Preparation Tips from Professional Headshot Photographers

Getting the best results with your professional headshot photographers

If this is first time that you’ve approached professional headshot photographers, this article is for you. And even if it’s not, it might offer a few suggestions that will make you think, “Oh, I didn’t know that, but now you mention it, that makes sense.” – so have a read anyway!

A quick aside before we go any further. We are drawing from our experience while professional headshot photographers. Of the lessons we’ve learnt. Often at the cost of spending time retouching photos when we’d rather have been doing other things. Or having to pay other people to do the retouching. It’s always difficult to write an article like this, to tread the line between being helpful and being patronising. Hopefully the result is more the former than the latter.

I’d hazard a guess that it may not be the first time your photo is being taken by professional headshot photographers. Had a passport photo? Hopefully, the experience will be nothing like that. For one thing, we’d love to bring out a smile from you. For another, we want you to love the photos.

What is a professional headshot photograph?

The Oxford English Dictionary offers us the following:

Definition of headshot in English

1A photograph of a person’s face or head and shoulders.

(Ok, it does offer another definition, but that’s neither helpful nor relevant.)

We’ve found that this definition is a pretty consistent one.

There’s no rules about exactly how much of the shoulders should show – at least, not to my knowledge. They’re only included to balance out the photo. And because a disembodied head would look a bit weird.

Neither is there any rule that says that the headshot has to be taken against a bright white background. Or a dark one. Or a yellow, blue, green… ok, you get the point. It’s perfectly valid for professional headshot photographers to take you outside for your headshots.

You could say that a headshot is a type of portrait, though the reverse is not true. A headshot’s focus is invariably the face – in particular, the eyes. Furthermore, a headshot has a particular purpose – but more of that later.

Ok, so that’s the “definition”. So much for that. Let’s go a bit further.

The headshot has a purpose

You are having your headshot taken by professional headshot photographers because either you or someone else wants a headshot that presents you in a good light.

If it is a corporate headshot, it is to present you in a way that helps make the company look good. If they did not care about their image, the company would not be engaging professional headshot photographers. They would be getting the security person to take your photograph using a mobile phone. No disrespect to security people, of course – I’m sure there are some who can take a good photo.

If it is an actor’s headshot (or indeed actress’), then it’s because you want to get a part. Whether that’s a paid part or unpaid, it’s vital you do not lose sight of that. To do that, just like when you go to an audition, you surely want to appear to be at your best. That’s why you’re hiring professional headshot photographers, after all.

Ultimately, you need to bring your A-game. Just like an audition or a job interview, you need to prepare.

Looking good for your headshot

We want you to look at your best in your headshots. We learn about our craft to bring the best out of you. But we’ve learnt that it’s not just down to us. The better you look for your photos, the better you’ll look in them. And the more you’ll love them.

There are some suggestions that are valid for corporate headshots and generalised acting headshots.

Briefing your Professional Headshots Photographers

This is possibly the most important aspect of preparing for having your headshot taken. For example:

We’ve said that a headshot is your head and shoulders. Because your there is more to your headshot than this, it’s vital that you tell us if there’s anything that will affect the photos – so please let us know.


For the purposes of your headshot, there are recommendations we would make when it comes to your choice of wardrobe. We must stress that these a not hard and fast rules – there may be perfectly valid reasons why a particular suggestion might not be relevant.

On a related note, don’t wear anything with a name, number or logo, unless it is required for the headshots. The main focus of the headshot should be your face – someone’s logo will usually detract from that.

Prepare your clothing before the session takes place.

Hair & personal appearance

Please make sure your hair has been washed recently and that it looks presentable.

For those with facial hair, please decide as to whether you want your photos with or without it – or you may want to have some with, shave it off, and come back for some without. If you do decide to keep it, we suggest that you ensure that it is neatly trimmed. Similarly any other hair.

If you’re having your professional headshot photography session away from home, we recommend that you bring a hairbrush with you.

Your headshot photography session is about creating images of you that show you at your best – so please don’t eat anything messy beforehand. Between cleaning your teeth throughly before the session, we suggest that you stick to drinking water, and refrain from smoking until the session is over.

Any makeup worn should be sympathetic to the purpose of the headshot. One guiding principle that should be applied, is to keep it so that it looks natural. If you’re in any doubt (or quite possibly even if you’re not), arrange for a makeup artist.

With more casual headshots (for example entertainers’ headshots), you may want your hands to be featured in the photographs. If so, make sure your nails are filed and that your hands – including the edges of your nails – are clean. If you wear nail varnish, ensure that it is not chipped, and appears as if it was professionally applied. We would recommend that nails are kept short, so as not to draw attention away from your face.

Most important of all

Of course, these are suggestions, based on our experience of producing headshots you’ll love. More than any of this, please bring an open mind to your professional headshot photography session, and smile and laugh.

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