How to Prepare for a Headshot



Many people assume that headshots are for actors or actresses to help casting directors choose if they’re the right fit for a role, but that isn’t the case at all. Headshots are a powerful way to market yourself. You could be a business person, banker, model, realtor, IT professional, lawyer or perhaps you just want a good clean LinkedIn profile image of yourself. In this post I explain how you should prepare for a headshot session with a professional photographer.


Picking a Photographer

No two photographers are the same. Each one has its own individuality including shooting and editing style. They also have their own, what I like to call, ‘camera-side manner’. Maybe one photographer is very laid back with their clients and like to keep a casualness to their shoots, while others are more stoic and like to keep a more business-like setting to their sessions. Does either style make one less professional? Absolutely not. It’s all a matter of preference.

Photographers also come with various levels of expertise. This should not be confused with how long a photographer has been shooting. In my experience, I have met photographers that have only been shooting for a few short months and have some amazing work, while I have met some photographers that have been shooting for 20+ years and their work can be lacking. Don’t be fooled by the length of time they have been shooting. Judge by the quality of their work.

So, when looking to hire a photographer, your best bet is to look at their portfolio. Nowadays many photographers have an online portfolio that you can view at your leisure. Earlier I mentioned quality. Everybody wants the best quality headshots, right? Well, quality will cost you. It’s like the old saying, ‘You Get What You Pay For.’ This is very true with not just headshot photography, but all specializations.  Does that mean you’re going to expect to spend thousands of dollars? Not at all. Headshots range widely from $75-$800.

Different Types of Headshots

Photographers have distinctive styles of shooting, but also be conscious of the style that you want. Headshots come in different orientations and styles. It’s your preference that will be the deciding factor of what you’ll receive. Below are some styles of headshots. Let your photographer know what your preference is before booking. Let them know what color backgrounds you want before you book so that the photographer can order any backdrops that are needed. For indoor headshots I always try to shoot on grey or white. White and grey backdrops are cleaner and better looking in my opinion. They allow the subject to stand out.


1. Vertical Studio Headshot

This is probably the most common style of headshot you’ll see. It’s vertical in orientation. Most headshots are typically closer to the face than the example above, but some people like to show their clothing in the shot letting your market get a better sense of who you are and what your style is. The backgrounds can come in assorted colors and textures but like I mentioned above, grey and white tend to have a cleaner, modern look. 

2. Horizontal Studio Headshot

Horizontal instead of the traditional vertical orientation is quickly becoming the type widely used by professionals. This is the style of headshot that I personally like to shoot. This style I find works great for the internet. It looks great on a website or as your profile image on different social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. 

3. Environmental Headshot

Environmental headshots are basically shots that are taken outside of a studio. It can be indoors or outdoors and shot with natural light or artificial light. This image was taken outside of a building in downtown Winston Salem (not that you can tell what it is). These I find are the more casual types of shots, if you’re looking to show a more laid-back side of you. You’ll know a good outdoors headshot when you find that the background is blurry separating you from the background. This is a photography term known as Bokeh. Bokeh is great, and the more the better.

Getting Ready

So, you’ve booked your photographer, chosen the style of shots you want and picked a location. Now what? A few days before your shoot you’ll want to start getting prepared. If you’re properly prepared for the shoot you’ll not only have an easier and more stress-free time during the shoot, but the resulting images will look a ton better than if you just winged it.



1. Clothes

Clothing is a form of expression and the clothes that you pick to wear will reflect your personality in the images. My best piece of advice when choosing clothes is the simpler the better.

  • Solid colors look great in headshots.
  • If going with a pattern keep it simple.
  • Start with a simple shirt or blouse and slowly add layers.
  • Bring a few changes of clothes to the shoot.
  • Make sure that ALL clothes are ironed and pressed before the shoot. Wrinkles in clothes are difficult to remove in Photoshop. Don’t expect the photographer to do this.
  • Bring a lint brush or roller with you. (I always have one)
  • Don’t worry about shoes if just shooting headshots. Be comfortable- be barefoot if you want (I have shot men with suit/tie with shorts on).


2. Hair

  • Bring a brush and some hair product (gel/hairspray) with you to the shoot to help calm fly-away. 
  • Start with your hair down and towards the end of the shoot put it up in a ponytail for a more casual look.
  • If you can afford it, hire a hair stylist for the morning of the shoot.


3. Makeup and Face

  • Start natural. Just enough to cover up any blemishes. 
  • Build up the makeup as you go. Add eyeshadow and darker lipstick later in the shoot.
  • Try not to use matte styles of makeup. It will dry out your skin.
  • Bring your makeup and moisturizer with you to the shoot in case your skin does get dry or you need touchups.
  • Bring lip balm or lip gloss with you to help keep lips looking soft.
  • The night before, brush your lips with your toothbrush, or some of that cool sugar lip scrub, to help get rid of any dead skin.
  • Don’t do any extreme beauty regimens right before your shoot, like facial peels, tanning or extensive exfoliating. Your skin can look very irritated.
  •  Get rid of any unwanted hair a few days before your shoot. Clean up brows and upper lip hair.
  • FOR MEN. Shave right before you leave for a shoot. A 5 o’clock shadow can’t be removed in Photoshop easily. Use cooling gel or aftershave to help with skin irritation.
  • Bring some oil absorbing sheets to soak up any oil or sweat that might build up during the shoot. Some great sheets are the Clean and Clear: Oil Absorbing Sheets. You can find them at any Wal-Mart or local drug store.
  • Leave your colored contacts at home and bring clear contacts with you. Colored contacts can look very fake in photographs. Bring eyedrops with you.
  • If you can afford it, hire a Makeup artist to do your makeup and stay with you during the shoot for touchups.


4. Practice Makes Perfect

  • Before the shoot look at your face in the mirror and see what side you like better. Everyone has a good side, find yours. Remember though, a mirror will flip your face and the camera won’t, so the images might look a little different than you were expecting. 
  • If you have one eye that is visibly smaller than the other, bring the side of your face with the smaller eye towards the camera. It will help reduce the difference between the two.
  • Try different expressions in the mirror. Do you look better stoic or perky? A good photographer will get different expressions from you during the shoot (this is an art that I pride myself in).

If there is anything I can do to help you in the process, any suggestion I can make or question I can answer, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (336) 486-9932 or

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© Doug Burke Photography 2017