A photography headshot is now an essential item all freelancers and business professionals must-have. This article will cover all the tips you need to create the perfect one for your client. This will cover everything from styling, makeup, wardrobe advice, and more. Let’s dive right into this style of photography.


Choosing your backdrop

choosing your backdrop

The type of backdrop you have will all depend on what type of shot this is. Corporate or professional headshots will tend to have a solid backdrop. So will headshots for actors. 

Black or white is a solid choice, but companies can venture into different colors to match their brand. The goal is to have the background a safe, neutral color so the focus can be on the employee’s face. Solid walls are another item than can become the backdrop of your professional headshot.

If these are for a person in a more creative field, the sky is the limit. You can take your subject into nature to add some original elements to the shot. If you want to stick with walls as backdrops, find some that are highly colorful and add that feature in. Or look for creative angles and spaces on walls and use those for contrast. 

Another suggestion is to look for paintings, murals, and things of that regard to bring into your shot. It can give your headshot a really fresh flavor if you have a shot of your subject with a really meaningful object of some kind in the background.


Picking your equipment

Once you have ascertained the nature of the shot, and where you are conducting the session, the next step is to pull together your equipment. Outside of a camera, what you need will differ based on indoor and outdoor sessions. 

For indoor sessions, lighting is going to be critical for a successful shoot. Don’t leave home without your strobes, speedlights, and reflectors. We can talk about more technical details about lighting setups in a different article.

Also, make sure you bring your light modifiers to soften the flashes since it’s always more appealing than hard light. The other big thing for an indoor shoot will be your lens. You need one the will help you get the best shot of the person’s face. A longer lens seems to capture more flattering face shots, so make sure to bring that along with you. 

Ideally, the stellar lens for headshots is the prime 85mm, but you can get good results with a standard focal lens, like the popular and cheap 50mm. Last but not least, your tripod, this is optional but I highly recommend it since it gives you the freedom to focus on your client instead of having to frame every single shot without one.

Pulling together your equipment for an outdoor session won’t be too much different. I recommend you bring the same equipment you would use for an indoor shoot and add some sandbags to keep your lights in place. Sometimes you can get away with one reflector and no strobes but it’s very risky since outdoor is not a controlled environment and the light will change constantly.


Styling for a professional headshot

styling for a headshot

Since the focus of a headshot is solely on the person in the photo, one would think there need to be copious amounts of hair, makeup, and styling that goes into one of these shoots. This is one-time conventional wisdom could not be more wrong. These are professional photos. Even those who are having these done for the personal brand and not a corporate website need to consider the message they are sending. 

There isn’t such a thing as too much in a session for a headshot. It will be your job to convey that to your clients.

Selecting an outfit is the first step in preparing for the session. Encourage your client to either select something neutral or something that compliments their skin tone. Some stylists would recommend that you avoid flesh colors, as those could blend into their skin. Those have the potential to wash you out when you are photographed with a flash. 

The reason prints and bold colors are lobbied against is that those run the risk of dating the photos. Certain prints and colors are indicative of specific times in fashion, which means a potential customer will be able to tell how old your photos are. Tell your client to take that under advisement if they want to wear them in their headshot. 

Another point of advice for your client is that footwear doesn’t really matter since that area is not being photographed. The same thing would apply to dresses for clients. It doesn’t matter since nothing from the shoulders down is being photographed.

Hair and makeup would be the next set of considerations for a headshot session. Since these are professional photographs, it is strongly suggested that hairstyles and makeup be subtle. This is not the time to try out a new hair color or hairstyle, especially one that may be avant-garde. 

The same applies to makeup. Makeup should be applied in a way that plays up their best features and can stand up to the bright lights of the camera. Heavy theatrical or nighttime makeup is not the best for a headshot session. Subtle neutrals are the best choice. If your client does not already have a hair and makeup artist that they use, suggest one and partner with that person ahead of time to relay what this shoot is about.

Any accessories your client wears shouldn’t take away from them during this session. That can be a hard choice to make since established fashion advice always preaches playing up accessories. However, that has a time and place. A headshot is not one of them. As much as large earrings or a statement necklace seems like a good choice, get your client to save them for later.

 If the jewelry in their photos is extremely large or eye-catching, it will take the attention away from them and their faces in their headshots. Stick to simple earrings like a pearl or diamond stud and a simple chain necklace. If your client shows up with oversized accessories, remind them of these pitfalls.

The styling for this shoot speaks volumes, probably more than your client realizes. These photos will represent their brand. Anytime someone is scrolling the internet looking for a professional in that field, the way they look in these photos will convey their brand image to that person. That is what you both should have in mind when selecting outfits, hairstyles, and accessories. 

If a client feels strongly about a fashion detail of their shoot, you may not be able to dissuade them. But if you have coached them on these best practices, then you have done your job. In the end, their decision is the final one.


Coaching your subject through the session

coaching photoshoot

This is another significant point to focus on. Your subject may not get in front of a camera often. They may also feel incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Make sure to give them words of encouragement to keep them smiling and feeling good during your shoot. For those who do not enjoy photography sessions, getting them to laugh could get you your best shots.

On top of delivering coaching to your client, make sure you keep giving them instructions for poses. For lots of people, a photoshoot is entirely foreign to them. They have no idea how they should tilt their head or which way they should look. To get the most out of this session with your client, feedback on their poses are a must.

If the sessions permit it, think outside-of-the-box when it comes to poses. Nothing says every picture has to be the subject looking directly at your camera. Working with them on head tilts, looking into the distance, side profile shots. If the session doesn’t have to be so formal, have fun, and exercise creativity with your shots.

Check my article about the psychology of the headshot, where I explain how important this coaching is.


Editing your pictures

Once you have completed the session, then the fun begins! You get to edit the fruits of your labor. Now you get to weed out any shots that may not meet your expectations, discard them, and focus on the best of the best. You can use your software and improve any lighting or shape issues you see. As a best practice, always use your eyes before you move to your editing software. Your eyes will always be your best tool in photography. 

Take this time to pull together your favorites and compile that for your client. I usually do several runs, I get rid of the bad frames first, then I do a broad selection and the last run I go one by one to make sure is a winning shot.

Throw in some black-and-white shots just as a bonus. That will jazz up your offering, so it goes beyond only the classic photos one would think of in a headshot compilation. I know many photographer will argue about giving away some extra photos but my philosophy is, under promise, over deliver. This is a great way to build your clients. Remember that is easier to keep a client than getting a new one.



Hopefully, this piece has been helpful to you. Photography headshots have risen in popularity over the last few years. They are now a tool that every photographer needs to have in their arsenal. These photos are not just for corporate offices and actors anymore. Almost everyone needs a headshot, including your local hairdresser, a freelance writer, and any business professional with a personal brand and website. Take these tips and expand your business with this style of photography.

Photo credit:
Chase Wilson on Unsplash
Mídia from Pexels
Ross Sneddon on Unsplash
Chris J Mitchell from Pexels