How to Prepare for a Headshot Session

Jule Kim Seattle Headshot Photographer

If you’re going to spend the money on getting professional headshots, then you should prepare for your headshot session in order to get the best results possible. Here are some of the biggest factors under your control.

Choose the Right Headshot Photographer

This is the very first step, and is probably the most important one. It’s worth doing your homework on researching several photographers in your area.

What you should look for is a portfolio that has photos that appeal to you, or a style that you’d like for your own headshots. Evaluate the color and editing, but also look at the general mood of the clients portrayed in the portfolio. Are most of them serious looking, or are they smiley? What’s the lighting like?

After you’ve narrowed down your choices to 2-3 potential headshot photographers, you should set up meetings with each. Meeting them in person will let you get a feel for the photographer’s personality. This will quickly give you a good idea of who you’ll be most comfortable with during the session, which in turn means better and more relaxed and natural photos for you.

After you’ve met with the headshot photographers you’re considering, pick the one with the style you want plus a personality that demonstrates they were really listening to what you wanted. This last part is really an indicator of their customer service, and is especially important. I can’t tell you how many photographers I’ve seen who ignore a client’s direct requests or override the client because they refused to listen.

What to Wear for Headshots

Your headshot photographer should go over your choice of outfits with you, and give you guidance as to what works and what doesn’t. Ideally, you would put on the outfits you’re considering and take pictures with the clothes on and send them to your photographer. That’s really the best way to get their input, but not all photographers will offer this as an option.

In general, here’s what works. You can also read more if you want the reasoning behind why certain clothes work better than others in photos.

  • Neutral colors in shades of white, ivory, and gray work best. Black is also a great choice a lot of the time.
  • How formal or casual your outfit should be depends on what’s appropriate for your profession and how the photo will be displayed.
  • Your clothing should be well fitting; baggy or loose clothing is a very bad idea, especially for curvier or larger body types.
  • Sleeve length should be long or to the elbow. Short sleeves are meh and 3/4 sleeves are an absolute no. Sleeveless is acceptable when appropriate.
  • Style your hair and makeup similar to how you normally do it. Hire a professional stylist if you can afford it.
  • If you get a haircut, make sure it’s at least two weeks or more before the photo session.
  • Tops and bottoms are best when chosen correctly for your body shape. Also keep in mind that lighter colored clothing always looks bigger than darker.
  • Choose clothing and accessories that have vertical lines or vertical narrowing points, like long necklaces and v-necks. You want to lead the eye up and down, not side to side, which is why horizontal stripes are undesirable.
  • Make sure to pick something you feel comfortable and happy in, because if it’s something that’s too tight or is of a style you would never normally wear, then don’t wear it to the photo session. Your discomfort will show in the photos.

Practice Selfies to Get the Best Facial Expression

In a professional headshot, the facial expression counts for 50% of the total impression you’re making. It’s up to you on whether you want a serious look, a happy and smiley look, or something in between. Whatever it is you want, you should practice by taking selfies of yourself everyday for at least 2 weeks before your headshot session.

The reason why I advise actually taking selfies is because a person may think that they’re projecting a certain expression, but in reality they fall short of the mark. Practicing in front of a mirror is inadequate because we all see ourselves a certain way, and are often unable to understand what we’re really looking until it’s captured in a photo. I’ve had a client who thought she was “smiling with personality,” but when she saw the photos she deemed them way too flirtatious.

When you’re practicing, pay particular attention to your eyes. Make sure that your eyes look like they’re actually looking at the viewer or otherwise engaged in some way. What you want to avoid is a blank or vacant looking stare. If you’re smiling, then make sure that your eyes are also smiling, or smizing.

Your eyes are what will sell the rest of your expression, so make sure you really practice having the right look in your eyes.

Do You Have a Better Side?

Help your photographer out by letting them know which side is your better side. If you don’t know whether you have a better side, then this is where taking those selfies will really help. You’ll want to test taking photos of yourself with your face squared to the camera, and then turned slightly left and turned slightly right.

If you want to go even further, then you can also add in variations of your chin even, lifted up, or lowered down as well. When I say lifted or lowered, it should only be by about 1 inch.

Hint: A lot of people have their hair parted to one side. The side that has the part over it is usually the better side.

Chin Out, and Chin Down

Left photo (before) is how people usually sit, right photo (after) is after pushing the chin out

This is something I end up saying to 90% of my headshot clients. Unless you’re so thin that you’re practically skin and bones, you’re like me and will benefit from what I call, “the turtle.”

This is where you push your chin out about 1 inch to tighten the jawline so that your chin and jaw look more defined. It definitely can feel awkward and funny, but trust me, it definitely makes for a better photo.

See the above photo? In the right hand after photo her jawline looks much more defined, and she no longer looks like she has a slight double chin. Her entire chin and lower face look nice and tight with no loose skin or unwanted bulging.

Don’t believe me? Take a selfie and see for yourself. Remember, don’t exaggerate to an extreme. Just extend the chin forward about 1 inch or 1.5 inches.

If you’re a woman, then lowering the chin down slightly while keeping it extended will also be flattering because your eyes look bigger in that position.

For men, keep the chin level. Lowering the chin doesn’t always work because if a man has a strong brow they’ll end up looking up from under their eyebrows, which can actually look somewhat intimidating.

Drink Lots of Water and Get Plenty of Sleep

In the two days leading up to your headshot session, try to make sure that you drink enough water and get enough rest. Letting yourself be dehydrated is more likely to lead to a headache, and not getting enough rest will lead to tired looking photos.

Also, grab a meal or bring a snack before the session so that you’re not starving during the photos. No photographer wants a hangry client who’s grumpy and impatient to be done so they can go eat. If you eat right before the session, remember to brush your teeth so that you can flash those beautiful teeth at the camera.

Jule Kim

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