Headshot photo shoot tips: all you need to know to prepare

For my clients, and anyone considering a headshot session, I have tried to pull together everything you need to know to prepare for your photo shoot with me and understand the process.

Before you work out what setting you want for your photo shoot, and what to wear you need to think about how you will use the headshot photos, e.g. on your website, social media profile pics, in social media posts, where you are profiled for a blog post, newsletter article, conference or other event. How you intend to use the photos will guide your choice of backdrop and attire and the style of photos you want.

Now on to the nitty gritty.

Clothes – what to wear and what not to wear

  • Comfort and confidence are key when choosing what to wear. Your clothes should enhance you and your features.

  • Plan your outfit in advance to check you’re happy with how it looks and fits, to check if it needs ironing (wrinkles are very distracting!) and just to reduce any wardrobe-related stress on the day of the photo shoot.

  • Keep your outfit simple. The focus of headshots is your face, not your clothes. By all means showcase your personality, but don’t overdo it. Wear clothes that won’t need too much straightening or sorting out as you change poses.

  • Avoid white tops (unless it’s under a dark jacket). White is too stark, it loses detail and washes out the skin tone. Bold colours tend to brighten your face.

  • Choose colours that work with your brand and personal style.

  • Patterns are fine, just be aware that very bold patterns can distract from your face. Very small and high contrasting patterns such as herringbone or checks can cause a moiré effect (a strange-looking wavy pattern) on digital camera sensors, so they are best avoided.

  • Avoid words, characters and logos on your clothes as they can be very distracting, unless it’s an important part of your business or personal brand.

  • Shoes and bottom half: Don't worry too much about what you wear on your bottom half unless you want some full length shots. The same goes for shoes. But note that I do like to shoot some photos from below the hips to get your hands in the photo.

  • For groups, if we’re doing team pics, we need clothing colours coordinated so they don’t clash, but not matching. The best idea is to choose a limited colour palette for people to follow. Also limit patterns among the group, but not everyone has to wear plain clothes.

Accessories and glasses

  • Glasses can be difficult due to reflections in the lenses. We can take photos with and without them. If you definitely want to wear them and have a pair (or can get some) without lenses that would avoid the reflections.

  • Avoid too many accessories – rings, bangles, scarves, earrings, necklaces – as they can be distracting. Of course if you are an over-accessoriser like me, and that’s how people will experience you in real life, then just pare it back a little.

  • Longer hair may need some taming with hair spray to keep it styled and from moving too much if it gets windy.

Grooming and makeup tips

  • Makeup should be a bit heavier than you might normally wear. Limiting shine is important, so pressed powder or oil blotting tissues can be useful.

  • Shave close to the time of the photo shoot if you want a smooth-looking face, with enough time for any redness or irritation to subside.

  • Sleep is important to reduce dark circles, so try to get a good night’s sleep prior to the session.

Location and setting selection

  • Urban setting or natural setting – or perhaps a mix of both – is the first question for an outdoors photo shoot. City laneways, iconic buildings, shopping strips, old brick walls, ornate fences and street art all provide for great urban backdrops. And there are many beautiful parks and gardens for shady, natural settings. The beach can be difficult even in the shade, with extra glare off the water and sand (hello squinting eyes) and due to the increased likelihood of wind. For setting inspiration and ideas, take a look through my portfolio.

  • Shade is important. Direct sunlight means unflattering shadows in facial creases, squinting, and too much contrast. So we need to shoot just inside the shade (not very deep shade) of trees or buildings, or if we’re lucky and it’s overcast we’ll have more options.

  • Time of day is also important. Morning or afternoon are better than the middle of the day as there’s more shade and the light is less harsh. If you have your heart set on a particular location you need to know when it’s in shade (morning or afternoon) to schedule the shoot.

  • Group shots, especially larger groups, require a setting with different levels to get everyone’ nicely bunched and see their faces, such as steps, or props (e.g. a park bench or low wall) for a mix of people seated and standing.

Posing and posture

  • Feeling comfortable and relaxed makes for a great photo shoot. Come along with a positive attitude – I promise it won’t be as bad as you think!

  • Poses won’t be too awkward – generally how you feel comfortable naturally posing is what works best for a relaxed, natural photo. I will give you instructions and feedback about holding your head straight, angling your body, where to place your hands, standing weight-shift etc.

  • Good posture is important, so think about keeping your back straight and your shoulders down and relaxed. A few deep breaths will help – you’ll look tense if you are tense.

  • Review my portfolio if you want to see more examples of poses and to look at photo styles. Any preferences, likes and dislikes are helpful for me to know.

What to bring to the photo shoot

  • A hairbrush and perhaps hairspray.

  • Lipbalm – we don’t want dry lips.

  • Lipstick and other makeup for touch-ups.

  • Oil blotting tissues or a hanky.

  • An alternate top, jacket or accessories if you want to try a couple of options.

Proof sheets and photo selection

  • After the photo shoot I will provide you with a PDF proof sheet from which you can make your selection.

  • I will do post-production work on the selected photos, editing them to ensure correct exposure, contrast, tone, brightness, colour balance, the right cropping, ensure eyes are bright and so on.

  • Then I create colour and black and white versions of the photos in two file sizes – print quality and for online use.

  • I provide black and white versions of your photos because I love black and white photography, and because I like to ensure the right contrast and brightness for the black and white versions. It’s not as simple as just making the colour photo into a generic greyscale image.

  • The set of digital photos will be supplied via an online file transfer site, as they are way too big to email.

If you still have questions, please get in touch with me.

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Nichole Maybury