How to Prepare for a Headshot Photo Session

When people think of headshots they often associate them with someone who is pursuing an acting career but that’s not the only reason people need headshots. As a matter of fact, headshots are a powerful marketing tool. Not only are they used by those in the entertainment industry but also by businesses and professionals in many different industries. Additionally, some people even want a professional-looking social media photo and opt to have a headshot taken to ensure the image is clear and crisp. 


So if you have decided to get a professional headshot what can you do to prepare for your photo session to improve the odds that you’ll get a great shot? If you’re a photographer, how should you prepare to photograph clients?


Choose the Right Photographer


Every photographer is different and even those who are evenly matched in skill and experience can produce vastly different headshots because each has their own shooting and editing styles. 


Perhaps more importantly, though, each works differently during the shoot. It’s a bit like a doctor’s bedside manner. The most skilled doctor in the world won’t make patients happy and comfortable if their bedside manner is deplorable. The same is true for photographers.


One of the keys to getting a great headshot is working with a photographer who can put you at ease and make you feel comfortable in your own skin. What this means varies from one subject to the next. Some people prefer a photographer with a more stoic approach because they are getting a headshot that needs to be used professionally. Others prefer someone more laid-back because they want to feel relaxed and confident in their photo.


When choosing a photographer for your headshot, think about how you’d like to feel during the shoot.


If you’re a photographer, think about how you want a session to feel. Consider your ideal client and determine how you can create an atmosphere that would appeal to that person. If you want to work with business professionals, aim for a professional and serious vibe. If you intend to do headshots for people pursuing opportunities in the fashion industry, you’ll want a flashier, more on-trend environment. 


No matter what you choose, make sure your approach is always professional.

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Consider the Type of Headshot You Want


It seems simple enough: a headshot is a picture of our head and shoulders. As true as this is, though, there are still different types of headshots. Choosing the one that suits your needs in advance can make for a smoother photo session.


Before you begin, let your photographer know what type of headshot you want. This way, they can prepare and order any materials needed for the session. If you are the photographer and your client hasn’t indicated a type of headshot, don’t be afraid to ask so you’re as prepared as possible for the day of the shoot. 


A few of the most common types of headshots include:


  • Vertical: This is likely the most common style of headshot and is as it sounds. The subject faces the camera, the photo is taken closer to the face, and backgrounds can be in different colors or textures. Usually, they are simple. Some subjects prefer to show more of their clothing to portray a better sense of style in their photos, such as when a business professional includes a few inches of their suit jacket or tie.


  • Peter Hurley: Peter Hurley is a headshot photographer known for his horizontal orientation in headshots. Most of his shots have a crisp white background and appear clean and fresh. Hurley uses a specific style of lighting in his photographs and many agree that this style tends to work best for photos that will be posted online. This style appeals to many modern-day business professionals because they need to have a headshot that can be used on a website and on social media.


  • Environmental: This type of headshot tends to be less formal and is taken outside of a photo studio. It might be shot indoors or outdoors using artificial or natural light. The important thing about an environmental headshot is that it’s more casual and tends to speak to the personality of the person in the photo.


If you’re a photographer and your client isn’t sure what type of headshot works best for them, you can ask a few questions about how they intend to use the photo. This can help you to suggest the best option and plan the session based on their goals.


How to Get Ready for a Headshot Photo Session


You’ve found the right photographer and shared the type of headshot you’d like. Maybe your employer has scheduled a headshot day for employees. Now, it’s time to get ready. Being properly prepared for a headshot session makes it easier and less stressful, which will be reflected in your photos.


With that in mind here are a few things to consider before your photo session: 


Clothing for the Headshot Session


Even if you intend to have a closeup headshot done that shows very little of what you are wearing, the clothes you choose for a headshot session are still incredibly important. What you wear affects how you hold your body and how you feel. 


For instance, if you want to appear confident in a photo from the neck up, you shouldn’t wear slouchy clothing that you bum around the house in. Always dress the part and make sure you exude what you want to in the photo.


If your clothing is visible in the picture, there are a few things to keep in mind. Solid colors look better and are less distracting. If you prefer to wear a pattern, make sure it’s simple. Dress in layers and bring a change or two of clothing with you, just in case your original outfit doesn’t work. Make sure your clothing is stain and wrinkle-free and bring a lint brush. 


Hair and Makeup


Hair and makeup are important in headshots for obvious reasons – they’re a major part of the photo. Ideally, you’re able to have your hair and makeup done professionally before the shoot but this isn’t always an option. If possible, have your hair cut and/or colored as close as possible to the date of the shoot. At least this way your usual style is fresh and crisp on picture day.


Bring a hairbrush and any hair products you  use to touch up your style. If you intend to wear your hair up during the photos, start with it down and put it up later to avoid unwanted crinkles and waves. The same is true if you intend to shoot with a hat on. All accessories should be reserved for later in the shoot.


Makeup should be natural to begin with and as the photoshoot progresses, you can add enhancements if needed. If you intend to use a regular look for your headshot as well as a more glamorous headshot, reserve the latter for the end of the shoot. Add makeup as you go instead of removing it.


When putting makeup on, try for a dewy look. Matte makeup tends to look dry in photos and can age you. Do what you can to make your smile look it’s best by brushing away any dryness on your lips and applying lip balm or lip gloss before the photo. Remove unwanted facial hair a few days before the photo to avoid redness or irritation. Men should shave right before the shoot and use cooling gel to prevent irritation. 

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Can You Practice for a Headshot Session?


Yes, and it’s actually a good idea to do so before the day of the shoot. Spend some time looking at yourself in the mirror and practice different poses. Most people have a side of their face that looks better than the other, which can be highlighted during the session. It’s also a good idea to try different expressions in the mirror. You might prefer just a simple smile for a professional headshot but it helps to know other emotions you can display through your expressions.


One of the most important things you can do during a headshot session is to feel at ease. If you are the subject of the photo, ask the photographer to play music that relaxes you. If you’re the photographer, offer the subject a variety of musical selections or choose something based on the intended use of the headshot.


It can feel awkward to pose for a headshot but do your best to follow the photographer’s instructions. If you are a photographer, don’t be afraid to give direction and use what you know to get a great shot. The better a photographer and subject work together, the better the result.


Final Thoughts on Preparing for a Headshot


For many people it can be intimidating to be the focus of a photo session, while for others it’s a natural time to shine. Whichever category you fall into, taking these steps before your shoot will help ensure you are more comfortable and you get your desired headshots.  Good luck and have fun!