Can you believe that taking professional headshots used to be one of my most hated tasks at my day job? But life is funny and studying headshot photography is why I’m now a wedding photographer. Yep. I never planned on being a headshot photographer. Since I work in Communications & Marketing at a university, taking photos is part of the deal. Amidst a website redesign a few years ago, we realized that we needed updated, uniform headshots of all our faculty members. Now, you KNOW how much people LOVE getting their pictures taken so everyone was REALLY HAPPY about this.

No, they were not. And to be honest, I had absolutely no training in portrait photography of any kind (I loved landscape photography: waterfalls, mountains, flowers. It’s not the same skillset; waterfalls don’t ask me if I can Photoshop off 30 pounds). So really no one was happy about the situation. The first round of headshots were OK, an improvement on what we’d had, but not great. None of our faculty were saying “oh, yes, I love this one, can you send it to me for my LinkedIn?”

A woman leads against a column for a professional headshot in Washington, D.C.Since this was now officially a part of my job, though, I found a wonderful shooting and editing course focused on flattering people and used professional development funds to pay for it. And here’s the thing: once I knew what I was doing, I fell in LOVE with portrait photography. Enabling someone to see themselves at their best is giving them a gift, and their reactions are beautiful. So while I never expected to photograph weddings when I bought my first camera, well, here I am!

All of that being said, while I have some tricks to flatter you, it helps when you’re thoughtful about how you present yourself during a photography session, even when it’s for something as straightforward as headshots. When it comes to any sort of portrait photography, what you wear, how you style your hair and, if you’re a woman then how you do your makeup, all work together to make or break your image.

I provide an in-depth style guide for my portrait and wedding clients, so I’m focusing on headshot photography here.

First, the things to avoid:

  • Wearing prints (they distract the eye and are often more “trendy” so they can make your headshot look dated)
  • Too much makeup
  • A haircut right before your session (a fresh haircut can look severe on both men and women)
  • Eyebrow waxing right before your session (read more about skin prep here)
  • Sleeveless clothing (unless under a blazer)
  • Trendy jewelry
  • Material that clings; often this includes otherwise professional clothing such as sweaters

How to dress for a professional headshot

Since I am a headshot photographer Washington, D.C., most people are in need of the traditional professional headshot. For this, I recommend solid blazers in neutral colors (navy, gray, beige, black, depending on skintones) over a nice, solid-colored blouse for women. Men should wear a neutral blazer, button up shirt in a flattering solid color and coordinating tie.

If you’re a woman wearing a jacket, be sure to choose a collarless top to go underneath so you’re not buried in layers. A structured blazer is always the best choice for ladies because it helps slim your arms. Many women are self-conscious of their arms anyway, and our arms look bigger when they’re pressed to our bodies.

When choosing your blouse or shirt, think about highlighting your face. Do NOT choose colors that are close to your natural skin tone (this means no pale peaches and pinks, yellows or beiges for Caucasians and no browns or darker beiges for those with darker skin tones). What color best brings out your eyes? Choose a top in that color.

If you’re not sure, I recommend blue. Why? A majority of men and a sizeable number of women list blue as their favorite color. So if you’re wearing blue in your headshot, subconsciously most people will already have a positive feeling toward you!

Consider whether any colors or accessories are related to your job. People who work on The Hill, for example, may want to think about a patriotic blue or red (please, not both in the same outfit) or a flag pin. If you work at a university, consider a nod to its colors. Go bold if you’re comfortable with it!

Also consider the background color. If you’re getting your headshots done in a studio with a gray background, for example, stay away from wearing anything gray so you don’t blend in to the background!

Keep your jewelry simple, understated and classic so your image doesn’t go out of style. I always wear pearls for my headshots (earrings and necklace strand, depending on the neckline of my top). But diamonds or small hoops are great choices as well.

What to bring to your photography session:

  • Finishing powder to combat shine is best, but at the very least, bring your usual powder.
  • A comb or brush and any accessories you might need to freshen your hair (dry shampoo is a lifesaver if you’re looking for volume!)
  • Lipstick

I know this sounds like a lot but it’s simple: neutral blazer, shirt in a flattering color, classic accessories. I hope you find this helpful; if you have questions about anything I didn’t cover, get in touch!