Headshots for Dummies: 8 Tips

Portraits: Kevin Fiscus

Sorry, but that selfie you’ve been using as a headshot has gotta go. That’s what the experts say, anyway. In today’s increasingly virtual (thanks to COVID) business world, a high-quality headshotone that shows you, literally, in your best lightis a critical piece of your professional profile. But headshots are tricky business, requiring more homework than you might think. Before you strike that pose, check these tips.


Know the “why.” “The ‘why’ is so critical,’” says midtown photographer Kevin Fiscus, whose specialties include headshots for corporate and “talent” (models, actors). Why do you need a headshot? Who is your audience? What do you want your photo to say? To quote an old Joe Jackson song, “You can’t get what you want till you know what you want.”

Headshot or branding shotsKnow the difference“Traditional headshots focus on your face and expression, but personal branding shots tell a story about who you are,” explains Sharon Hoyt, a Roseville-based portrait photographer who specializes in photographing womenWhereas the goal of a headshot session ione stellar shot (maybe two), a branding session typically results in a collection of images in a variety of environments. For example, a chef might be shown in a toque blanche, flipping a frittata, and also in jeans and T-shirt, strolling the farmers marketIf you’ve got your own biz and/or website, a personal branding session may be the way to go.

headshot of man

Choose your photographer carefully. Word-of mouth recommendations are always best. But a photographer who is perfect for your pal may not be right for you, so do your own sleuthing. “You can learn a lot from the telephone consultation,” says Hoyt. “Do they ask what’s important to you? Do they take the time to find out what you want to convey in your photos?” Look at their body of work online. Do the people in their headshots look friendly and approachable? Do they look natural, or scream “photoshopped”? A variety—of people, settings, lighting scenarios—is also something to look for, notes Fiscus. A one-size-fits-all formula is a red flag.

Put your best face forward. Clothes, hair, makeup: They all matter. General rule of thumb? Wear what you feel and look great in. Avoid white, loud colors and busy patterns; you want the focus to be on your face. Ladies may want to bump up the makeup a bit, especially the eyes and lipsbut a natural look is best. Not a makeup maven? Hire a pro.


Don’t worry about camera shynessI hate getting my picture taken” is what almost every client says, according to both Hoyt and Fiscus. “It’s not a phrase that should make a photographer quiver in fear,” says Fiscus. “This is what we do.” A good photographer knows how to help a client get comfy. Also, breathing helps.

Consider indoor vs. outdoor. The obvious advantage to an indoor shot? Control. (No rain delays!) But, reality check: Not all photographers have studios—and lately, COVID has put the kibosh on some who do, creating an “outdoor shots only” scenario. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The organic beauty of outdoor scenery, enhanced by natural lighting, can produce some gorgeous shots. In sunny Sacramento, though, the brightness factor can be challengingespecially if you squint. Consider scheduling your shoot during the “golden hour”—yes, it’s a thing—shortly after sunrise or just before sunset, when lighting is warm, soft, and yes, golden.

bartender headshot

Spend the money (if you can). But what does it cost? small survey of local photographers revealed a remarkable range for headshots, from $150 to $450(This typically includes one final shot, retouched, in lo- and high-resolution versions, but check the fine print.) While you may be tempted to err on the lower end, headshot is an investmentand its impact on your career may pay dividends for years to come. Factor that in when crunching numbers.

man and dog

Trust the process (and your photographer). “When people are feeling tense, I can see it in the eyes,” says Hoyt. While no one is 100% relaxed during a photo shoot, trusting your photographer sure helps. So, find one you have a good gut feeling aboutand try to have a little fun.