How Do You Look Good in Headshots?

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By The Light Committee

You always want to look good in headshots but, what does that really mean? What “good” is depends on the goal of the headshot. But for our purposes here we’ll assume the question is about a headshot for common commercial use. But what is that too?

A professional headshot of a woman entertainment executive in a suit in studio near Los Angeles
Looking Good in a Headshot Depends on the End Goal of a Headshot for Its Use, Such as for Creatives vs LinkedIn

What is a Headshot or Portrait?

There are big differences between a headshot and a portrait or other shot of your face. To be brief here, a headshot is used to influence, directly or indirectly, someone else to do business with with you, your business, or the business that is using team headshots on a website or other profiles. A headshot is for business influence whereas a portrait is for personal use, to share with friends and family perhaps.

The direct connection of financial gain is common for actors, models, dancers, and other similar creative professions. In these cases, their headshot is literally their resume to post on Backstage or Actors Access, for example. Indirect financial gain could be a lawyer, real estate agent, accountant, and so on that has their own practice. A potential customer seeing their headshot will be influenced by the professionalism of it. The same is true of a corporation that gets corporate headshots done of their management or key employees to post on their website. And, on LinkedIn a headshot has been studied to indirectly influence connections there, such as a recruiter reaching out to someone.

An author headshot of a woman in studio near Glendale, CA for her book cover
A Headshot Is Almost Always Used to Promote a Person, Such as an Author and Her Book

Step One to Looking Good: Professional Quality

For the above reasons, the first step to ensuring you look good is to ensure the headshot is professionally made. A headshot is made, it is not taken like a selfie or other quick snap from a camera. There are layers to it. First, a conversation with your chosen photographer about what you are after in the headshot. Next, there are choices to make on the lighting to use and the background.

Also, a good professional photographer will use a full-frame sensor or medium-format camera, alongside professional lighting, to produce an image quality unrivaled by lesser camera formats like smartphones or other point-and-shoot cameras. Then there are lens choices that are to be made depending on the individual being photographed. So, working with a professional is the foundation for ensuring you look good in headshots.

The Clothes You Wear

Most headshots are from around the chest up. So, usually only your top matters. If you’re planning a more lifestyle-themed headshot then you may need to worry about your entire outfit. But not usually.

Regardless, keep things as simple as possible. Avoid things that distract from your face, like wearing busy plaids or stripes, or clothes with large brand logos. Also avoid t-shirts that have phrases on them. Be careful to choose colors that complement your skin, hair, or eye color. Also, wear clothes that fit your work role, or desired work role. For people that wear suits to work, wear a suit for headshots.

Again, in the end remember that the main point of a headshot is so that people focus on your face. Next is that it brings out a character trait. So, make sure nothing distracts from this and only complements it. So, if you are an actor looking to create a dramatic look, that calls for a certain outfit, background, and lighting. Similarly, if you are a real estate agent looking for a trusting look, that calls for entirely different considerations.

So, looking good is one aspect of successfully accomplishing what your headshot is going to portray.

man in an outdoor headshot in Los Angeles
It's about your overall style, which includes what you wear, your hair style, accessories, and more

Your Hair and Glasses

When styling your hair, again consider your work role or the work role you desire to go after. Be sure your hair style matches the amount of makeup and clothes you wear. If you’re planning a haircut, consider doing so at least a few days before your headshot session. This gives it time to grow back just a bit into a more natural state. It also gives you time to reschedule if you got a bad haircut.

If you wear glasses and can’t decide to use them in headshots or not, do what you usually do. If you usually have them on at work or when meeting customers, then wear them. If you usually have them on only when driving, for example, you might opt not to wear them. As for sunglasses, you usually don’t want to wear these. Tell your photographer up front if you will wear glasses as it might impact how they light you.

How Much Makeup Should You Use?

Wearing makeup can be useful, even if just lightly. Most women usually want to wear some level of makeup. Some get their makeup professionally done before arriving at a headshot session. Others bring a makeup artist to the session to help style them along the way.

Like with all other factors, being careful to not overdo it is important. Again, wear as much makeup as you commonly wear for your work role or for the work role you’re after. All these little things help add up to make you look your best.

Choose Your Best Side

Some people hate getting their photograph taken. So, getting a headshot made can be daunting. Therefore, it’s important to find a professional headshot photographer you can be comfortable with. Letting your guard down can be a big difference to looking good in headshots.

Further, some people find they have a best side. And this means they only want to be photographed from that side. Try and be open about this and have your photo taken from multiple sides. This way you have options to consider. You might find one from your not-so-great side actually is the better one. It does happen.

Things to Prep for In Advance

So, there are still a few other things that can be done to maximize how good you look in headshots. Many people worry about their weight and will put off taking a headshot until they lose weight. But be honest with yourself about this. Will you really put in the work to lose the weight before you get headshots or is it really just about accepting you will not and get it done anyway?

If you are unsure and can afford it, get headshots now and then again after your weight loss. At least you will have professional photos to represent you while you work hard at weight loss over however long it takes. The before and after photos might also confirm your great efforts and inspire more.

Weight loss is a long-term approach. What about the day of or days before your headshot session? Drink lots of water in the week leading up to your headshot session. The extra water is known to help clear your skin more and make it more naturally hydrated. It will not be convincingly different but a little bit of this here and that there adds up.

Get a good night’s sleep the night before. Appearing well rested can go a long way, not just in your appearance but in your perspective heading into your session. So, also be in a good mood for the shoot. The process should be fun. Some people stress about getting a headshot and it is perfectly normal. Try to accept it and embrace the moment. Your face is being captured in an image that you want to use to represent the best you to businesspeople. Be aware of that and how your mood affects it.

There are other things that can help. Being a self-confident natured person often shows in headshots. Play some music to help get you in a good mood as you go to and during your session. This also helps make the headshot session fun and more comfortable.

Relax, it is an important photo, but it can be undone and recreated if you find you do not like it. But finding the  best headshot photographer in cities like Los Angeles will help remove this concern too.

red head woman in a commercial acting headshot Los Angeles
Actors typically need updated headshots more frequently than other professions

A Note on How Often to Get New Headshots

Headshots are an investment. As mentioned, they directly or indirectly influence others to do business with you. So, don’t settle for a selfie. For businesspersons, a headshot is an investment likely only necessary to make each few years. For actors getting acting headshots, they might need to make the investment once or twice yearly.

Regardless of these factors, other factors that might require getting headshots sooner is if you change your look. What is this exactly? If you lose or gain noticeable weight. If you significantly change your hairstyle like its color or length. If you now wear glasses. If you grow out facial hair, and so on.