What to wear for a professional headshot session is typically the first question I get asked when talking to clients. It is an important question and one that I take time to answer.
My response varies depending on the message and the person I am photographing. A headshot photo is your “label”. How we look and present ourselves says a lot about us to prospective clients, and it should show our personal branding.
When clients and companies are searching for someone to hire, they take seconds to decide. You want the first impression you give to be positive—you want to be noticed and eventually contacted. Your headshot will make or break that process for you.
Let’s dig into the related questions that will help you better understand what to wear!
What to Wear in a Professional Headshot
Regardless of the reason why you are doing a photoshoot, there are some go-to guidelines that will help fulfill your goal, which should be to look casual but professional, formal but not dated. The answer here is based on your personal style and the use that will be given to the image.
Your clothes need to communicate timelessness and sophistication. In some instances, a client wants to have two styles of headshots, one casual and one formal. That is fine, make sure your clothes fit and are up to par.
If you are a person that has not worn a tie in several years, and you need professional headshots for work with a tie on, it’s better to shop for a contemporary tie than to wear the old one you have at home.
For women, I always recommend wearing a sleeve top. No matter how skinny your arms are, they will reflect light and look bigger than they are if you wear a sleeveless dress or top. It is unusual to know a woman that likes to have a photo with arms that look bigger than they are.
The following are some of the dressing codes that you should consider to wear to look impeccable in your next business headshot:
Style According to Your Industry
The classic black blazer might not always be the right call for a business headshot. Depending on your industry, you should consider clothing patterns that are commonly worn by your coworkers—most of the time, you will notice that most industries tend to wear solid colors or a certain style. Doctor headshots are not the same as lawyer headshots.
Bring Multiple Outfits
Picture yourself in multiple settings where you interact with different people on a typical working day, and choose your clothing options accordingly. It is often a personal choice whether you tend to look the same for every interaction, or you like to tailor the way you look given your public.
Opt for Suit-Inspired Silhouettes
Using outfits that include dark-colored blazers, trousers, suit jackets or any combination of pieces that inspire a more serious look are proven to make a person more likely to be hired than people who wear different choices of clothing.
Select Sleeves that Are Flattering
If you wear a suit or a blazer, you will not have to think about the way your arms look. But for some outfit choices, choosing the right sleeves can be game-changing. You want sleeves that fit your form—for example, for toned arms, sleeveless or short sleeve dress shirts.
Button-downs and dresses are recommended, or you can also go with ¾-length sleeves, which never fail.
A Variety of Necklines to Match Your Looks
You should always bring to the studio some pieces of clothing with necklines that go with your outfit choice. For women, a v-neck, a scoop neckline or a bateu will never go wrong. Turtlenecks should be avoided if possible, because not everyone can pull them off.
Go with Simple Jewelry
Taking care of your hair and makeup should be your priority for enhancing your natural features, while jewelry can be a nice finishing touch. If you decide to wear a necklace, make sure that the pendant is visible, and if you put on earrings, stick with metallic and gemstone studs.
Whatever Shows Off Your Personal Style Is Best
Do not try to be anyone other than yourself—nothing will look better on you than a piece of clothing that represents who you are. Use bright colors if you like them, put on a special tie or a pocket square, and do not always follow all the rules.
What Colors Should I Wear to a Professional Headshot Session?
There are many options and opinions when it comes to colors. Here’s a fact that should help make this process simpler: Darker colors will reflect less light than light colors. The less light your body reflects, the slimmer you will look.
The headshot is about you; wear clothing colors that complement you, not that contrast with you. Your personal style, skin tone, preferred jewel tones and personal branding, among other things, will help you select the most appropriate wardrobe to represent your real life personality. Here is an article that goes deeper into this.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of every color scheme and one final tip on the subject:
These do not mix well with darker backgrounds, but are perceived as more formal, dominant and authoritative.
As it happens with dark colors on top of dark backgrounds, lighter colored and pastel outfits, like the typical white shirt, do not merge well with lighter backgrounds. Although, light colors are perceived as indicators of approachability and tenderness.
Even though these types of colors are not recommended for a professional headshot, there are certain business casual outfits that are compatible with said color scheme. These colors make the wearer seem as a confident and energetic person.
Muted stands for colors that have low saturation or chrome. These are common colors but toned and dulled to a point that they are less bright and almost gray-like, they convey conservativeness and a non-threatening aura.
Combining light and dark colored pieces of clothing it is possible to make cool things happen. This type of color scheme exudes influence and authority.
What Colors Not to Wear
The first thing to be asked to any client is about headshot backdrop color requirements.
Some clients need their headshot to have a specific backdrop color. If yours is a corporate headshot that is going to be used on the company website, ask about the required background color and keep it in mind when reviewing your clothing options. After you have decided what color best compliments you, check where the headshot will be used. If it is for a website, ask if it has a white or dark background—then look at what color will match that better.
If the headshot will appear on print, check with the designers: see if you can get more information about the colors used. Sometimes, however, you may not be able to get that information. In that case, go for a safe clothing option, such as dark gray or dark blue.
Style Tips for Headshot Sessions
As you can see, clothing is maybe the most important part of a successful headshot session, but there are some underlying factors that need to be considered as well.
Getting your hair done in a way that highlights your features and putting on makeup to enhance your appearance is a safe path to some of your best pics. Here are a number of things to consider when choosing your hairstyle and makeup style:
Be as real as you can and make sure your stylist knows that—if you have curly hair, do not straighten it. If your hair is short, keep it that way. It is not a matter of pretending to be someone you are not; besides, you will never feel confident showing a photo where you do not look like you do in real life.
If you are comfortable with using makeup and it is something that you usually do, go for it. Stay true to your skin tone and do not listen to any makeup artist that suggests that you should use something that does not go with who you are.
Things to Avoid during a Headshot Session
- Worries and distractions. It is usually a good call for a photographer to ask the client to be present. Leave distractions or worries out of the studio. You want the headshot to show you at your best; you don’t want to look tired, worried, or stressed.
- Take your time in front of the camera: You don’t want to rush through the headshot session. Taking time to review with the clients what is getting done, and making sure that meaningful and personal images are being created is priceless. Sometimes, it is interesting to take photos with different backdrop colors or different wardrobes. The client can then review the images later on and select the headshot they like best.
- Feel free to ask questions. If something is not working or you want to try something different, just ask. The headshot photographer is there to help you and work with you.
- To make sure that the photos are slick and that there is no distraction from what has to be highlighted, avoiding patterns and stripes is a good call. Distracting patterns and fabrics can cause optical illusions like moiré. Also, try to stay away from baggy clothing, as it can distort your figure.
- Even if your industry tends to bet on a more informal dress code, it would be wise to stick with formal outfits for your business headshots and avoid overly-casual clothing, like t-shirts, for example. Wearing formal clothing confers you a sense of power and control.
- It is good to have a “lucky shirt” or a nice blouse that has been your go-to lead for every outfit for years, but even the nicest pieces of clothing wear out as time passes. Brightly-colored and knitted clothes tend to show signs of pilling after a number of washes, so you should always put on newer outfits for any photoshoot.
- Consider that LinkedIn headshots, for example, tend to be cropped closely, so the area under your face will be key for these types of shots. Because of that, remember not to use an undershirt and drop any shirt with “floppy collar”.
- Making your eyes look clear and enhancing their white should be a primary concern for any photographer, which is why using specific eye drops to whiten and avoid red blood shot eyes can be useful.
Here are some simple but effective recommendations:
- Get a good night’s sleep so you are rested for the session. If you are tired, your headshot will show it.
- Drink lots of water the day before, and do your best to stay hydrated; it will show in your skin.
- Set aside your wardrobe ahead of time. Find the colors and jewelry that will best complement you. Doing this beforehand will help you be prepared and make any needed adjustments early on. If you’re unsure about what the best colors are, bring options to the studio. Make your professional headshot session a productive session.
- Confirm the location and time with the studio.
- Ask any questions you may have before the session. Headshot photographers should know when their clients have reservations about getting their headshots done. Seasoned professionals do their best to make sure that their clients are at ease when they are at the studio. Generally, they go over a few questions before the photoshoot, a practice that helps greatly.
Are you interested in a professional headshot? My name is Ivan Martinez and I have over 36 years of experience in the field.
I have worked with hundreds of clients, and one thing I have learned throughout the years is that everyone is unique. So I take the time to answer their questions and help them through the process.