Tips for a Successful Headshot Session

Headshots are your presentation card. Whether on your website, LinkedIn profile, or marketing brochure, this might be the first time that a prospective client or business associate sees what you look like. And you want that to be a positive first impression. You want your personality to show through, look professional, and represent whatever it is that you do in the best way possible. Headshots can be formal, fun, corporate, casual, you name it. Whatever the case, make sure you choose a professional photographer who knows how to make you look your best with lighting and posing.

Most people assume that headshots are for actors or actresses to help casting directors choose if they’re the right fit for a role, but that isn’t the case at all. Headshots are a powerful way to market yourself. You could be a business person, model, lawyer, or perhaps you just want a good, clean Facebook profile image of yourself. In this article, you’ll learn how you should prepare for a headshot session with a professional photographer.

1. Picking a Photographer

Photographers are like snowflakes; there are no two that are alike. Each one has their own individual style when it comes to shooting, editing, and other elements of photography. They also have their own ‘camera-side manner’ (what they’re like at photoshoots). Perhaps one photographer is very laid back with their clients and like to keep a casualness to their shoots, while others are more stoic and like to keep a more business-like setting to their sessions. Does either style make one less professional? Absolutely not. It’s all a matter of preference.

Photographers also come with different levels of expertise. This should not be confused with how long a photographer has been shooting. For example, some photographers that have only been shooting for a few short months have some amazing work under their belt. On the other hand, some photographers have been shooting for 20+ years and their work might still be lacking. Don’t be fooled by the length of time they have been shooting. Judge by the quality of their work.

So, how do you judge the quality of a professional photographer’s work? Simple: look at their portfolio. Today, any photographer worth their salt has some type of online portfolio that you can view at your leisure.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “how much should I pay for a professional photographer,” the answer is the old saying “you get what you pay for.” This is true with both headshot photographers and, really, any professional photographer.  Does that mean you should expect to spend thousands of dollars? Not at all.

2. Clothes

Clothing is a form of expression. Because of that, the clothes that you pick to wear will reflect your personality in the final photographs. A good piece of advice when choosing clothes for a headshot is “simplicity is best.”

  • Solid colors look great in headshots.
  • If going with a pattern, keep it simple.
  • Start with a simple shirt or blouse and slowly add layers.
  • Bring a few changes of clothes to the shoot.
  • Make sure that ALL clothes are ironed and pressed before the shoot. Wrinkles in clothes are difficult to Photoshop out. Don’t expect that your photographer will be able to do this.
  • Bring a lint brush or roller with you to the photo session.
  • Don’t worry about shoes if you’re just getting a headshot. Be comfortable; if that means no shoes, go for it!

3. Hair

  • Bring a brush and some hair product (gel/hairspray) with you to the shoot to help calm flyaways. 
  • Start with your hair down and towards the end of the shoot put it up in a ponytail for a more casual look.
  • If you can afford it, consider hiring a hairstylist for the morning of the shoot.

4. Makeup and Face

  • When applying makeup, go for a natural look. Just enough to cover up any blemishes. 
  • Build up the makeup as you go. Add eyeshadow and darker lipstick later in the shoot.
  • Try not to use matte styles of makeup. It will dry out your skin.
  • Bring your makeup and moisturizer with you to the shoot in case your skin gets dry or you need touchups.
  • Bring lip balm or lip gloss with you to help keep lips looking soft.
  • The night before, brush your lips with your toothbrush to help get rid of any dead skin.
  • Don’t do any extreme beauty regimens right before your shoot (facial peels, tanning or extensive exfoliating). It may make your skin look irritated.
  • Get rid of any unwanted hair a few days before your shoot. Clean up brows and upper lip hair.
  • FOR MEN. Shave right before you leave for a shoot. A 5 o'clock shadow can’t be Photoshopped easily. Use cooling gel or aftershave to help with skin irritation.
  • Bring some oil-absorbing sheets to soak up any oil or sweat that might build up during the shoot. The studio lights can get pretty hot. Some great sheets are the Clean and Clear: Oil Absorbing Sheets. You can find them at any Wal-Mart or local drug store.
  • Leave your colored contacts at home and bring clear contacts with you. Colored contacts can look very fake in photographs. Bring eyedrops with you.
  • If you can afford it, consider hiring a makeup artist to do your makeup and stay with you during the shoot for touchups.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

  • Before the shoot, look at your face in the mirror and see what side you like better. Everyone has a good side, find yours. Remember though, a mirror will flip your face but the camera won’t, so the images might look a little different than you were expecting. 
  • If you have one eye that is visibly smaller than the other bring the side of your face with the smaller eye towards the camera. It will help reduce the difference between the two.
  • Try different expressions in the mirror. Do you look better stoic or perky? A good photographer will get different expressions from you during the shoot.

6. During the Shoot

  • If your session is taking place in a studio, ask the photographer to play some music. This will help ease any tension. To make things even easier, let them know before the shoot starts what you like to listen to. 
  • Follow the photographer’s direction. Even if it sounds a little silly. We know the best posing on headshots and the best way to shape your face. You may feel a little funny posing differently, but trust me the photos will look great.
  • Relax a little. Headshot sessions should be fun. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down.
  • Don’t force your smile. It will look awkward in the images and your cheeks will be sore after the shoot. A good tip is to leave a little space between your teeth when smiling, enough to put the tip of your pinky in between. Your smile will look more genuine.
  • Squint, Squint, Squint!!! Squinting your eyes just a little will also help the shots look more confident and natural. The deer in headlights look is pretty horrible.
  • Relax after a few shots and take a breather. Take a sip of water and step away from the lights every so often.

7. After the Session

Not only do photographers have different shooting styles, but they have editing styles, as well. Let them know how you want your photos to be edited.

  • Do you want any imperfections Photoshopped out? Some people like everything to be cleaned up in their headshots (freckles, moles, scars etc.). On the other hand, actors and actresses need to be mindful that casting directors want to see any imperfections or distinguishing marks you may have. This shouldn’t be confused with blemishes or acne. This is something that should be discussed with your photographer. If they don’t bring it up, then you should! Don’t feel awkward asking or being asked about this. If they’re truly a professional, they’ll expect this conversation.
  • Many people ask if certain parts of their image can be Photoshopped. For example, “I have a double chin. Can you get rid of that?” or “Can you make my eyes bigger?” Well, the answer depends. Sometimes the photographer can, and sometimes they can’t. Every image is different and Photoshop, although powerful, can be a beast when editing. A true professional photographer will try their best to make you look amazing.
  • If you don’t want any editing done to your image, let the photographer know beforehand. 
  • If you do want any major editing done, keep in mind that it may cost extra.
  • Photographers often spend more time editing than shooting. If you want major editing to be done, expect that it may take a little longer for you to receive your finished photos.

Hopefully this guide will help you prepare for your big day in front of the camera, and will make your experience a little more stress-free!

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