How to Prepare for Professional Headshots

by | Oct 1, 2020

Success in headshot photography is 50% client preparation and 50% our photography. At your session, we will do everything humanly possible to make sure you love your headshot, but your preparation is critical to getting a great final photo. 

If you’re feeling unsure about how to prep for your photo shoot, here’s a list of some key ways to prepare for your session.

Note: This guide provides helpful tips for getting the most out of your session. We are also happy to recommend some products that may help correct some common mistakes here: Recommended Pre-Session Products 

Professional Headshot Checklist:

The Week Before:

Plan Your Day: While planning your day a week ahead of time can be difficult, make sure that you don’t have any appointments or other scheduling conflicts in the minutes leading up to your session. You want to be focused during your shoot.

If you’re getting your hair done, we highly recommend you don’t try to cut corners by getting it done the night before and sleeping on it. You should have a same-day appointment for hair and makeup.

Candidly Evaluate Your Clothing Options: The #1 (by a significant margin) reason people need to come back for more photos is that they brought the wrong clothing to the first session. Less than 1% of our sessions lead to a re-shoot, but in those cases it’s almost one of two reasons (the second is addressed below). But, the most common reason is that the client brought the wrong clothing to the session (example: client wearing glasses they realized they didn’t actually like, client wore a shirt or suit that doesn’t fit them any more, client wore clothing with loud and distracting patterns etc).

Also make sure that your clothing is not the exact same color as the background you’re shooting on. If your employer is sending you in for a session, check with them on the background that you’ll be using.

So, to avoid needing to return to the studio, make SURE that your clothing both fits you + photographs well. If you’re unsure, just email us a photo of your outfit to smile@headshots-inc.com – we’re happy to help!

Here are some more tips on What to Wear for Professional Headshots.

The Day Before:

Get 8 Hours of Sleep: As much as possible, try to get some rest in the days leading up to your shoot. Our editing process will help with dark circles under eyes, but prioritizing sleep the night before your shoot is the most effective method for looking rested! 

Know Thyself: Look back at past photos of yourself that you’ve liked. Were you wearing a specific color? Did you have a specific hairstyle? Was the photo taken from a specific angle? Do you have a favorite side? Make sure to plan appropriately and/or communicate your preferences to the photographer. We would LOVE to see a photo of you from the past that you liked – bring those photos on your phone to your session.

For outdoor shoots, if you have frizzy hair in certain conditions, make sure to account for that in your preparation.

If you get red eyes, dry lips, or acne when doing any activities like hiking, surfing, skiing, swimming in a pool (chlorine), or cooking with certain foods – then refrain from those activities before your shoot.

Ask Yourself “Is Tomorrow THE Day?”: Besides clothing, the #2 reason clients ask for a reshoot is that there was some sort of other external factor that impacted their mood/confidence on the day of their shoot. Whether it’s due to lack of sleep, acne breakouts, bad hair days, stress at work/home, or just simply being in a bad mood (it can happen!) – you usually shouldn’t try to push through your session if you really don’t feel good.

We have an extraordinarily generous reschedule policy for exactly this reason. With four hours notice, Studio Sessions can be rescheduled for free via the link in your confirmation email. On-Demand Sessions have the same policy, but we just need you to email us directly at smile@headshots-inc.com.

However, you also shouldn’t needlessly delay your session until the “perfect timing” either – because that’s never going to happen. We play fun music (in the studio) and create a warm and welcoming environment for your shoot – so we’ve been known to turn around quite a few people’s days. Editing will also smooth out stray hairs and reduce bags under eyes from lack of sleep – so don’t sweat that either!

Basically, if you bring the right clothes, you are probably ready-to-go on 90% of days, just don’t pick the particularly tough one to attend your session.

(Note: This unfortunately does not apply to group sessions at a client’s office (ie corporate headshot days), as we may not be returning later.)

The Morning Of:

Dress For the Job You Want: Stick with solid colored tops. They’re more flattering and less distracting. Jackets and collared shirts are highly recommended. Depending on your industry, you may be tempted to wear casual attire. But, based on our experience, we recommend you dress up for your professional photos.

Try to avoid any large pieces of jewelry or excessive makeup. Avoid logos or badges on either your shirt and your jacket – or you risk looking like an advertisement.

For guys, unless you have a strong preference, try not to wear an undershirt with your dress shirt. If you do, wear a white undershirt – not a black or grey undershirt.

In general, you want solid-color and high-contrast outfits. For example, white shirt and dark blue blazer, white shirt and black blazer, or light blue shirt and black blazer etc. 

Make sure your clothes are ironed and/or without wrinkles. If you have a lint roller, use it the night before. 

Do not wear glasses with “blue light reflectors” or “transition lenses”, those will ruin your photos. There’s not much we can do about that in the editing process either. Regular glasses are totally OK though.

NOTE: If you’re taking headshot to be put on your employer’s website, make SURE to check with them on the proper attire. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes customers will need to come and re-shoot because they wore a suit (when they should have been dressed casual) or were under-dressed. Every employer is different, and what you should wear depends on what they’d like to convey on the website – so make sure to ask.

Shave: If you have facial hair, either cleanly shave or maintain a trimmed beard. Anything in the middle looks sloppy. When in doubt, shave. However, do not shave immediately before your shoot – as razor bumps and discoloration will become more apparent.

5-Minutes Before:

Check Your Hair: A little water goes a long way. Make sure you don’t have hair sprouting in all directions. Our editing team can easily remove single strands of hair, but clumps of hair are much more difficult.

Check For Shine: In a photo shoot, the flash on the studio lighting reflects off any sweaty or dry spots, making portions of your face look shiny.

If you have a dry face, do NOT apply lotion to your face within 4 hours before your shoot…If you need to, do this in the week before your shoot.

If you’re not wearing makeup, simply splash some cold water on your face and pat dry with a paper towel. If you’re wearing makeup, go with simple powders. Avoid glossy or shiny makeup – which is reflective when combined with studio flash.

Check Your Glasses: Dirty glasses stick out like a sore thumb. Try not to wear glasses that have “transition lenses”, as they will look like sunglasses in your photo. If you can, make sure your glasses are glare resistant, or lighting will interfere with the quality of your portrait.

Listen to Your Photographer: We will be giving you some advice at the beginning of your session. Specifically, we’re going to tell you to look at your hair and/or makeup one last time, and we’re going to tell you to use “oil blot pads” on your nose, cheeks, and forehead before our shoot. Some people have a tendency to ignore that request, but please make sure to look in the mirror. It’s hard for any photographer to know exactly how you like to wear your hair, makeup, or jewelry – so take a close look. We only have your best interests in mind. You’d be surprised how many people say they’re “good to go”, and then look at the first set of photos on our iPad and realize they didn’t like their hair or they really should have used the blot pads.

Relax: You’re going to look great! Stress and anxiety will show up in photos, so get yourself in a good mood. Listen to your favorite song and do a little dance at your desk before your session.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please email us at smile@headshots-inc.com.

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