8 Simple Steps to Prepare for a Headsho​​​t

When was the last time you got a professional headshot and updated your Linkedin profile picture? You don’t want to use an old photo that nobody even recognizes you from. Many times, a headshot is the first thing people see before they even meet you. Therefore, it’s very important to have a good headshot that reflects you, your own personality and career. Whether it’s for your Linkedin profile, resume or any other professional use, you want your headshot to look professional. However, being in front of the camera can be quite intimidating and even awkward, if you haven’t done that a lot. With the help of these 8 simple tips, you will be prepared for a headshot session, look your best in the photos and get great professional photos.

1. Find the right photographer

When you have decided to get new headshots for professional use, it’s time to find the right photographer for the job. Maybe you already know a good photographer. Or you can always use Google or Facebook to find local photographers. My advice would be to look through photographers’ websites and portfolios. It is important that you find a certain style that you like because every photographer has a signature style. When you find photographers whose style you like, contact them, as they are already used to creating those types of portraits.

Another important thing is to have a lot of discussions with the photographer. Nobody can read your mind so make sure to tell your ideas and preferences to the photographer so you will be on the same page. As a result, the final photos will be similar to your original idea. This is one of those things that I actually have found to be easier when you take your own photos. For the reason that you’re both the photographer and subject, you know exactly what you’re looking for and can proceed to the posing and light tests right away.

2. Be fresh and well-rested

The last thing you want is to look extremely tired in your headshot photo. A lot can be done in Photoshop and with the help of makeup, but you probably won’t look as natural. Therefore I would recommend you to sleep well before a photo session, so you won’t have dark circles around your eyes. In addition, before a photo session, you should drink a lot of water and avoid food and alcohol that causes your face to look bloated. 

3. Choosing clothes: what should you wear?

You may wonder what to wear for your headshot? Should you wear a suit? Maybe a tie? The answer is maybe and maybe not. I personally don’t think there’s just one right answer. Generally, I would say it depends on what you usually wear for work. Sure, a suit would look professional, but if you never wear one, I would not recommend wearing one for your photo either.

For instance, if you work in a more creative environment, there’s a good chance your style leans towards more casual. So you should dress accordingly. I would, however, lean towards a look that would be the most formal of your outfits instead of going for the most casual style.

If you’re wearing something you don’t usually wear, you are not going to be comfortable. And the truth is, if you are uncomfortable, it will, unfortunately, show also in the photo. And that’s something you really don’t want. Remember, the photo should represent you so don’t try to be someone else. So wear what you feel comfortable in! Anyway if you wear a suit usually, you definitely should wear it for the photo too.

4. Clean and neat clothing

To be sharp as possible, make sure your clothes are neat, clean and ironed. Having wrinkled clothes simply won’t look good or professional. Therefore, iron and steam your clothes and remove any lint or dirt with a lint roller and fabric shaver. Preferably remove even the smallest specks of dirt, so the retouching will be a lot easier. The photographer may take care of cleaning any dust on your clothes, but to be sure, it makes sense to be prepared. Below you’ll find some useful products to get your clothes as sharp as possible.

5. Grooming: time for a haircut?

You definitely should get a haircut before the photoshoot, because you want to look sharp in your photo. As a general rule, I would say that you should look as natural as possible for a headshot. Therefore it’s best to get the haircut a week or at least a few days before the photo session. As you probably will use the same photo for a while, make sure to be prepared so you don’t end up regretting not getting that one haircut. 

Furthermore, remember to comb your hair just before the photo shoot. Hair is one of those things that is actually really hard to fix in photoshop. So taking care of your hair, you can save your or the retoucher’s time. Same goes for facial hair: shave or trim your beard so you will make a great first impression. Once again, however, be yourself and don’t try too hard with anything overly fancy or crazy.

6. Posing: practice before the photo shoot

One of the hardest parts for many will be posing. If you’re not used to posing, it definitely can be scary and awkward. So my solution is to practice it in advance. And the best way to do that is in front of a mirror. Learning to pose and what you personally think looks great, will help to look natural and comfortable in the photos. A good professional photographer will guide you during the photo session, but knowing what you like makes it easier for both you and the photographer. And in case you take your headshot by yourself (like I did), it’s even more important to know what you’re looking for.


Posing guides

Another good way is to take a look at posing guides. You can find some good general poses, but don’t follow these too strictly or you may end up looking like a guide yourself.  Moreover, some of those poses you’ll find doesn’t look natural or good at all, so be careful when choosing a pose. For a headshot, the focus will be on your face, but having something to with your hands (e.g. fold your arms across your chest) will make the photo in overall look more natural.

Smile or not in a headshot?

One thing to consider is whether you should smile or not in a professional headshot. Once again, I would say it depends. And it depends mostly on your own personality and how you would like people to see you. If you are generally very positive and smile all the time, you definitely should show this in the picture too. However, it can be more difficult to smile in photos and it’s another thing you should practice. But if you already have a great fake smile, then use it! However, if you need to force the smile, you don’t necessarily need to try it. Instead, go for a ‘neutral’ expression (try not to look angry or sad either!).

7. Location: choose a simple background

When choosing a location, it is important to remember that a headshot should be all about the face. If the background is distracting, people are not able to focus properly on your face. Therefore choose a background that doesn’t draw attention away from the subject (you). Either choose a solid background (for instance a gray seamless paper, shop here), a handpainted canvas (similar to my pictures above) or a blurred location background.

If you want to show the environment you work in (e.g. office space) consider a shallow depth of field to achieve a blurred background. As a result, you will be the focal point of the photo but still, have a little bit of extra with the background. A solid background is anyway always a safe choice that looks good for a headshot portrait. A gray background is the most versatile option, as it can be easily changed to any color in post. But naturally, you can also choose a colored background if you know exactly what you want.

8. Lighting: Create the right mood for the headshot

The final step is to decide on what kind of mood you want to achieve in the photo. If you already have chosen a photographer (step 1), you probably are looking for a certain style and the photographer knows how to achieve that style.

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You should consider how dramatic or soft you want the lighting to be. For a professional headshot, I personally would lean towards more softer lighting (e.g. for Linkedin). In any case, make sure your face is properly lit and not too dark. You probably don’t want to go for anything too creative or artistic either, because you don’t want to take the attention away from the subject.

Lighting setup for professional headshot
Two light-setup for soft lighting: one big deep umbrella from top for fill and smaller deep umbrella from camera right feathered for soft light.

Conclusion

There are many uses for a professional portrait so having a good headshot always pays off. After all, people often make their impressions of you based on your Linkedin profile picture or corporate headshot. Therefore, it’s important that you’re well prepared before a photo shoot. Hopefully, with these 8 tips, you’ll feel less scared about getting new headshots.

Time for a new professional headshot? Getting your photo taken can be intimidating but with these 8 simple steps you'll look your best for your new headshot!
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