What to wear for a headshot photo shoot

What to Wear for a Headshot Photo Shoot in 2018

Wondering what to wear for a headshot? What colours are most flattering? What kind of necklines are best? Patterned fabrics or plains? How to avoid looking heavy? Long sleeves or short? 

What to wear for a photo shoot is the question I’m most often asked by my clients, and I welcome the chance to offer guidance. Getting it right at the consultation stage makes it a whole lot easier for me to produce beautiful photographs that you’ll love and be proud to show off.

Workplace attire has become increasingly relaxed over the years, which widens your choices when it comes to what to wear for a headshot. That said, your headshot is often the first impression others will have of you, so make it a good one. Professionalism is key. If in doubt, err on the conservative. The old adage dress for the job you want, not the job you have still applies.

While there is no definitive answer on what to wear, sticking to some basic guidelines and giving yourself plenty of options is the failsafe way to go. The following guidelines will help you choose outfits that are flattering and support your brand message.

Rule #1

Always, always bring along more than one outfit to your headshot session. Bring tops or dresses with different necklines and in different colours. Bring more than one blazer or jacket if you have them, and various scarves, jewellery and other accessories to mix and match. Your photographer should allow time for you to change outfits and switch around accessories so that you can create a number of different looks.

What to wear for a headshots photo shoot.
The brown tones of the vintage bomber jacket work with the backdrop, and Marcus’ colouring.

Stick to solid colours.

What to wear for a headshot photo shoot.
A crisp, white shirt is a fail-safe classic but would be lost against a white background.

Solid colours provide a distraction-free contrast to the face and don’t overwhelm the image. While a fine pinstripe, small spots or a subtle floral can work well, I generally advise against stripes or patterns of any kind. They can make the photo look too busy and detract from your face, and large prints can make you appear heavier than you are. Logos should be avoided unless a visible company logo is a requirement.

While black is the go-to for many of us (I’m looking at you, Melburnians) it can be harsh and perceived as unfriendly. But for those in fashion or entertainment, black is almost mandatory! If you’re a fan of black, bring along some black pieces as options.

White can get lost against a white studio background, but there are always exceptions. It works beautifully against black or grey, and flatters all but the fairest complexions.

Why you need professional headshots. Image of Melbourne author David Sornig
Dark tones against a dark, textured background were perfect for author David Sornig’s headshots.

Choose colours that complement your branding.

What to wear to a headshot photo shoot.
The colours in Lorraine’s company branding are hot pink and orange, so she brought scarves in those colours along to her photo session for variety.

You’re going to want to use your headshots across all your online platforms, so choose colours that match your branding – be it business or personal.

Say you’re an entrepreneur, and your social media posts feature lots of white with hints of of blue and teal. Chances are your logo and other branding sports the same hues, so choose outfits in that colour palette for seamless integration.

Some industries, such as fitness and nutrition, favour bright colour. These photo shoots are often held outdoors, where strong colours are needed to compete with the environment and bright daylight.

If you’ve carved out a career in the corporate world, a charcoal or navy suit works well with a plain shirt or blouse in white, blue, or pink. But don’t be afraid of colour! Jewel colours make a powerful statement, and can be worn alone or with a jacket or scarf.

Jewellery and accessories

What to wear for a headshot photo session: jewellery and accessories.
Elizabeth is a life coach specialising in school-leavers. The vibrant blue and bold necklace convey her bright, approachable personality.

Less is more when it comes to jewellery and accessories. For a corporate look, keep it subtle and tasteful. A pair of cufflinks and a tie; a necklace, bracelet or earrings that make a statement without dominating the photo. Those in creative fields can get away with more flamboyance but, unless you are a jewellery designer, the jewellery should never become the focal point of the image. Ditto with scarves, ties, clutches and other accessories.

Be aware of body proportions when choosing jewellery. Chunky jewellery might overwhelm a petite frame, but can help balance out a full bust.

Sleeves and Necklines

What to wear for a headshot: sleeves and necklines
Long sleeves are flattering on most body types. While even a hint of cleavage is a no-no for a corporate look, it shows versatility in this young actor’s portfolio.

Long sleeves (at least 3/4 length) are usually the best option. A French cuff that extends beyond the sleeve of the jacket looks chic on any gender.

Short sleeves can work, but be warned that they can make arms appear heavier by visually cutting them off.

When it comes to sleeveless tops and dresses, it depends very much on your industry as to whether they are considered ‘professional’ attire. In the fitness industry they are almost mandatory, but less so in the corporate realm. Bare arms also tend to dominate a photograph. If in doubt, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

In most industries, avoid plunging necklines such as sweetheart and square. They look unprofessional and, if the image is cropped in close to the face, can give the illusion that you are naked. Also avoid asymmetrical and off-the-shoulder tops.

V-necks are flattering for a full bust, high necklines such as jewel for the reverse. V-necks also create the illusion of a longer neck. Crew-necks and boat-necks are good, and a cowl or turtle-neck can work if the bust isn’t too large. A collar frames the face and looks smart, but beware of rigid or shapeless shirts.

Grooming | Hair and Make-Up

What to wear for a headshot: it's worth investing in hair and make-up.
It’s worth investing in professional hair and make-up.

It’s well worth investing in professional hair and make-up for your headshot. Most photographers who specialise in headshots will offer this as an option. Even if you skip the professional make-up, make sure your hair is freshly trimmed and styled. If your hair is coloured, it should be recently coloured.

If you choose to apply your own make-up, stick to natural shades and don’t go overboard. Avoid heavy-handed bronzer, eyeliner, lipstick or highlighter, and give the false lashes a miss unless it’s absolutely relevant to your industry. You should look like you’re arriving at a job interview, not a night club.

Now book your photo shoot, relax and enjoy the experience. The results will be worth the effort, I promise.

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