Tips for getting the most out of a headshot session

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Try not to get hung up on wardrobe (Haha). The most important thing is to bring clothes you love wearing. If you wear something that you don’t feel good in, your discomfort will show in your expression. A good rule of thumb is to dress the way you would for an important meeting in your industry. For some that means a jacket and tie, and others that means jeans and a t-shirt.

I shoot tethered into a laptop during the shoot – which allows up to review images immediately as we take them, so we can usually tell if we like the way something looks in a couple of shots. It is better to bring a few options just in case something doesn’t photograph the way you thought it would. Sometimes it’s the shirt or tie you weren’t planning on bringing that ends up being the favorite look from the shoot.

Having a ton of options to choose from will allow us to get a nice range of images. For business professionals – magazines, billboards, awards, speaking engagements, and press releases might benefit from a different look. Maybe you use something more formal for LinkedIn, and something more casual for your website.

For actors – clothing suggests different character types and age ranges. A leather jacket is going to suggest a completely different character than a turtleneck will. I personally love blues and grays. I highly recommend bringing a basic well fitted black, white, or gray shirt of some kind. Can’t go wrong with a t-shirt or tank top for those more casual looks.

Avoid clothing with super distracting patterns, and overly bright colors. Be careful with thin fabrics. Studio lights are bright, and might make the top slightly see through. Be sure to bring appropriate colored undergarments as well. Loose and baggy clothing will make you look unpolished, and will be difficult to make look good during the shoot. Scoop necks can make your shoulders and neck look wide. V-necks, and deep plunging necklines tend to draw attention away from the face.

Well fitted dress shirts, and jackets are essential. Bulky and uneven shoulder pads make you look larger than you are. Bad tie knots kill shots instantly. Don’t be afraid to pre-tie them before the shoot or I can tie it for you. Most jewelry, hats (unless you’re going for a specific look!), and scarves can be left at home. You don’t want anything to distract from YOU. If you wear glasses -definitely bring them! We can take care of glare in glasses with a few tricks.

All of that being said…what works for one person might not work for you. So if you’re on the fence about a piece of clothing, just bring it with. If you don’t bring it, I can’t shoot it!

color psychology

Research has shown certain colors can have a psychological impact our behavior and feelings, and if worn in moderation, can help you subconsciously influence what you want people to think or feel about you.

Here are some psychological characteristics associated with common colors:

Red: Draws attention and creates a visual impact. It evokes strength, power, and is persuasive, but may also come off as assertive or aggressive. Bright red ties are commonly known as the classic power tie, popular for its psychological influence.

Blue: The safest color and most popular among both men and women. Blue is a calming color associated with intelligence, focus, loyalty, and trustworthiness. Navy blues suggest more power and authority than lighter blues.

Green: A relaxing color associated with nature, balance, generosity, and peace. Dark green is associated with wealth.

Purple: The color of royalty. Purple evokes wealth, luxury, sophistication, mystery, and wisdom. Use in moderation.

Pink: A soothing color seen as innocent on women. Men who wear pink are seen as bold, assertive, in control and confident.

Yellow: Cheerful and evokes friendliness and optimism. Should be used in moderation and is overpowering if too vibrant.

Orange: Possesses the energy of red without the seriousness. Orange is associated with fun, ambition, and enthusiasm.

Black: Formal, sophisticated, powerful, and elegant. Use in moderation and pair with other tones and colors.

Gray: A neutral color that is a great base to pair with other colors. Gray alone can come across as low energy or boring.

White: Purity, innocence, cleanliness, and simplicity. White draws attention and is a stark contrast for other tones.

When choosing clothing, it’s important to consider cultural and personal associations with colors, as well as the context and occasion. By understanding the psychological impact of colors, we can use them to our advantage and create the impression we desire.

Hair & Makeup

As more of our communication becomes digital, sometimes the only ‘face to face’ relationship you have with someone is through a picture on a screen. 

Your headshots help people create a mental picture of who you are, and what your personality is like. If you were to ever meet someone in person and look nothing like the picture they have been looking at – it might make them trust you less. For that reason, you want your headshots to be an accurate representation of you, and not some super glammed-up version. The goal is to make you look the way you would on your very best day.

You should come in with your hair they way you would wear it for a normal day. No one knows your hair better than you do. If you have long hair – we will probably be moving it a lot until we find the way it looks best on camera. If you have short hair, things are certainly easier for you! Be sure to bring any specific hair products and accessories (such as a brush/comb) that you might need. Don’t worry about fly-aways, or a few rogue gray hairs – those can be fixed in retouching.
Bad hair days do happen, but there are very few scenarios that can’t be fixed during the shoot if it comes to it.

Studio lighting and cameras show an incredible amount of detail. Because of that, makeup can easily go over the top very quickly if you aren’t careful. Having too heavy, or poorly applied makeup will negatively affect the way you look. It is significantly easier to remove blemishes, correct skin color and texture issues in retouching when the face has less makeup. Keep makeup very light and natural. You can always add more as the session goes on but it is much harder to remove if it’s too much. Removing makeup during a session could leave your skin irritated and red, or weird looking.

Be sure to check some basic things before the shoot. Cut longer nose hairs to the best of your ability. Give your eyebrows a quick combing. Brush/trim beards and mustaches. Make sure your eyelashes aren’t curling down and blocking your eyes. Moisturize your lips as much as you can. Check your teeth, and give them another brush.

It’s not always possible, but getting a good nights rest before a photoshoot is just one more way to make sure you’re looking your best for your headshots. Of course, in the retouching phase of the process, we can remove or reduce under-eye bags, bloodshot eyes (I also have eyedrops for bloodshot eyes in studio if they’re very red), and will help you feel better during your session.

These might seem weird or basic, but these will really help improve the shots, and make retouching significantly easier. I am good at catching and fixing the little things during a shoot, but the more prepared you are when you come, the better the final images will be.

Finding the right expressions

Most of our communication as human beings is non verbal, and we make judgments about a person and their mood based off their expression in a couple of milliseconds without even realizing it. When that expression is frozen in a picture, it’s a MUST to make sure that it is sending exactly the message you want.

There are 3 qualities that I think every headshot should convey. It makes the person look confident, approachable, and interesting. Being confident in your picture shows that you are credible. If you look scared, sad, or blank – I’m not going believe that you have what it takes to get the job done. Being approachable in your headshot conveys that you have likability. People work with people, and if you look mean – no one will want to work with you. The last is that you have to look interesting. This is what shows your personality, and makes you stand out from everyone else with a generic cheap headshot.

It just so happens that all of these things are controlled by your expression. It is also interesting that there are only 3 things on your face that you can move to change your expression! Those are your mouth, eyes, and eyebrows. By moving these 3 facial features in different ways together – it completely changes the personality you convey in your headshot.

Confidence comes from your eyes. Opening your eyes really wide, while yes it does show off the color, actually is not a good look for pictures. This is commonly referred to as the ‘deer in headlights’ look. Instinctually you open your eyes really wide when you are scared in order to take in as much of your surroundings as possible so you can see any predators! By slightly squinching your lower eyelids you tighten the muscles around your cheek bones, and that gives the impression of increased confidence.

Approachability comes from the mouth. The bigger the smile you have, the more approachable you are. If you have no mouth movement, you have what is commonly called ‘resting b**** face’. At the very least you must always have a slight smirk to convey that you aren’t a b****. So depending on the personality you want to convey will help you decide how much smile you should have. There is the right balance between laughing, and smirking that a great photographer will aim to get.

Last but not least you have your eyebrows which convey intention, emotion, and personality. Eyebrows are the biggest factor for changing expression, and it is commonly the most overlooked thing in headshots. By engaging your brows you will automatically stand out more than everyone else. Downward brow pressure towards the eyes can convey concern or intensity. Raising one eyebrow and lowering the other can look slightly sassy. Raising both can be surprised. You get the point. There are a lot of different ways to move them.

I think anyone can look incredible in pictures. It just takes an expert photographer who can get people to relax, and laugh enough to capture real expressions, or be able to coach them into something interesting.

the jawline

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘The camera adds 10 pounds.’ Is this true? I don’t think so. Certain lenses can exaggerate features, but generally speaking, a camera is going to capture what it sees. It is my belief that the 10lbs everyone is talking about comes from by your neck. The infamous double chin. If you reduce the appearance of any skin in this area using the technique I describe, you’ll automatically look thinner, more confident, and overall better.

The first maneuver I teach every person when they step in front of my camera is what I may refer to as ‘Turtling.’ Imagine a turtle extending its head out of its shell. I guide my clients by having them stand up as tall as they can to start. Then while leaving their shoulders where they are, push their nose towards the camera. By jamming the face towards the camera you tighten the skin around the jaw, which reduces the amount of excess skin and creates a more defined jawline. Poof! 10lbs gone. You have to be careful not to overdo this, otherwise you may look like you have a back problem. 

This is something a photographer with great direction skills will be able to coach you to do properly so that you don’t look strange. Another way you can achieve this is by raising the height of the camera, but this forces you to look up at it, and the skin gets tightened that way. This is a really overused selfie technique, and it makes pictures look cheesy. Not only that, but by shooting down on a person – you take away a lot of their perceived power. If your photographer has you sit down, or they stand on a ladder to start shooting you from above – RUN! You’re not going to look like a confident and competent professional in any of those shots, I promise. 

When people laugh, they tend to scrunch up and pull backwards. They pull their head back, and that accentuates the double chin (even if you don’t have one!). You have to train yourself to laugh forward. Chances are if you have ever seen a model in an advertisement smiling or laughing – they are leaning forward. So even if you manage to find a photographer that can make you laugh, you’re still not going to look very good unless they are continuously coaching you throughout the session. You don’t know what you look like, and you rely on your photographer to make sure you look your best. Don’t give this power to any fool with a camera. Make sure you hire an expert, and you’ll be on your way to looking like a celebrity.

Your good side

One of the easiest ways to look better in your headshot is to be photographed on your good side. Everyone has a sweet spot where they look their best. Most photographers don’t know this, and don’t actively search for the best angle on their clients.

Scientists have said that what makes a person’s face most attractive is having it look as symmetrical as possible. Certain angles negatively accentuate features, and do not make the face look symmetrical. An indicator of your good side is the side your hair is parted on. The hair will frame the face better on this side.

If your hair doesn’t part on a specific side, a majority of people look better on the left side of their face. There are always exceptions to these rules, and having an expert photographer who knows how to figure this out will go a long way.

Another posing tip for headshots; put your chin down. When people stand normally, their chin is slightly upwards. In body language terms, this is considered slightly standoffish. This also provides a view straight up the nostrils, which isn’t flattering for anyone. In order to create the most visual impact, you want your eyes to be the first thing to hit the camera. Having the chin down is a more inviting, and approachable body language cue. Don’t forget that when you put your chin down, turtle your face forward, or else you will get that dreaded double chin.

Editing (retouching)

Every image that you would like to purchase at the end of our session includes professional retouching. The final touches to an awesome headshot are added with a bit of photoshop magic.

Don’t worry about that blemish that popped up the night before your session – it can removed with the click of a mouse. Wrinkles can be softened, teeth can be whitened, and slight redness in skin can be toned down. Makeup can be slightly adjusted as well. Any minor imperfections can be taken care of, including stray hairs, and rogue grays. The key to good retouching is for it to remain natural. Retouching will help you look like you do on your best day.

We will discuss any particular retouching concerns during the session.

Image crop

Something as simple as how a headshot is cropped can greatly impact how much you stand out. The traditional headshot is cropped vertically, or portrait orientation. This format has become increasingly outdated, stuffy, and just not very cool looking. Cropping vertically is also reminiscent of yearbook photos that definitely trigger some bad flashbacks!

The newer, and more modern style is to shoot headshots horizontally. By shooting horizontally you get the ideal ratio of face and body in the image. The shot itself is more visually appealing, and easier for the brain to digest. The other benefit is that not many photographers shoot horizontally – so automatically your shot will stand out because it’s different.

Most headshots that are used as profile pictures online get shrunk down to a half-inch thumbnail. Thumbnails are usually a square, and even more recently…circles. With all of this image real estate being trimmed away – having a tightly cropped headshot is incredibly important. The 3/4 portrait shot just isn’t going to get the job done anymore.

Ideally your headshot should be photographed from your armpits up to the top of your head. This is the perfect face and body ratio. It gives enough information about your overall body size…without showing all the unflattering stuff. It puts the focus on your face and expression.

I deliver each final retouched image as the full horizontal crop, as well as my signature crop and a square crop so that your images can be directly uploaded to any website that needs a profile picture. They will be perfectly sized so that you don’t have to figure it out yourself.

Common mistakes

I have found that there are 5 mistakes that people make the most often when it comes to headshots. I’d like to share these with you in hopes that you avoid them.

1. Not Valuing Professional Headshots
Undervaluing this investment is a critical mistake. If you’re an actor – your headshot is the key to getting auditions. If you’re job hunting, trying to get new clients, or charge more for your services – your headshot is the first impression people will have of you. Having a great headshot helps you stand out, increases your credibility, and makes people want to work with you. You will be judged by your image, so make sure you look professional!

2. Not Using A Professional Headshot Specialist
Your coworker’s friend with a camera just isn’t going to cut it. Wedding, baby, and real estate photographers do not know the details specific to headshots. They can probably take an ok picture – but it’s not going to be as good as someone who is a headshot specialist. Choose a photographer that knows faces, expressions, and how to make you look good on camera. You wouldn’t go to a chiropractor for a root canal – so don’t do that when it comes to your professional image.

3. It Doesn’t Show Your Personality
This is the easiest mistake to make, and also the one that has the most negative impact. Your headshot needs to have your personality. That’s how people know what you are like just by looking at your picture. You have to work with a photographer that can help you relax, and pull out your personality. If you look mean, scared, or sad – your image will hold you back.

4. It Doesn’t Look Like You
The whole purpose of a headshot is so that people know what you look like. If your headshot looks different than you do in real life – that may cause a sense of distrust in you. In the acting world – you are wasting the casting director’s time if you no longer look like the person they potentially wanted to cast. If you age, change weight, or your hairstyle/color changes – you need to update your headshot. Wearing poorly or heavily applied makeup can change the way you look as well. Amateur retouching can also make you look different than you do in real life. If your skin is blurred, eyes whitened, or anything major has been altered – it’s time for a new headshot.

5. It Doesn’t Match The Intention
Your shot needs to convey the persona that you would like to be perceived as in the context the shot is being used. Do you want people to see you as a down to business, super confident professional – or do you want them to see you as a super friendly, outgoing person? If you are submitting a shot for the funny best friend role – don’t submit a serious headshot.

My process

Over the years I have refined my photoshoot process to make it as easy as possible to get awesome new headshots. Other photographers have complicated packages, and put a limit on different things. I want to make sure you get everything you could want or need. I have an easy 3 step one size fits most process.

I shoot directly into a laptop computer so that we can look at the shots together as we go. I use this as a coaching tool to help you get better in front of the camera, and I can also get your feedback on the things you like or don’t like. We can keep adjusting the details until we get shots that you’re loving. There will be no question if you look good or not.

I will direct you into positions that are most flattering for your unique physical traits. Once you are in the right spot – I say a lot of crazy stuff to get you to react. Then I shoot really quickly throughout your entire reactive expression arc. That’s how we get natural expressions that actually show your personality.

We will have plenty of time to shoot multiple outfits which will give you a nice range of options to choose from depending on what the image is being used for. During an average hour long session I shoot between 150 and 300 images.

At the end of the session we will sit down together, and run through all of the images we took. We will quickly decide which images are the best by process of elimination. Once we get it down to the top 15 or so images – it is up to you which are your favorites, and how many you would like to purchase.

This puts you in complete control of the final cost. I don’t want you to pay for more than you need, and every person has different needs.

Your selections all get high quality retouching treatment. Nothing kills a headshot faster than poor retouching. I employ advance photoshop techniques to make sure you look natural, and like the best version of yourself.

As soon as the images are finished, I will deliver the high resolution digital .jpg files to you (other files types upon request). You will be able to use them wherever you need to, or take the files to a printing lab.

It is as simple as that! Getting headshots should be a painless, and incredibly fun experience. If it isn’t….you went to the wrong photographer. ;]

I can’t wait to get you in front of my camera.

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