How Do You Prepare for a Headshot?

The Light Committee - Favicon

By The Light Committee

Headshots are an investment you make for your career. For actors, models and others in entertainment, they are vital. But, even in the corporate world headshots are more important than most people think. So, what can you do to be sure you get headshots that will help advance your career?

creative director men business headshots created in a studio in LA
Studio Headshots Allows the Photographer Full Control of Lighting an Environment

First, be sure your headshots are being done by a professional with a commercial-grade camera, not a smartphone or other point-and-shoot camera. If you settle for a smartphone selfie, it will not only look unprofessional, you might give an impression about how little you care about quality that you don’t want to give. Also, steer clear of asking that friend that has a fancy camera to do it for you. There is much more to a professional headshot than this.

Lighting Factors

You will often want to opt for studio headshots. With good control of lighting by a photographer, they can fine-tune the look you are after. The photographer has complete control of lighting via the use of strobe lights. In natural light, lighting dynamics can vary. The sun, clouds, temperature and other ambient factors cannot be fully controlled. As a result, the look you are after may not be captured in natural light.

However, natural light is not bad, and it should not be overlooked. In other words, outdoor headshots are also very good. Just know there might be more variables to consider and you will not have complete control over how lighting impacts your look.

Also, not all studio lighting is created equal. There are different qualities to lights. So, check out the photographer’s portfolio for such quality factors. Have a conversation with your chosen photographer to help you decide on lighting, background options, and more.

A corporate headshot of a woman in a suit in studio near Arcadia
Natural Light is a Viable Option for Headshots But Studio Lighting Allows for Less Distracted Backgrounds in Most Cases

Proper Representation

Your headshot is being used to sell you. So, be sure it represents you. In other words, do not attempt to come across as someone you are not or cannot pull off in person. So, light makeup is a good idea – or at least the usual amount of makeup you would normally wear. To be a bit more precise here, if you are an actor or model, wear the same amount of makeup you would wear to a typical casting. For business professionals, wear the same amount of makeup you would wear for an important client meeting.

Some photographers will tell you retouching a photo is not good. This just is not true. There are always opportunities to retouch a photo without it misrepresenting who you are. This includes for items such as removing a stray or fly-away hair, some acne or other non-permanent blemish, lint on a shirt, and so on. Fixing any of these items does not create a misrepresentation. Instead, it makes your headshot more polished.

Tips to Prep Ahead of Your Headshot Session

You might think to get a haircut and if you do, it is a good idea to do so a few days prior to your session. This way, if you get a bad haircut, you will have time to recover or reschedule. As with makeup, try to make sure the haircut you get is common to your usual look. For example, if you are planning to grow out your hair soon, you probably will want to get your headshots after it is grown out.

Get a good night’s sleep the night before so you look fresh the day of your session. It will also put you in a better mood, which can come across in your headshots. Drink lots of water too for several days before your headshot session, so your skin looks better overall.

Tips for During Your Headshot Session

So, you are at your session and ready to go – and this is not just applicable to the Los Angeles area. Your headshot photographer will likely have suggestions for making the session go great. So, do not be afraid to ask for tips. Many actors and models are naturals at headshot sessions but for others it can be a nervous moment. Again, your headshot photographer can likely help make the session fun and relaxing.

So, almost in all cases look into the camera for the photos. This helps create a welcoming perception, demonstrates confidence, and builds trust with the viewer. Also, in almost all cases, you should have a subtle natural smile. If you are not a natural smile-person, again your photographer can probably provide some tips.

headshot of a businessman outdoors in Los Angeles
Coming across relaxed yet professional and approachable are key goals with most headshots

Your Posture

Naturally, your posture will come across in the photos. For professional headshots to use across business marketing, etc. stand tall and firm but be sure you come across relaxed too. The point is to look as though you are approachable. For actors and models, it is all about getting in a groove, flow and character. This is particularly true for actor theatrical headshots and model lifestyle shots. Again, your chosen photographer can probably provide guidance if needed.

While taking the photos, making subtle adjustments with your head and face are all the difference. This includes less of a smile, more of smile, a tiny head tilt or tiny chin drop, and so on.

What About Attire for Headshots?

There are many considerations for what to wear for headshots. But here are some quick tips… Avoid wearing plaids, stripes, strong colors, and generally busy clothing. Simple, natural and solid colors are best. The focus should be on you so, do not wear anything that would be a barrier to that focus. This includes too much jewelry. Also, be aware of clothing that has branding, such as logos, that might takeaway focus from you.

For corporate headshots, you can opt to dress in a business suit or, if that is not normally worn on a workday, dress how you would on a routine day. It is up to the business to decide how to brand this. However, for groups of headshots, consistency is important to consider. For example, should everyone wear suits, a company shirt, etcetera?

Another popular thought on what to wear is to dress how you would when you are meeting a new client. In this way, a new client seeing your headshot ahead of a meeting will enter the meeting with you having the comfort of a familiar impression of you.

And yet another popular approach is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If dressed in a suit, bring a second business coat to quickly change looks and have options. This can include a second scarf or other accessory for women or a second tie or handkerchief for men.

colorful studio headshot of a woman Los Angeles
A pop of color might be helpful depending on the nature of your profession / specialty

The Finished Product

With your headshots done, you will be eager to use them. Unless you have specific branding requirements – such as to fit a website’s specifications – stick with an output of tried-and-true 8×10″ portrait-size photos. The crop should usually be from around the belly button up or upper chest and up, depending on the application.

If you follow these steps, you are almost guaranteed to have great headshots, a great time getting them, and to make a great impression on anyone seeing them.

Headshot Frequency

Actors and models might need to get new headshots as frequently as every year. However, there are at least two factors that may call for new headshots sooner. First, even if an actor feels they got really good headshots, sometimes what they like just is not clicking with casting directors. So, go back to your headshot photographer for new looks, or try another photographer. Also, if your look changes you will want to get new headshots. You need the headshots to match the look for how you will appear in person.

What may constitute a changed look? Longer hair, noticeable weight loss or gain, shorter hair, hair color change, if you now wear glasses, clean shaven or not, and so on.

Business professionals should also consider getting updated headshots for such look changes. Otherwise, a business professional can usually extend use of their headshots to around three years before they start to get old. But if you are the brand of your business, you may want to consider a frequency as often as an actor or model. This is particularly important if you have frequently recurring customers.

Swapping out your headshot more frequently will keep a fresher brand image with recurring customers. You might also consider lifestyle shots for use on social media as branded content. More and more, actors and models must also consider the same as more and more creatives also look to social media profiles for casting options.