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Getting The Most From Your Headshot Session.

Part 2: Preparation.

In the first post of this short series about getting the most from your headshot photo shoot, we looked at The Objective: what you want to achieve with your new headshot. If you didn’t see it then please have a read here.

In this post we’re going to take a little look at the second element in the process:


So, first things first: book your photographer early i.e. in plenty of time for the deadline by which you need the headshot photos.

Next: once you’ve booked them, if it’s possible, try to meet the photographer well before the shoot.

You might think it unnecessary to do this, but in my experience the best results always come when the sitter and I meet beforehand.

It doesn’t need to be long: an hour over a coffee is enough. Ideally this might be around a month before the shoot or in plenty of time to sort out any further needs, locations, questions etc.

It also gives me the opportunity to get a sense of you in space: how your face works (yep!) and what light does to it. Plus I get to learn about your goals and ambitions, and discuss what you want to achieve with the photos. All that thought you’ve put into your objectives now gets the chance to be aired.

I always factor this level of contact into any headshot or portrait booking I get, but don’t expect all photographers to be the same. A phone/Skype conversation might well be enough, and sometimes has to be due to schedule issues.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this contact serves to break the ice before there’s a camera in the room. The more relaxed you are with your photographer, when it comes to shooting, the better. Of course, good photographers will always be working to make you feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera, but let’s leave that to the final post in this series.

The next thing to think about and discuss is whether you want studio or location-based shots? Or both perhaps?

Outdoor location headshots are fine and they work really well. But they bring with them some potential photographic hazards: weather conditions (don’t forget these have the potential to mess up your hair etc) and, depending on the location, other people/passers-by who can easily make you feel self-conscious or interrupt the shoot.

Remember the shoot is time-limited, so maximizing it is important.

I often recommend interior shots – whether that’s for natural light set-ups on location (see the image top right) or a studio set-up (top left).

Studio shots are always going to be a bit more expensive, but they guarantee great light, more control and in many ways a more relaxed space to shoot in.

Clothing – it’s really worth nailing what you’re going to wear in light of the objectives you’ve considered.

Know what colours and styles look best on you. Plain clothing is always going to be better than patterned for a headshot. And remember images are always shot in colour these days and only converted to black and white if necessary, so really think about what works with your skin tone.

If you don’t know what works, go and try stuff on in front of the mirror. Take some selfies. Be your own stylist (unless you can afford to pay for one, in which case even better).

Always be ready to bring at least two clothing options. Don’t just turn up to the shoot saying “I just brought a black T-shirt is that ok?” (believe me I’ve been there).

And don’t be afraid to throw something unusual into the mix – some of the shots my clients rave about as being most successful are those where they are wearing something that is not their every day wear. Often that’s something that moves them closer to the goals they’ve set for their headshots.

The next thing to discuss is make-up. And hair (that’s you too boys!).

In my opinion, where make-up is concerned, less is more in a headshot unless you have a very specific stylised look/brand that you need to portray. It’s worth having a natural foundation to minimise shine and to bring some with you for the shoot. And ladies, minimal eye make-up is good too. Heavy mascara for example just doesn’t work in this context unless, as I say, it’s for a stylised look.

Hair – this can actually make or break a shoot. If you need to get it cut or styled then do it. Either way always take a brush and/or comb and a mirror if you’re shooting on location. Guys if you need gel, then use gel but keep it real looking. Guys and gals remember if you’re shooting outside, the wind, no matter how weak, is going to move everything around so you have to factor that in. It might not always be possible to find a completely sheltered outdoor location.

Finally, remember to clean your teeth and to leave plenty of travel time so that you’re not stressed or antsy when you arrive.

Preparation is everything and it shows. Not only does it maximise your time in front of the camera but it also makes the most of the money you’re investing in the photos.

Often you might have two hours max to get everything in the can. It might seem like a lot but it passes very fast. Sure you can book for longer or more than one session (and I would always encourage that) but it’s not always financially feasible. So, in the main we are looking to get as many quality images as possible in 120 minutes.

If that means starting the process toward a photo session a good couple of months before your deadline then do it.

I hope this has helped to give you at least an overview of what to consider in the run up to a shoot.

In the final post we’ll look at the shoot itself: what you should expect from your photographer during the shoot and after.

Of course if you want to dive in and create some headshots together then check out my headshot and portfolio packages here to make a booking or if you just want to ask any questions rising from these posts then feel free to drop me a line.

All images © James Bellorini

James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He has over ten years experience in the arts and entertainment industries and has worked for internationally recognised brands including Glyndebourne, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and The Old Vic. His portrait and headshot clients include actors, musicians, writers, artists, international singers, entrepreneurs and corporates. He is a member of the Redeye Network and a participant in their Lightbox program for emerging photographers.