How to take a great headshot
At nearly every photo shoot I hear "I hate photos of myself" or "I always look dumb in photos." I'm here to help.
Why do you think you look strange when you look at a photo of yourself? You're used to looking at your face in the mirror. That's reversed from what everyone else sees. This 3 minute video does a great job at explaining why we don't like photos of ourselves.
So the first thing you can do to look your best in photos is to come into a photo session with an open mind and a positive attitude. I want to take a photo that you're proud to share on social media, a photo you want to give to your family, a photo that makes you say "I look good!"
Looking your best in photos
There are many things to consider when trying to look your best during a photography shoot. How will these photos be used? Website, business card, book jacket, acting card, etc. Who is your target audience? It sounds terrible, but what do they expect you to look like? A photo headshot is marketing and you need to know your who will be looking at these photographs in order to know how to make the best photo.
All that said, there are some general tips I can provide so that you look your best in every photo.
What to wear for your headshot
First and foremost, wear clothes that you are comfortable wearing and that fit the look you want to portray. Sometimes that's a suit, other times it's a t-shirt and beanie. You need to make sure it fits you well and doesn't bunch up as you move around. During a longer session, we'll try a couple of different poses and play with standing and sitting. The better your clothes fit, the less adjusting we need to do at each pose and the more natural the photo session will feel, resulting in better photos. Feel free to bring a couple of options and we can discuss which one will work the best for the image you need to present.
• A suit or sport jacket always looks good in a business portrait. Try to match your jacket, shirt, and tie so that they compliment each other. Often a darker jacket and lighter shirt will be pulled together by a tie that has a tone somewhere in the middle.
• Avoid super shiny ties or ties that have small prints on them. Thin stripes are OK as long as they're spaced out from each other.
• Make sure your undershirt is hidden! Consider a v-neck.
• Avoid a white dress shirt alone. It works fine under a jacket or sweater, but if you're going to wear a button-down shirt on its own, choose a colored shirt.
• A business outfit with a classic look is a great choice.
• Try to avoid styles that will look dated in a couple of years. A blouse with a blazer or sweater is a good choice.
• Avoid solid white unless you're layering another color or texture on top of it.
• Consider if you want your shoulders visible or not, oftentimes portraits look more professional with long or three quarter sleeved tops.
• If your top is sleeveless, bring a blazer or sweater to layer with for options.
• Avoid excessive cleavage, but also skip the turtlenecks as they tend to make people look heavier than reality.
Prints and patterns
Generally, larger patterns are going to work better than smaller. Houndstooth patterns and small dots can create a funny pattern called a "moire" pattern that presents as distracting semi-circles. To avoid this, stick with larger patterns.
In general, it's probably a good idea to avoid wearing clothes with recognizable logos or images on it. It distracts from the main subject (you!) and can present issues in how you use the photo further down the road.
Should you wear a hat to your portrait session? How about that necklace you wear every day? It depends. On the subject of hats, if it's a look that you regularly sport you may want to bring a hat, but I wouldn't wear it before the shoot. Adjust your hair as you normally do so that it looks good. If we integrate the hat, we'll probably do so nearer to the end of the shoot to make sure we don't permanently mess up your hairstyle.
The necklace, earrings, or bracelet you picked up after diving at the Great Barrier Reef may be a part of your personality, but do you want it to be a part of your permanent look? Make sure your accessories match the clothes you decide to wear.
If you always wear glasses, we should include them in the photo. If you sometimes wear them, consider taking some photos with and some without. By positioning them on your face and adjusting the lights, we can almost always prevent any reflection or glare problems to ensure that your eyes can be seen in your headshot.
Do your makeup as you normally would. There's no need to go heavy with extra makeup for a portrait.
Posing for your headshot
My general belief is that you should look like you in your photos, so I'm probably not going to coach you a ton. However, there are some definite things to keep in mind whenever you have your photo taken -- this includes when posing for a selfie or taking a family snapshot on vacation!
Keep your shoulders angled to the camera. Instead of looking at the camera square on, rotate your shoulders 30-45° to the camera and then start to rotate your head back towards the camera. This makes your head look larger than your torso and is almost always a flattering look.
Spend some time in front of a mirror. Try different smiles, head positions, and shoulder positions. What happens if you turn a little further from the mirror (camera)? Do you look better if you tilt your chin slightly up or slightly down?
Video resources from other photographers
My all-time favorite tip is from Peter Hurley. It's all about the jaw. This simple tip will give you a more defined jaw, slimmer neck, and take 10-15lbs off instantly. (Peter is very entertaining and these are worth a quick look!)
If you've watched America's Top Model then you know about smising. It works! Here Peter talks about the squinch, which is a similar concept. You can't go too crazy with it and get all squinty-eyed, but it definitely makes you look more interesting.
This one is a little more subtle. Lots of times, people gravitate towards what I call the "Sorority pose" with hands on their hips. That can be a flattering pose for photos that include more of your torso, but these tips have to do with looking your best in headshots. These photos are focused on making your face look great and won't show much of your torso. The sorority pose can actually make your shoulders look too wide.