The Complete Guide

The Complete Guide To Headshots

Let’s be real, most people, including us photographers, don't exactly LOVE being photographed. Unless we are messing around, taking selfies with our friends, most of us feel a bit squeamish when it comes to being photographed.

So, when somebody tells you to get a new headshot, they better have a damn good reason. And the truth is, there is an exceedingly important reason.


Because of technology, the way we do business on this planet has shifted 180 degrees, and business is now happening online first and in-person second.

We put together this complete guide to help you navigate the headshot process. It’s a lengthy article, if you’d rather download it as a free e-book then click here!

Why You Need a Professional Headshot

Everyone and their mom seems to be a photographer these days. Smartphone cameras truly have become pretty incredible. But, sadly, they still can't replace a real camera and expert photographer when it comes to capturing a professional headshot.

A professional headshot is your digital business card. It’s your “book cover” that is subconsciously judged  in less than half a second by all those who see it.

You may even be guilty of this yourself.

It is nothing to feel bad about, after all, it is one of the incredible attributes that have led humans to flourish in this animal kingdom.

But we do need to be aware that it happens, and we need to learn how to use it to our advantage. The best way to play on human instinct and gain the upper hand? A killer headshot.

That is where the professionals can help.

We already established, having your picture taken can often be unnatural and uncomfortable. But, what if I told you that even the most experienced super models in the world still require expert coaching from the experienced professionals who photograph them everyday?

The thing is, you can not see yourself when you are having your picture taken. As a professional photographer, it is my job to offer you feed back and coaching through  the entire process, acting as your personal mirror, and making sure you look nothing but confident and cool as a cucumber.

Headshots vs Portraits

So what the heck is the difference anyway? A headshot is simply a type of portrait. You know how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares? Well, all headshots are portraits but not all portraits are headshots. Who else just flashed back to middle school math? 🙋

Portraits are great for business-wide branding, marketing, social media posts, and even your family and pets.

Headshots are great for branding on a personal level,  social media profiles, applications, resumes, bios, company directories, and acting/modeling auditions.

So Just How Much Should All of This Cost?

You probably have noticed that headshots seem to cost a little more than you anticipated. There’s good reason why. 

Have you ever heard the old saying, "You get what you pay for?" Well, here in the photography world, it couldn't be more true. 

Say you’re taking someone special on a first-date. You could go to any number of restaurants from McDonalds to Flemings. This first date will make a lasting impression for your new found love, so you skip the fast food and go big with something on the fine dining side.


It’s not about paying more, it’s because you know you’ll get fantastic service and great food. Not to mention, impress your date. 

Just like your first date, you should aim to make a great first impression with your headshot and aying for quality is important.

Unless you’re a pro actor or model, chances are you don’t know how to look confident and approachable in your headshot with just an expression. 

Professionals must give you personalized expression coaching to achieve your best look. In addition, pros need to direct your pose and perfect the lighting to deliver a successful headshot. Your headshot won’t be effective the second your expression, pose, or lighting becomes a distraction

(On a side note, a basic headshot session will also involve highly specialized gear totaling between $10,000 & $15,000!)

So, we recommend skipping the $99 headshots and aim for the $200+ range. Worried that you’ll still end up with a sub-par headshot? Learn the secret to choosing your headshot photographer in the next section.

Finding Your Photographer

You’ll have to sift through dozens of photographers all who will claim they are pros that can shoot a headshot. Tread carefully. Much like comparing McDonalds to Flemings, you’ll get what you pay for and sometimes even less.

Find a pro in 5 easy steps:

  1. Choose specialized photographers. Someone who specialized in headshots will set you on a good path right from the start.

  2. View their portfolio to ensure they’re not just a bunch of talk.

  3. Check their reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook.

  4. Call them and make sure they listen to what you need.

  5. Price them out. Compare the rates to their portfolio, overall service, and professionalism.

Style Matters

Any professional can tell you the difference between styles of headshots. There are tons of types: business (corporate), environmental, print, commercial, theatrical, etc. 

The two main types you need to think about are in-studio or on-location.

In-studio means your headshot is taken in a photography studio with lights and a simple or plain colored backdrop. Perfect for business and theatrical uses.

On-location means your headshot is taken either outdoors with natural light or on a location of choice with specialized lighting. These are great for business, environmental, print, and commercial headshots. 

Ultimately, the style of your headshot boils down to its application, the photographer’s preferred method, and your personal style preference. Your chosen professional should talk about what your profession is and what preferences you have to find the best match. 

Outfits and Accessories

On your search for headshots you’ll notice many pricing methods are by “look”. This is an industry term for an outfit. One look equals one outfit.

When it comes down to what you should wear, it depends on what your headshot is for. The cool thing about a headshot is that you only have to worry about the waist up.

In general, your headshot is about you and not about your clothing or the bling around your neck. Outfits should accent you. This means outfits shouldn’t take attention away from you. 

Clothing that doesn’t fit right will take attention away from you. I always recommend tailored well-fitted clothing. Collars that don’t button under your tie or tops that sag around the upper arms will distract the viewer from your confidence. 

In any case, your professional should give you plenty of guidance. Here are some examples of good outfits:

Business Headshots

Plain colored crisp shirts (Not too low-cut for women. Add a plain tie for men.) and a simple sports coat or blazer is on-point for a stellar corporate headshot. No jewelry needed. Avoid patterns, stripes, puffy sleeves, and any distracting elements.

Acting, Modeling & Theatrical Headshots

Keep with the plain colored clothing, but were going to aim for different characters. A leather jacket with a v-neck would be perfect for that sexy man-neighbor next door look. A plain sport shirt and running jacket with a ponytail is perfect for that sporty girl look. Something to get the casting agents intrigued.

Hair and Makeup - A Little Goes a Long Way

Men. You don’t really need a hair/makeup artist. Just moisturize, hydrate, and use chapstick. If need be, the photographer should have shine control on-hand for you.

Women, we know you can do hair an makeup. You do it everyday. Hair and makeup for headshots is a bit different, though. It has nothing to do with how good you are at it.

Very natural hair and makeup that blends seamlessly into your headshot is so important it can make or break it. This is key because a little too much eyeliner or bronzer can have a dramatic effect on your appearance. 

Remember, you are the star of your headshot and nothing should distract from that. You may know of a makeup artist at Ulta or hair dresser that has a makeup bar too. These are great for daily makeup but still not recommended for your headshot.

Professional photographers will have recommended hair and makeup artists that specialize in photography makeup. We have a few that are all great and will ensure you look your best.

Messing With The Camera

Don’t let the camera mess with you. You’ll be among thousands of dollars of specialized equipment but you are still the star of the show. The gear is just a bunch of plastic and glass.

Mental preparedness is something that we all work on when going into a job interview. We do it to ensure we make the best of our time in the spotlight. You’re investing in headshots that have the same first-impression magic as a job interview.

Being confident is definitely easier said than done. Which is also why a professional photographer has to also be a bit of a therapist and coach. 

A professional understands how nerve wracking it is to be photographed and it’s their job to pull out that confident and approachable person within you. They’ll have their own method and “tools” to ensure you look your best.

Here’s a couple of tips to help:

• Do a few exercises in the mirror. Take a wide stance with your hands on your hips and tell yourself repeatedly that you’re the, the boss, the one and only! Don’t Fedex yourself out of being a handsome or beautiful human. Convince yourself that you are the world’s hottest and most confident person.

• Get plenty of sleep, do your cardio, and hydrate. This regulates your mood, increases positivity, and keeps your skin glowing.

Think you’re ready for a closeup?

Fill out the form or give me a call about setting up your headshot or branding session.

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