How to prepare yourself to be photographed for headshots.

This may sound like a strange topic, but as someone who doesn’t like to be photographed myself, I can completely understand not wanting to put yourself in front of the camera. I am very comfortable behind the lens, but not in front of it! I want to discuss this topic because it comes up a lot when I do headshots for adults. Headshots are a necessity as a professional and can be a great addition to someone running a business and you need to get yourself some exposure. Professional headshots are relatively inexpensive, and can make a world of difference, versus a blurry cell phone shot or webcam shot.

We spend a lot of time photographing kids and families or couples. But that is much different than being photographed solo, for me too. When I have my kids in a picture the mood is automatically lighter and more playful and you’re guaranteed to get a natural smile out of me playing with my kids. But if you take all of that away, I don’t even know how to pose myself or produce a smile that doesn’t look painful! So when I get adults alone in front of the camera, it’s a whole different ballgame. They usually aren’t professional models, and can’t produce the perfect look on cue. Mix that with all of us naturally being our own worst critics and it’s almost setting things up to be a big failure of a photo shoot. I’m no comedian, but I do try to lighten the mood with humor and distractions, or light conversation to keep your mind off of the big camera in your face, but sometimes that isn’t enough. As the subject of the pictures, you need to do a little preparation beforehand to help ensure you will end up with great photos of yourself.

Practice, practice, practice. Well maybe not that much, but it doesn’t hurt to get in front of a mirror beforehand and practice putting a smile on your face on cue. It will feel super awkward for sure. But for most people it feels awkward when you see your pictures up on my 27″ monitor when I’m done too. So you might as well prepare yourself now. Another great option you can do by yourself, or get someone to help, practice with your own camera or cell phone. Take a bunch, you can delete them when you’re done, but if you practice your “look” you may discover you have a favorite expression or a favorite angle. Knowing that before getting in front of the professional will only help make things easier.

Prepare yourself for your pictures, don’t rush and cut corners. I’m not going to lie to you, headshots won’t hide much. And photoshop only does so much, and if you request heavy photoshop work, your inexpensive headshots can start to get expensive quickly. When I say prepare yourself, that means allow yourself time to get ready for your session. Plan your clothing and outfits if there will be more than one. Make sure that your clothes are clean and lint free. Make sure your hair is fixed how you want it to look, even get a haircut prior to your session if necessary. Be ready to touch up your hair because even just traveling to your session can make frizzy hair or mess up your styling. If you wear makeup, make sure it is perfect. Headshots are just that, a shot of your head! If you mess up your eyeliner or have clumps of mascara on your eye lashes, that will show up! I can tell if you are wearing contact lenses or need to trim your nose hairs in my photos… so there’s no hiding mistakes. Photoshop can fix some of these things, but again if a lot is needed it starts to increase the price to do so. I’m not telling you that you need to hire a professional makeup artist, unless you want to and if that’s the case I know a few I can refer you to! But just make sure you spend some time to get it right and make sure you’ll be happy with it. And bring enough to touch up if necessary so if anything happens along the way you can fix it.

Lastly, do what you need to do that you can be relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera. You know yourself better than anyone else, so you should know what you need to do in order to calm your nerves. Exercise before you get ready for your session, or stretch and relax, even take a nap if you can. I have some clients that need to drink an adult beverage beforehand. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re being safe about it and not drinking too many… we do need to get good pictures, not tipsy pictures! The point is, you know what works for you, so do it if your nerves will get in the way of getting great pictures. My typical headshot sessions are 30 minutes, and that doesn’t seem like much time, but I promise it’s enough for you to stop and take some deep breaths when needed to relax and get a good smile on your face. The last 30 minute headshot session I shot I took about 250 pictures during that session and that included an outfit change. You’ll get plenty to work with and plenty to choose from if you take your time and make yourself comfortable and relaxed, I promise.

Why am I making such a big deal about being relaxed and comfortable, and so much preparation for only 30 minutes of shooting photos? Because as the artist, I want to produce great work. My goal is always to produce images that my clients love and will be happy with. I can take great pictures regardless of the subject. But I can’t always control the subject. I can have the lighting perfect, the shadows perfect, the perfect setting for your shots, but if you don’t like the smile you are showing in the shots, that is one thing I can’t fix! I can’t fix you. As harsh as that sounds, I can’t make you have a model’s look or smile only you can control that. But if you end up hating your smile or the way your nose crinkles when you smile too big, you will look at the otherwise magnificent portraits and hate them. And I don’t want you to hate any artwork that I produce! That completely defeats the purpose of my business, which is to make you look great and produce artwork you will love. If the subject is my wife I can tell when she isn’t smiling normal. But if it’s the first time you meet me and we’re taking pictures, I won’t know if you’re giving a good bad or ugly smile, so you’ll need to prepare yourself to be able to produce a good one.

I love shooting headshots because they are typically much more controlled than a typical session or something like shooting a wedding. I can ensure the images will come out with perfect exposure and crispness. But they are at the top of my list of most stressful, because I know that most of my clients won’t absolutely love the final images. Unfortunately the lack of love for my images isn’t likely anything to do with my capturing and editing, but the subject’s own unhappiness with the way they look or the way they are smiling. And although I give direction on those things, I can’t control them. So I always dread the responses after doing sessions like headshots.

Get professional headshots taken, you will be happy that you did when you can use them for your job and receive compliments from coworkers, or when they get attention when you are trying to start a new career, or just help show off yourself or your staff within your own business. It’s all about exposure and getting recognized, since that’s what helps a business succeed, no matter what type of business you are in. And just put some thought and effort into it. Don’t just throw some clothes on and slap your hair together. Get ready for your session and put some thought into it, you’ll be much happier with the results.


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(The headshots above are all from the last 6 months or so, and are all fantastic examples of what relaxed and prepared photos look like. All of you did an amazing job in front of the lens!)

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