Can I Take Campaign Headshots With My Smartphone?

Can I Take Campaign Headshots With My Smartphone?

By Aaron Beytin

So, you want to know if you can use your iPhone to take your campaign headshots. Yeah, of course you can take your campaign headshot with your iPhone. But before you do, we ask you to consider one thing. You know that perennial candidate who is always running for something or other in your hometown – the guy who’s up for school board one year and Congress the next? Do you remember what his picture looks like in the Election Day profiles in your local newspaper? Right. He either looks like he’s a little off-kilter or like he just got out of the slammer. That guy takes his campaign headshots with his iPhone. Heck, it might not even be an iPhone. Plus, the iPhone will make your face look fat (read more on that below).

The point we’re trying to make is that a headshot can, in many ways, set the tone for your campaign. The public is watching (and will be secretly judging via the anonymity of the ballot box). If you want to be taken seriously, you need to look like a serious candidate. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a bad headshot can cost you dearly.


A good headshot is about more than just not looking like you’ve recently made parole. It’s about the message you want to send to the folks gazing upon your likeness. Are you a tough as nails prosecutor who is ready to go kick some butt and take some names in your state legislature? Are you an affable fellow who enjoys a good laugh with neighbors and wants to bring a human and open touch to local government? Are you a community activist standing up to THE MAN with a steely determination and ready to meet any challenge as you confidently inch towards the precipice of tomorrow and beyond? Good! Now that you’ve established who you are and how you want to portray yourself, we can get on to the important stuff.

Focus on the important stuff and answer this question first: what do you want people to take away when they see your glorious mug on a palm card, in the newspaper or on the local news? How does this relate to the dynamic of the campaign?

A power suit and a serious expression are great for a law and order message. But, if you’re trying to create a contrast with an out of touch and out to lunch incumbent, a stern expression and expensive suit don’t make you look accessible; they may make you look like part of the problem.

Got it? Good. Now, tell your photographer what you want to convey ahead of time, and let’s move to the next step.


We bet you’re still wondering why the iPhone makes your face look fat. You can get the goods on that in this section.

On most campaigns, our firm takes professional headshots with an experienced political photographer at a photo shoot – but these shoots come late in the campaign a few months before Election Day. Good headshots are useful now at the beginning of the campaign.

Some campaigns with which we’ve worked took the easy way out. They scouted around and found a volunteer with a good camera or they recruited a local artistic teenager to take some photos. These can be hit or miss. Sometimes you get something usable, but more often than not, you get photos that are poorly lit, out of focus or pixelated.

That’s not to say that it can’t be done. If you have the right skills, you could take a decent headshot with your iPhone, but we don’t recommend it. The iPhone’s camera lens has a short focal length. This means the images it captures make objects appear wider than they are in reality. Hence, the iPhone will make your face look fat. (If a professional photographer won’t fit your campaign budget, check out our post, “Can I take my campaign headshots with my iPhone? Part Duex: No you can’t. Disaster Averted“ where we’ll give you tips for getting the best possible DIY headshot.)


This photo was taken using a 200mm focal length lens on a Nikon D800 DSLR.

This is my face using a 200mm focal length lens on a Nikon D800 DSLR.

This is my face taken from an iPhone. Same location, same time, same setup, much different result.

Now that you know the dirty little secret about the iPhone camera’s face-expanding ways, you might be tempted to stop reading, but this next section is just as important as everything you’ve read so far.


So you’ve thought it through and smartly decided that your campaign headshots are too important to be left to a weekend warrior and you’re going to hire a professional. Great decision! But now, you ask, “What should I look for in a campaign photographer?”

The photographer should have high quality equipment. They should be shooting with a pro-level DSLR camera with high quality lenses. It will look a lot like the cameras below.
If you can’t hire a photographer who specializes in political campaigns, see about recruiting a documentarian or photojournalist. Documentary photographers are adept at capturing natural-looking interaction as opposed to the highly stylized aesthetic of fashion and studio-only photographers. Photojournalists take pictures of important people, places and things for a living, so chances are they’ll be able to get a decent headshot of you.
Ask to view the photographer’s portfolio. If they don’t have one, don’t hire them. You want to make sure the photographer’s style matches the campaign’s feel and appeals to you.


Canon Mark III DSLR


Nikon D4 DSLR

If you’ve got a volunteer that is a fulltime photographer, by all means take advantage of it. Some amateurs can take good headshots, but you should definitely have them discuss the shoot with your mail consultant first. Be prepared to take the shots again if it doesn’t work out the first time.

Now that we’ve laid out some of the basics, in the next post we’ll talk about the headshot itself.

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