I was thinking of her first book..it's called 'movie stills' or something even

My take on what a cinematic headshot is is that it describes a type of Actor Headshot (versus a corporate headshot). There is somewhat of a distinction between a headshot for theater, and a headshot for film/tv/cinema. An actor headshot for theater usually has a plain background. An actor headshot for tv/film usually has a background that has a “cinematic” look, as if you took a frame out of a film reel, where the background is blurred.

Some believe that a casting director for tv/film/cinema would prefer to see an actor headshot in a “cinematic” setting, where the casting director for a broadway show may not have that same preference.

That is the thing about actors headshots. There are many theories about what casting agents want and will accept, and actors are terrified of doing something wrong that will get them into the reject pile. For some a horizontal crop is poison, only vertical is acceptable. Never wear a black shirt or always wear a black shirt...
From what I have learned from someone who does casting, they are casting a person, not a fuzzy background, obvious lighting techniques, or a cool location.
Keep the headshot simple, a good agent can see in an instant if the actor fits the role.

All this is true until it isn't ;)

"An actor headshot for tv/film usually has a background that has a “cinematic” look, as if you took a frame out of a film reel, where the background is blurred."

Maybe this is where it gets a bit lost on me. In the examples I've seen of "cinematic" headshots they generally look un-cinematic to me, even with a blurred background and landscape orientation; probably because of the engagement with the camera by the model.You rarely see actors in a film break the so-called fourth wall. Also, the lack of typically cinematic--probably cliche--color grading.

They generally just look like nice, well executed head and shoulders shots with shallow DOF in landscape mode.

A better example of a "cinematic" headshot, for me, would be something like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ludek-dvoracek/48104325022/in/dateposted/

It literally looks as if it's a still frame from a cinematic movie; as if caught in mid-action, as it were.


Cinematic makes me think ultra widescreen, anamorphic light spills, plenty of environment (in focus) and usually low key?

I had a cinematic sandwich for lunch today.

I hope for your sake that it was in landscape orientation. Portrait sandwiches are a nightmare to eat.

A classic in it's own right

Excuse my ignorance...but what's cinematic about these shots??

I don't get the cinematic part either. It is just a landscape open aperture shoot with a typical girl next door - the one's you search for on pornhub

have NEVER searched for a headshot on PornHub... not that kind of headshot anyway.

I think I'll go home and tell my wife how cinematic she looks tonight... I'm sure she will get it.

Unless she interprets that as meaning ultra-wide... be careful!

Nice. I kind of think such harsh softbox will give unpleasant hotspots. Looks like you can get away with it when there is a measure of make up involved. I kind of struggle with any silver inside modifier. But I don't shoot much models.

Cinematic is the Pumpkin Spice of photo buzzwords.

To me it just looks like a decent headshot, not sure it has any "cinematic" aspect that makes it different from other headshots. Is it the the OOF BG, the use of lights on location, the pose that would make it cinematic?

Maybe I'm picky but is anyone else bothered about the empty space/head direction?
She is always looking to the left and her head is placed on the left third leaving a lot of room on the right that has no interest whatsoever. Having the face looking "into the frame" was one of the first rules of portrait photography i ever learned and after this video I know why. It just looks unbalanced to me.

the photo displayed at 5:26 is not the same with the photo taken at 5:24 :))))))