THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO HEADSHOTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Although it might be tempting to skip the 'professional' part of 'professional headshot' and just take your chances with a selfie, there are a number of valid reasons that this is probably a bad idea - particularly when you are using a headshot in the context of personal or corporate branding, or really in any professional setting which might engage your potential clients, vendors, business partners, employers or employees. The reason for this is simple - studies show that it literally takes less than a second for a first impression to be made by onlookers of the human face.
In order to get you pointed in the right direction, below are some basics of headshots photography.
WHEN TO UPDATE
So we've established that we all need a solid headshot photograph to use in various places in our digital lives at one point or another. But how often and when should it be updated? That might be a matter of some preference, but I advise my clients to wait no longer than 2 years between headshot updates, preferably sooner when you have an important online mission upon you. Think of it this way - we all age. We get older, not younger. Despite using the best techniques and equipment available, there is no way I'm going to take your headshot and make you look 10 years younger than you are (and I'm not too shabby at what I do). As tempting as it may be, leaving a 10+ year old headshot in your professional circles will probably leave your colleagues a bit confused upon meeting you in person. This isn't a good thing; it creates an atmosphere and impression of insincerity and is generally unprofessional. Avoid that situation - update regularly.
HEADSHOTS ARE EXPENSIVE for good reason
What can be done to control the outcome of this impression to our advantage? It really boils down to the ability of the photographer to create a relaxed, genuine, confident and approachable version of you, among other things that strengthen the shot. Unless your job is to stand in front of a camera (think actors and models), my guess is that you aren't going to have many ideas as to how to create this look for yourself; someone else is going to need to help you do it. This is the job of the headshot photographer, and it's also why a good headshot can cost a little more than what you might have been expecting.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER
If you haven't read my advice about how to select a good headshot photographer in your area, then I'd highly recommend that you take the time to do that. By knowing just a little bit about what to look for and what to ask of your headshots photographer, you position yourself for success in your headshot portrait session. Remember, just like many things, not all photographers for headshots are created equal.
STYLES AND PHOTO SPECIFICATIONS
There are a number of photographic styles and specs that can apply to headshot photography. Some corporations and agencies publish these specs. There's nothing wrong with trying to create some consistency across a team of people for one reason or another, and I'm generally happy to oblige. However, there are a few pros and cons to sticking to a spec in a headshot session to be aware of. In some cases, the spec doesn't detract from the star of the show (you!) at all and everything is fine. In other cases, I've had corporate specs that are far TOO specific, limiting my ability to achieve the best shot for my client. If you know that you need to stick to a photographic specification for your headshot session, be sure to discuss that with your photographer up front to be sure that they can shoot in that style and that they're willing to do so. On the positive side of things, if a good photo spec is chosen, consistency and quality across teams in different geographic locations are easier to achieve since skilled photographers in different regions should be able to apply those specs effectively. On a related note, I'm part of an exclusive group of the best headshot photographers in the world, so even if you have a requirement outside of my general service area, don't hesitate to inquire and I can likely connect you with an incredible photographer in your area.
HAIR AND MAKEUP
In order to best prepare for your headshot session, you should consider that the quality of hair styling and makeup can make a dramatic impact on the outcome of your session. For corporate and commercial headshots, natural makeup application is going to be critically important. Regardless of how you normally do your makeup, you should consider using a natural approach for your headshot session, or far better yet, hire a professional hair and makeup artist who is well versed in the proper techniques in applying natural makeup. Your photographer is probably the most qualified person to recommend a natural HMUA for your session, and there are a number of reasons for that. If you're booking with me, be sure to inquire about arranging a HMUA for your session. I always have 1 or 2 artists on-call that know my work, and I know theirs who are generally available to be scheduled for your studio headshot session - additional fees will apply. I don't recommend makeup for men in a headshot session, and I explain that in more detail in my article about hair and makeup for headshots.
WARDROBE and Jewelry
Wardrobe is another key ingredient to a successful headshot session and should not be overlooked. Just like makeup, it should be kept somewhat simple, straightforward and non-distracting. The key reason for this is that the headshot (once again) is about the head - not fancy necklaces, or crazy wardrobe. There are certainly times in acting and modeling sessions where creating characters or variety with wardrobe is warranted, but not for a cornerstone commercial headshot, and certainly not for a solid corporate headshot. Think about it this way: Do YOU want to be the star of the show or that hot pink tie your in-laws bought you? Putting distractions in a headshot like bright patterned clothing, over-the-top jewelry, or even distracting backgrounds can cause you to lose your audience before you even get out of the gate. In other words, their eyes will be drawn to those things BEFORE they see what you look like. Sure, they will likely take in the whole photograph at some point, but this is a key fundamental of photographer - control how your viewer's eyes flow through a photo. Your headshot photographer should not only know this, but they should also carefully advise you on these matters when they see a potential problem and help control the shot for success.
Wait a sec - you mean I have to mentally prepare for this headshot session? Well, the short answer is no - you shouldn't have to overthink anything heading into a professional headshot session. Literally, it's the job of the headshot photographer to get you looking your best, and part of that work is not only understanding what your general demeanor is, but having the toolset to help you tune it up even if you're unaware that it is happening. The long answer is covered in more detail in my article, Why Your Headshot Photographer Needs To Be A Mind Reader. However, even if you are a regular in front of the camera (actors, models, etc...), you should make an effort to arrive well rested and relaxed.