Headshot Tips from Photographers, Casting Directors, Makeup Artists & More

If you’re reading this you’ve come to the point where you know you need a headshot. You know the value of a headshot and have an idea of what makes a headshot great, now you just need a few tips from the professionals. We all look at things differently. Photographers tend to be critical of the technical aspects of a photo. A makeup artist wants to see her work shine in a photo the way it does in real life. A casting director wants to see a compelling headshot that stands out from the pack. Today, we’re rounding up headshot tips from the pros including headshot photographers, hair and makeup artists, acting coaches and casting directors.

Evaluating a Photographer for Headshots

As a headshot photographer, my advice is to find someone who specializes in headshots. There’s a lot of different areas of photography, but you want someone who lives and breathes headshots and portraiture. Can any photographer, or any person with a DSLR for that matter, take a decent headshot? Maybe. But you want someone who can shoot for consistency, who stands by his work and will work with you to get the perfect headshot or your money back. Headshot photographers know how to bring out expression, even for the people who think they’re not photogenic. They’ll coach you on how to pose, they know the right angles to shoot from, they’re well versed with studio lighting, a good headshot photographer will bring the best out of you. Some of the best like David Noles or Peter Hurley charge over $1000 which might seem steep – but I consider it an investment for your personal or professional career. And a great headshot can be your profile photo across social media for the next few years!

If you’re going for a particular look, as you’re going through a photographers portfolio and you see a few headshots you love, ask him/her how a particular headshot was lit and he can replicate that lighting for your session. You can also take a look through Pinterest’s headshots for inspiration.

What to Wear for Headshots

You’re going for timeless, so follow the old adage of KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly). So no Ed Hardy T-Shirt or anything with a logo for that matter. And make sure to come with your clothes clean and pressed (and it’s always good to bring additional outfits). The girls over at Leaders in Heels have a few great wardrobe tips for women and the University of Southern Indiana have compiled a list of tips for what to wear for both men and women.

Makeup Tips for Headshots

Headshots are traditionally used for actors, but with the advent of social media everyone needs a good headshot. For actors, you’ll want more of a natural look with makeup because casting directors want an accurate depiction of what you look like. For fashion and beauty portraits (and everything else for that matter), you can be a little more aggressive creating different looks.

Regardless of your profession, Caitlin Callahan, a Senior Makeup Artist at Mac Cosmetics offers the following advice on how to do makeup for headshots:

  • Use natural shades
  • Avoid powder which can create a cakey look, instead opt for a liquid base.
  • And prep your skin a week in advance. Exfoliate, get a facial, etc. Photographers do have a powerful tool in Photoshop, but you shouldn’t rely on it. This DIY makeup tutorial for headshots actually has a skin prep schedule you can follow before your headshot.

For me, I find that less is more and that’s why I prefer to work with my makeup artist. And that isn’t atypical, many renowned headshot photographers require that you shoot with their makeup artist that they’ve often worked with for years. For a photographer, consistency is important and a talented makeup artist plays a huge role in that.

Hair Tips for Headshots

Hair and makeup artist Andrea Marie Ortega recommends that the most important thing for your hair is controlling frizz and fly aways. As a photographer I know that’s some of the toughest stuff to edit on a headshot – and very time consuming to get perfect. Whether you’re a guy or gal, there’s a lot of products that can help with that. For straight or wavy hair, a smooth blowout with moderate volume is “the woman’s version of the man’s red power tie,” according to New York City hairstylist Gregory Patterson.

For men, we all know when our hair looks best so time your haircut accordingly. And stay away from gels, instead opting for a low shine fiber, pomade, or wax.

Headshot Tips from a Casting Director

Kim Williams, a popular casting director whom has helped stars like Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan and Amanda Bynes launch their career, says that, “much of the casting process has moved online, casting directors who once examined 8″ x 10″ printed headshots now scroll through tiny thumbnails instead.”

This is why I prefer to shoot super tight, because even with a 8×10 you’ll want to maximize your real estate on that page… even more so with a thumbnail. With a half-length portrait, no one would even see your face on their mobile device.

Read more tips from casting director Kim Williams here. An unnamed casting director provided an additional 14 tips here, one that I thought was particularly important:


This is really popular with modeling, but it’s a really tough look to pull off in any portrait, much less a headshot. If you’re not an actor and can’t help yourself, take a look through Lindsay Adler’s work, she’s a person that can shoot the look well.

Headshot Tips from an Acting Coach

Matt Newton is a well known acting coach in NYC, and kindly provided his thoughts on tips for better headshots. Most of which we’ve already covered including:

  • Don’t go crazy with the makeup
  • Keep it simple with the clothing and props, he adds “a simple solid colored shirt with some texture that matches your eyes should do the trick.”
  • And of course, finding a professional photographer and how a good one should be able to draw out personality and expression.

One tip important to acting was his thoughts on studio vs outdoor lighting:

Natural light vs studio. Some photographers do both, as they offer a different look and feel. Natural light gives a very real, “film” look, which I prefer. Studio lighting tends to be a little more polished, with a more neutral backdrop. Both can be wonderful. If you are more of a sitcom actor, perhaps a good well-lit studio headshot is more suited for you. If you want to look like you are on “True Detective,” then go for the outdoor look.

Personally, I prefer studio light because you have much more control. You can’t control the weather. Though if you do prefer natural light, the best time to shoot is around the “golden hour,” that is the hour after sunrise, or the hour before sunset.

Any other headshot tips? Feel free to chime in on the comments! 

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