So, what do you wear for headshots? This is a common question that can have both a simple and involved answer. First, it depends on who the headshot is for and how the headshot will be used. It also depends on the crop factor of the headshot. Here are some considerations.
There are a lot of similarities between what women and men might consider wearing for headshots. It should be noted again answering this question is highly applicable to the purpose of the headshot, or how it will be used. Is it for a corporate website, for a model, and so on? Keep in mind the crop factor of the headshot. The crop factor is how the headshot will be framed in the photo, or its dimensions. In most cases this is 8×10 (a 4 to 5 crop factor), though 1 to 1 is also popular.
Furthermore, a headshot tends to be a photo to focus on a person’s face. This means in most cases it is a closeup shot, around the chest and up. Sometimes it is a bit closer and sometimes it is from around the belly up.
Thus, in most cases, you only need to pay attention to what you are wearing as your top, and not your bottoms. Still, it is a good idea to bring bottoms you can use in a headshot session. Many photographers have rigid session options – you only get one thing and there is no deviating. But many photographers are also open about how their sessions go. So, you might walk in thinking you just want a headshot and end up halfway through thinking you might want to add a three-quarter or full body shot too.
There are many categories of headshots. Below are sections for the most common. They cover 99 out of what 100 people might fall under. Of course, there are always overlaps on advice and specifics to each category too. But if needed, feel free to skip to just reading the category most suited to you.
It is usually also good to avoid showcasing logos or flashy jewelry. Remember the point of a headshot is to keep the focus on you and not what you are wearing. This also then means to try and avoid plaids and stripes. Also, try and select clothing that does not wrinkle or bunch up too easily.
In some cases, a headshot might be shot from around the bellybutton up. This is most common in corporate settings. Model headshots can also commonly be shot wider. So now, what you consider wearing for your top is much more important.
Actors and models might sometimes need body shots. Thus, they will need to consider what bottoms to wear. The same rules apply – keep it simple, uncluttered and with solid colors. You might also want to color-coordinate to the background color being used. This is also true for corporate headshots as it can help create a branding element behind all those headshots on the company website.
The challenge for actors on considering what to wear for headshots is that they need to appeal to casting directors. There are many casting directors out there and what might appeal to one might not necessarily appeal to others. There are some casting directors more focused on casting for commercials while another might be mostly focused on feature films. And perhaps you want to go after either type of roles.
So, the main challenge for an actor on what to wear is to balance a wardrobe that does A) appeals to a type of role they want B) while being general and balanced enough to appeal to other roles C) while being true to showcasing who they are as a person.
For this reason, actors often need to have multiple headshots done in multiple looks. It is nearly impossible in one shot to showcase you can play a villain and a cheery boyfriend or girlfriend. This is best done with two different images and looks.
Generally, there are two types of looks in actor headshots – the commercial and theatrical (dramatic). A comedic look is another consideration, but it is like a commercial look. Within a commercial and theatrical look, there can be various subcategories to consider what you might wear. For example, within commercial looks there can be many roles, like a mother figure, girl next door, or champion. In theatrical, this might be a superhero, femme fatale, or rebel.
Because no casting directors are alike, an actor might consider two commercial and two theatrical looks. One commercial look can be generalized, to appeal to the general casting director. The second look can be specific, to appeal to those casting directors that prefer specificity.
So, if you are trying to get specific for a rebel role, a leather jacket might be good. Look online for popular rebel characters to mimic. For the general theatrical role, you might consider wearing layers. Since the rebel shot might call for a leather jacket, for the general theatrical shot, you might consider a denim jacket or similar. So, in this shot you are trying to showcase you can play any dramatic role as opposed to just a rebel.
Say you want to be cast as the girl next door. This is generally a very bright, cheery but flirty look. This might involve a low-cut top. Search for wardrobe ideas online. For a more general commercial look, you might want to split the difference by wearing a top that best straddles the line of flirtatious and mom-like.
Finally, in general, avoid overly busy clothes. Plaids and stripes usually detract from viewers paying attention to your face. Solid colors are often best. Vivid colors are great. Pastels can also work, with some background color coordination. As for jewelry, be careful not to overdo this too. Of course, if you feel it is suited for a very specific look you are after, then it is up for consideration but in most cases minimize jewelry.
As for makeup, do not overdo this too. Find a balance between makeup that makes you look better, without noticing that you have caked it on. Same thing with your hair. In other words, do your hair and makeup in the same way you would when you show up for an audition, so your headshot matches how you look when you arrive. This will be pleasing to most casting directors.
This is for corporate executives, entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, and similar professionals. Actors, models, and so on are also business professionals. But for these purposes, let us lump them under creative professionals.
These business professionals should usually wear what they would wear when meeting a new client for the first time. Of course, this dramatically varies by profession: physician, lawyer, real estate agent, software developer, accountant, CEO, psychologist, engineer, chef, and so on. These professionals might all wear different things when meeting a client for the first time. A physician might have on a lab coat, a real estate agent a suit, and a chef an apron.
But overall, keep the patterns simple by avoiding overly busy plaids and stripes. If the focus on your headshot shifts to what you wore rather than your face, the attire has been overdone. Textures are fine so long as they adhere to not overdoing colors. Solid colors are good, especially earthy colors. Variations of grays and blues are often good, with spots of vivid colors added. For example, you might have on a gray suit with red or blue tie or scarf.
As for hair and makeup, again, do so as much as you would when going to a very important client meeting. In this way, your headshot tells all potential clients that they are as important as your most important client.
There are countless numbers of modeling agencies and what each wants a model to wear varies. However, there are some general rules. But to determine what you should wear; you must also understand what shots you need.
Usually, modeling agencies will require at least a headshot and full body shot to be submitted. But two shots are not enough. Usually, at least four shots are ideal. In many cases, a third shot is one in a swimsuit. Then, a fourth shot can be an additional headshot, a beauty shot, or a half or three-quarter body shot.
There are two important considerations for all these shots. First, form-fitting clothes are going to be best. After all, modeling agencies are interested in knowing your physique. So, minimal clothing is best, and you should avoid wearing layers, at least for your basic modeling digitals. Let us break down each of the four basic shots.
For your headshot, a basic form-fitting top of one color is best. Solid black, gray or white to contrast your skin tone are good. But there is nothing wrong with a little color too since it is your headshot and not a full body shot.
For the full body shot, this is where solid black, white, or gray to contrast with your skin tone might be suited. This will help accent or showcase your physique. The same thing is true for your swimsuit. However, since you will already have a full body shot in a gray-tone color, a little color in a swimsuit might be ideal so the portfolio as a whole does not come across muted in color.
For the extra shots, pretty much anything goes. However, stick with form-fitting as much as possible. But throw in some color, again so the overall portfolio is not too muted.
As for hair and makeup, for your basic modeling digitals all natural is best. This does not mean no makeup or hair styling. It just means keep it to a minimum so they can see you true features, skin tone, and so on.
Dancers use their headshots to submit for audition opportunities and for promotional scenarios. Often, they are asked to submit a headshot with their dance gear on as well as one with what they would normally look like.
Your dance gear is your dance gear, and you should wear it for a headshot session as you would for a dance audition. As for the headshot without dance gear, consider keeping things simple. Avoid layers unless you are going for something specific. Stick to solid but vibrant colors. This means staying away from overly busy plaids and stripes.
As for hair and makeup, you might want to style this in the same way you would for an audition, even though this headshot does not have you in dance gear. In this way, it might help those in casting still see you how you might look as a dancer, even though you are not in dance gear in that headshot.
There are some things that we can safely say you want to avoid for a headshot, regardless of your profession. For example, sunglasses are probably not a good idea. Turtlenecks are likely also not a good idea. Top hats are probably not good either.
Because headshots are often tightly cropped, you generally should avoid tops that have scooped or similar necklines. This is because it can make the headshot appear as though you are topless. This is likely not what you want to imply.
Dirty or stained clothes should be avoided. Nowadays people often assume a headshot photographer can just Photoshop out a stain. Yes, that is generally true, but it is safer to not assume it. Also, photographers have a saying that “it’s better to get things right in camera” than in post-production. It just removes uncertainty.
If you are unsure of what to wear, bring options you can change into. Also, ask your headshot photographer for advice. You can also do a little homework. Look online at headshot examples that you like and try to mirror what they are wearing. Sometimes, you might like what someone is wearing because of the background color. So, be sure the headshot photographer can closely match the background.
What you wear does matter but, remember that it is usually important to be minimalistic about it. Your headshot should be about you. It is for commercial reasons – to post on LinkedIn for potential jobs, to submit to castings, and so on. So, make sure the person staring at it is focused on you and not that red, blue, and green Hawaiian shirt you somehow ended up with.
All this said, none of these are hard rules. Even if they were, we all know the saying “rules are meant to be broken.” In almost all cases, following these guidelines will serve you best. But they must also match the branding you are trying to create for yourself.
If you want to be known as the doctor with the green lab coat, then be about that. If you want to be the model with the blue and yellow hair, own it. In the end, the headshot is to help create the individual brand you are after, to help land business opportunities you are after.
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