Heads Shots for hot shots: tips on getting a great head shot

By Sandra Costello of Sandra Costello Photography

People often ask me why a good headshot is important. I believe it’s essential if you want to stand out among your competitors, or make a memorable impression on someone or a group of someone’s who want to work with you. Not all head shots are created equally and I’ll tell you why.

Expression Is King

A successful head shot should always convey genuine emotion. It can be a smile or a quieter expression but as long as it’s yours that’s all that matters. When you know the kind of response you want folks to have to your headshot, it’s easier to achieve. What I hear most often is ‘I want to come across as approachable yet professional.’ Some say they want to be seen as an expert or an authoritarian but accessible. I love hearing that because if someone can’t access your greatness than what good is it?

Trust the person taking your photograph and be open to showing your true self. The eyes can convey so much so when searching for a photographer or asking a friend, choose someone who puts you at ease. A relaxed portrait that portrays genuine emotion always make a good first impression and these days when you have less than 10 seconds to capture the attention of a new client, don’t you want to put your best foot forward?

What To Wear

The style, color and fit of your clothing say so much. I have put together lots of suggestions for a professional wardrobe but rules are meant to be broken, especially if your brand has a specific vibe that you want to convey.

Women

For women in particular, full-length sleeves or 3/4 length sleeves work well. If you’re going for a more executive look, staying away from bare arms is suggested. However, if you’re looking to show off your arms or want a more relaxed look, tank tops or short sleeve shirts are great. Tailored tops and blouses or dresses are great and can be layered with jackets or scarves. If you wear a jacket consider a collarless top underneath for a sleeker look. Want to go more casual? Sweater sets, casual jackets with light tops, or relaxed button-down blouses are great starters. I have always loved the t-shirt and jean look. Now’s the time to splurge on that favorite t-shirt that fits like a second skin. Pair it with sleek, modern jewelry, a smile and you’re looking like a star.

Jewelry

Again, keep it simple. The focus is on your face. Large, clunky jewelry can be distracting and date your image. Understated pieces will complement your wardrobe without taking away from the real focus: YOU.

Men

Button-down shirts for men work well and can be paired with suit jackets and a tie. Shirts with a bit of color versus white, or a very subtle pattern, are great. Choose a suit that doesn’t bunch up when you button it or if you sit down, and a shirt and tie that match each other and the suit. Clothing with really tight grids or a small herringbone pattern can have a moiré pattern effect on camera so stay away from tight grid-like patterns. Ties look best when the tone lands between the suit and the shirt so a light shirt, dark suit and a tie in a shade somewhere in between is great. Want to go more casual? Polo shirts or just a button-down shirt works. Adding a pull-over sweater or vest is another way to vary up your look. Additionally, jeans and t-shirts can be a great look if your approach is more relaxed. Stay away from shirts with logos, and select jeans that are a good fit and style for you.

Clothes Preparation

Make sure clothes are clean and wrinkle-free. If you have pets, grab that lint brush and give your clothing a once over. Pay attention to the way your clothing fits. Bulky clothing can appear rumpled or make you look larger than you are. Tailored, fitted pieces for both men and women photograph best. Plan to try on your clothes a week prior to your shoot so you know whether things need to be pressed, cleaned, or you need to swap something out.

Makeup And Grooming

I highly recommend makeup for headshots. It enhances your features and can smooth out blemishes or imperfections. Stay away from shimmery eyeshadow or face powder, or foundation that does not match your skin tone. Even if you’re not the kind of person who regularly wears makeup I would suggest working with a professional for a finished, radiant look. And lastly, keep yourself hydrated and get plenty of sleep.

Location And Lighting

This is one of my favorite parts of a shoot. For many an indoor shoot is most appropriate because it’s not weather-dependent and the use of a simple, uncluttered backdrop is perfect for keeping the focus on the face. Whether your photographer uses a light or dark backdrop, it really depends on the feel you want to achieve. Both backdrops are professional but if you’re a tropical travel agent a white or light-colored backdrop might convey the tropics better than a black backdrop, while a makeup artist with a flair for the dramatic might want a moodier portrait and go for a darker look. Perhaps outdoors is where you want your portrait taken. Working with natural light is my favorite but not all lighting is flattering. I love to shoot in late afternoon, early morning or on an overcast day. The light during these times is soft and easy on the eyes; no harsh shadows, keeps squinting to a minimum and is universally flattering. Again, when selecting your background keep it simple. If a friend is taking your photo watch out for trees or poles in the background. You don’t want it to look like you’ve got something sticking out of your head. If you can find a solid patch of green, an interesting wall or sky for your backdrop, these are all great, easy ways to incorporate a natural environment. Stay away from cluttered, busy backdrops. I often like to use stairs because I like repetition and it gives the body and arms something to do when sitting. If standing, a lean onto a railing or wall can also be engaging.

Do Selfies Count?

Sometimes you can get lucky and squeeze a good selfie out of your cell phone but most people can spot a selfie from a mile away and that type of headshot does not always convey professionalism. Experienced portrait photographers know what lenses and angles work best, have a keen sense of lighting, and will pose you in flattering ways that you can’t achieve with a selfie.