Headshot Sessions | A Planning Guide

So you’ve booked a headshot or branding session.  Now what?  In order to get the most out of your investment, it helps to plan ahead. During my pre-session consultations I talk through several points on my checklist, most of which are geared at helping my clients to be well-prepared for their photo shoot. I work in a very collaborative nature with my customers to ensure a smooth process, and it’s my job to make sure that they have all the information they need to make their experience the best it can be!

Here are some helpful suggestions to walk you through the process:

First, Use a professional for your headshot photos:   It pays to remember that a headshot of any kind (actor, model, professional, executive, etc) is a branding tool.  You are selling yourself to someone and you only get one chance to make a great first impression, so why leave that to chance? Think about the many ways in which you will be utilizing that image- Business cards, LinkedIn, social media, newsletters, company marketing materials, promotional materials, prospective employers, news media, acting or modeling auditions, etc.  This is your opportunity to put forth the best of you; to show people who you are through imagery.  

No matter the industry, you owe it to yourself to invest in a proper headshot.  It can be the difference between your intended audience choosing you, or your competition.  With that said, do you want them to see a professional photo or a picture from your uncle’s wedding where you cropped out your drunk ex-girlfriend, or the selfie you took last week in the bathroom at the bar?  If you want others to take you seriously, then take the right steps to control your personal/professional brand.

Know what to expect during the photo shoot:  Your photographer should complete some type of pre-consult with you, either in person or via phone, to collect as much data as possible about you and your objectives.  Asking the right questions (Why, when, what, where, etc) are imperative.  If the photographer does not possess a complete vision of what you’re going for, they will not be able to help you convey your message clearly.  Therefore, open communication is critical here. Be sure that you are explaining what you want and sharing your vision for the shoot.  You should also be informed of all the details about the session, including what you are getting for your fee.  Here would be some critical things to consider/inquire about:



  1. # of outfit choices
  2. # backgrounds/backdrops
  3. # proofs available to select from
  4. # digital files in final deliverable; how many are low resolution/how many are high resolution?
  5. Will the final delivered images include retouching or is that an extra charge?
  6. What is included in the copyright release?  Is there a time limit on that release?
  7. How will my final images be delivered?
  8. What is the charge if I want to order more?
  9. What if I don’t like any of the images in my proofs?
  10. Are makeup artistry services included or available? 11. What is their reschedule/cancellation policy?

Many photographers advertise a low market rate for their headshot sessions only to reveal later that that they charge extra for retouching, per image (anywhere from $20-$70 each).  Once you add on those fees, the final pricing can end up much higher than advertised. So, just make sure that you clearly understand all pricing up front, before you book.

Preparation is key: You want to look your best so try to get a good nights sleep the day before and drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your session.  Both of these things will do wonders for your skin and help to lessen any bags and dark circles under your eyes.  It is highly advised not to make any drastic changes to your hair within 7 days prior to your photo shoot.  Doing so could be risky! If it doesn’t turn out well, you could end up frustrated and that frustration will show through in your images.

Makeup:  Ladies, I cannot stress this enough-professional makeup application can really make a difference in your headshot!  A professionally trained artist will properly prepare  your skin for the studio lighting and they will also know how to accentuate your best features in order to show them off.   It can also be very helpful for those who don’t wear a lot of makeup yet want to look their best for this important photo.  Well-applied, professional makeup looks natural and beautiful, not overdone and heavy. Plus, it’s a great experience!  Our studio includes this service in our headshot pricing and we have multiple stylists available for booking.



Wardrobe, 101:  Selecting the proper wardrobe is probably one of the most important parts of your preparation responsibilities!  There are many tips we can offer you (as can many other people-just Google it!).  Overall, here are the basics:

Dress appropriately for your industry and the image you want to present Dress appropriately for your industry and the image you want to present
Avoid black near your face!  It drains all color from your skin and washes you out.  Instead, choose navy, brown, green, gray, burgundy or tan. Avoid black near your face!  Instead choose navy, green, purple, burgundy, turqoise or other jewel tones.  Pastels are ok if they are on the darker side.  Avoid very soft, pale pastels.  Most women look dull & lifeless in them.
With dress shirts, avoid short sleeve; the professional way to go is long sleeve. Absolutely avoid sleeveless unless you’re rockin’ great arms.  Also, avoid turtlenecks and mock-neck tops, as they are outdated.
Men look great in colored dress shirts (pink, lavender, blue, grey).  Some small patterned dress shirts are nice but avoid large patterns (XL windowpane). Avoid crazy patterns and large, flowery patterns.  Go for solids or very simple patterns.
Jackets should be pressed and clean, no buttons missing and they should fit properly. Bring layering choices: Twinsets, a nice jacket/blazer, a leather jacket, a fitted sweater, etc.
Bring at least 1 tie (2 if all of your looks will be formal). Tie the tie in advance, if needed.  Half windsor is sufficient.  Ensure your ties are stain-free please! Scoop necks, crew necks, Vnecks are fine for knit tops but avoid low cut!  If you bring fitted, collared shirts, be sure they are pressed into place. Bottom line, bring things that make you feel good!
Bottom half will not usually be seen, but if you are shooting a branding session where some 3/4 shots may be taken, then bring along a nice pair of black trousers as an accompaniment. Accessories should be minimal in order to keep the emphasis on you.  Very small earrings, bracelets and/or necklaces.  No chunky jewelry.  Silk scarves could be worn for 1 outfit, to add some variety.
Ensure that all items are brought to the studio on hangers, are free from dirt and debris and have been pressed!  Wrinkles are enhanced in photos! Ensure that all items are brought to the studio on hangers, are free from dirt and debris and have been pressed!  Wrinkles are enhanced in photos!
A very nice watch or important ring is always a nice touch.  Bottom line, bring items that make you feel good! Makeup:  A professional makeup application is highly recommended for all female clients!  If you do not have the option through the photographer, you can have it done prior to your appointment.
Inform your photographer if you have any tattoos or scars that you would like to have removed in photoshop as part of the post-processing. Inform your photographer if you have any tattoos or scars that you would like to have removed in photoshop as part of the post-processing.
If you wear glasses: Inform your photographer if you would like some shots with and some shots without your glasses. If you wear glasses: Inform your photographer if you would like some shots with and some shots without your glasses.


What happens after the photo shoot?: Typically, your photographer will inform you of the approximate date when your proofs will be ready and how you can go about making your selections.  This will range anywhere from same-day to 3-5 days.  Once you make your selections they will deliver your finished product.  However, it doesn’t end there. Be sure that you know what to do with the files once you receive them, including deciphering which ones are meant for online use and which ones are meant for print.  Also, typically, you will want to place duplicate copies of those files into a folder somewhere, (ie: on your desktop) labeled “my headshots 20xx” or something similar and then keep the originals in a safe place as your backup.  That way, you have them easily accessible for uploading into all the places you will need them on social media, etc.

Note: Actors are “special”: For actors, generally, a majority of these rules still apply.  However, when shooting, actor headshots will be cropped in closer, with an emphasis on the eyes.  Actors are encouraged to deliver a bit more emotion and energy in their headshot photos so as to engage the attention of the casting director.  In addition, makeup is usually utilized in a minimal fashion, as the objective is to allow the actor to be portrayed similarly to how they look in real life, with very little re-touching.  With wardrobe, KIS: Keep it simple!  These images must be all about you, your face and your expression.  No jewelry.  In addition, actors usually need both color and B&W images for their portfolio.

The bottom line….a great headshot is your silent sales person!  It is selling your personal brand for you in ways that you can’t imagine.  Whether it’s adorning your Linkedin profile or sitting as the header on your monthly newsletter or CV, or maybe you’re one of the lucky people who has their photo branded right on their business card!  No matter the use, a great, professional headshot should last you a couple of years before you need to update it (actors may need a new one every year).

Here’s to great branding!

Actors: Check out this great post about how to get your best headshots, from an acting coach at Backstage, in NYC.





Timeless Images by Susan.  We provide individual headshot sessions, corporate headshots on location and team/group portraits.  Call for more information today! 734.391.8662

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