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How to Prepare for Professional Headshots

February 1, 2021

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You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

We've all heard this expression before. A bit cliche perhaps, but there is still a lot of truth in this statement.

In today’s competitive world, a professional headshot can:

1.  Make you stand out from the crowd

2.  Gain the trust of your prospective client or employer

3.  Establish your brand

The goal of this post is to help you prepare for your professional headshot session so that you can get the “look” you’re after and make the most out of your first impression.

If you were to take away just two things from this post, first and foremost: get a good night’s sleep and come to the shoot properly hydrated. These two actions will go the farthest in making you look your best. However, there are a few more things that you can do to ensure that we get everything “just right.”

It’s a collaborative process.

Before the shoot, share as much information with your photographer as possible

A headshot session is generally short (5-15 minutes) and thus requires some preparation beforehand to ensure that both you and the photographer are on the same page of what you want out of your headshot.

Before the shoot, share your expectations with the photographer in terms of what the overall look and feel you would like to achieve from your session. The more information your photographer has beforehand, the easier it is to direct the session to mold to your expectations.

During the shoot, provide specific feedback to your photographer about what you like and don’t like. If you see something you don't like, point it out and ask if it can be adjusted. Remember that you can't expect your photographer to know exactly what you want without communicating it to them.

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Be prepared.

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 so much 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 colours 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.

-  Start with a blazer or suit and then go more casual with just a shirt or blouse.

-  Make sure that ALL clothes are ironed and pressed before the shoot. Wrinkles in clothes are difficult to Photoshop out. It can be done but there may be an additional charge for editing.

-  Don’t worry about shoes if just shooting headshots. Be comfortable.

2. Hair

-  Bring a brush and some hair product (gel/hairspray) with you to the shoot to help calm fly-aways. 

-  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. Or, alternatively, this can also be an added extra that I can arrange for you.

3. Makeup and Face

-  Start natural. Just enough to cover up any blemishes.

-  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 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. For the men, clean shaven, stubble or a neatly trimmed beard. Options abound but make sure, whatever you choose, that it compliments the brand identity you are going for.

-  Leave your coloured contacts at home and bring clear contacts with you. Coloured 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. Or, alternatively, I can arrange to have one available. Extra fees will apply.

-  Glasses: Photographing people wearing eye glasses can pose a challenge when using studio lighting. Often times the resulting image can have an unsightly glare on the lens. There are techniques to reduce (even eliminate) this problem during the shoot and in post production but both have their difficulties and I can’t guarantee that the glare will not be noticeable. If you’re comfortable being photographed without your glasses, that is definitely the easy button here. 

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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? But don’t don’t fret, I will be sure to get different expressions from you during the shoot.

5. During the Shoot Please follow my direction. Even if it sounds a little silly.

-  I know the best posing on headshots and the best way to shape your face. You may feel a little funny posing differently, but trust me the photos will look great.

-  Relax a little. Headshot sessions should be fun. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down.

-  Don’t force your smile. It will look awkward in the images and your cheeks will be sore after the shoot. A good tip is to leave a little space between your teeth when smiling, enough to put the tip of your pinky in between. Your smile will look more genuine.

-  Squint, Squint, Squint!!! Squinting your eyes just a little will also help the shots look more confident and natural. I think we can all agree that the “deer-in-the-headlights” look is pretty horrible.

6. After the Shoot

-  Not only do photographers have different shooting styles, but editing styles, as well. Let me know how you want the photos to be edited. Do you want any imperfections Photoshopped out? Some people like everything to be cleaned up in their headshots. (Freckles, moles, scars ect…) While actors and actresses need to be mindful that casting directors want to see any imperfections or distinguishing marks you may have. This shouldn’t be confused with blemishes or acne.

-  Everyone asks ‘Can you Photoshop this… or this… I have a double chin, can you get rid of that? Can you make my eyes bigger?’ Well, that depends. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. Every image is different and Photoshop can be a beast when editing. I will try my best to make you look amazing.

-  If you don’t want any alterations done, please let me know beforehand. If you do want any major editing done, please keep in mind that it may cost extra. Do keep in mind that editing can be time consuming. Please give me a realistic time frame to deliver your photos. If you want major editing to be done, expect that it may take a little longer for them to be finished.

A final note: Hydrate, bring a positive attitude, and show up with confidence. Be proud of yourself. You’re taking strides to further your career as a real, working professional. You’ve got this.

Hopefully this post will help you prepare for your big day in front of the camera, and will make your experience a little more stress-free. If you have any questions feel free to email me at graham@mckerrellphotography.com

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