Preparing for your headshot shoot

Clothing, makeup, jewelry and ancient Egyptian inspired fascinators

By Dennis Drenner on 26 Aug 2015
in Preparing for your shoot

I probably don’t need to tell you that an ancient Egyptian inspired fascinator hat is not the ideal accessory for your headshot shoot. Neither is whatever you call that guy’s shirt. But it is a fun way to make an important point: When you are having a portrait done, your clothing should not distract from your face. Nor should your jewelry or makeup. The headshot is about your face and your personality, and anything that distracts from those will work against you (and be intensely frowned upon by your photographer).


A couple of years ago, I did portraits for Vice President Biden and his family for the official holiday card. He walked out of his house wearing a bold blue and white striped button-down, and his first words to me were "What do you think about this shirt? Is this too much?" I sputtered nervously, looked around helplessly at his staff, and then at the guys with the machine guns. "Don't look at them," he said, "You're the photographer!" So I told him that, indeed, his shirt was a bit much, to which he replied "no problem" and went inside and changed. The shoot went great after that, and most importantly, the Secret Service did not take me down for my impertinence.

With this in mind, leave your bold striped shirts and attention-getting necklaces at home on headshot day, as well as short sleeves and deep V-necks that show a lot of skin. I prefer dark to mid-toned solid colors or simple patterns. Bright white shirts can also pull the eye away from the face, though throwing a darker jacket over them usually takes care of the problem. Ideally, bring along a couple of options for us to choose from.

The Importance of Hair and Makeup

One of my first regular headshot clients was Media Matters, where I would photograph people on the last day of a media training course they give a few times a year. There I got to work with a great DC-area makeup artist named Carla Dakin. We were on a tight schedule, cranking out up to 20 people in a few hours. She'd make them pretty, I'd shoot a great headshot in record time, they'd do a fake CNN Crossfire type interview, and then they'd be out the door and on with their careers. Sometimes weeks later I'd be on the treadmill at the gym, and I'd see one of my previous clients talking to Wolf Blitzer. It was pretty cool.

The main reason I was able to produce great shots in record time was because of Carla (not because of my photographic genius, sadly). Everyone left her makeup table looking great and feeling great, and I just had to keep the feeling alive long enough to photograph it! Even the men benefitted from a little touch of powder to take off the shine. Contrary to popular belief, if you come to your shoot looking like squirrels have been partying in your hair, you can't just "fix it in Photoshop!"

Hair and Makeup Tips from the Expert

I asked one of our favorite local makeup artists, Lindsay Shields of Glam & Tan, Inc., what advice she would offer people coming in for a headshot. My questions and her answers below:

Should folks get their hair cut the same day as the shoot?

You want to steer clear of getting a hair cut the same day as your shoot, or even close to the shoot unless you are a male. What if you hate the cut then have to go get your picture taken? I would advise if you are getting your hair cut and/or highlighted etc., that you do it a week or so before your headshot. You should arrive on shoot day with day dirty, non-flat ironed hair. If you want a blow out you can come with your hair wet. This will allow more time to adjust to the color and make sure your hair is at the length you want. Also, make sure that you are doing a style that represents you! This photo represents you and your brand!

How about makeup for women? Assuming you are getting your makeup done at the shoot, what should portrait subjects do (if anything) before they come in? Should they bring any of their own makeup, lipstick etc?

The only thing the ladies will need is something for their lips to touch up. Otherwise, the makeup artist will have the rest! I recommend that they come with a clean face with a light moisturizer on.

What is the difference between makeup for a photoshoot or wedding vs. makeup for a night out on the town?

The best way for me to describe this is that makeup for a night on the town may not need to be as heavy as makeup for a photoshoot or wedding. There are ways to apply makeup where it stands out for pictures without applying a ton of it, BUT a professional camera takes of 50% of makeup so you need to double up what you are using. As a professional makeup artist my goal is to enhance those features that make the client stand out, whether that is her/his eyes, lips or cheeks!

Any tips on prepping the eye brows?

There really isn't any necessary prepping for eyebrows. Unless you need them waxed. In that case please do this a minimum of a week beforehand. I will be able to shape them and fill them in for you!

Flying Solo?

If you choose to take care of your own hair and makeup, a few suggestions here:

(1) Keep it matte. Anything shiny can come across looking oily in a photo.
(2) Add a bit of extra makeup. The camera takes some off.
(3) Consider a blow out before the shoot. Also bring some hair spray or other products you like to control fly aways.

More questions?

Hopefully this answers most of your questions, but if not please feel free to drop us a line at We are also happy to schedule a quick phone call.

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