Key tips from a professional photographer that will help you obtain relaxed & composed portraits every time
I’ve been shooting professional commercial portraits for over 20 years now, and I’ve picked up a few tips along the way that can really help out when having your photo taken. Let's face it, no one gives you any advice beforehand, so I thought I’d try to help you get the most out of having your portrait photo taken. So, here you are!
How to Look Good in Professional Portraits Every Time
1. Think about what you're going to wear
Don’t wear any t-shirts with logos, or band names or funny slogans on your top. The chances are that they may be cut off in the shot and look silly. You’d be surprised how many people have writing on their tops, and it just looks bad. After all, this professional portrait is probably going to last a couple of years on your company's website, so wear something timeless, not something that will look naff in two years time.
Also, patterns and thin stripes don’t work well on camera or computer screens. There is a thing called the moiré effect, this is when thin stripes close together create a secondary rippling pattern. This is especially evident when an image is small on a screen. In general, patterns that you think look cool on your clothes, may end up being a busy visual noise on camera. So think about wearing something plain that will look good no matter what size the image is.
A lot of professional portraits get converted into black and white, and this is something else to consider in the tones you choose to wear. That pink tie with that light blue shirt may look great in real life, but by the time the image has been converted into black and white, they may end up being the same tone and just blend into one another. For this reason, it's important to think about contrast and tones, and if in doubt take a couple of shots of yourself in the mirror on your phone and convert them into black and white to see what works best.
2. Shiny skin
Most of the time, when a photographer comes into your workplace and sets up a studio, they will be using artificial lights. This is to ensure that they get consistent results in the professional portraits. This is great as they will usually set up the lighting to get the most flattering image of you. However, one of the disadvantages of studio lighting is that it can often make your skin look shiny / glossy / sweaty / greasy... This is especially true in the summer when it’s an already hot day. So, ladies, I’d recommend having a bit of concealer / foundation handy. And gentlemen, take a trip to the toilet to wash your face just before you have your photo taken, or have a quick wash with a baby wipe if you can't make it to the toilet.
3. Your hair
I have to admit this is more of an issue for women than for men, as guys tend to have shorter hair, and it doesn’t get messed up that much. But for ladies with long hair, I’d always recommend bringing a brush with you to your professional portrait shoot. You want your hair to be like a shampoo advert. Looking all smooth flowing, full-bodied and neat. Don’t have loads of straggly strands of messy hair. Make sure that it’s all brushed and neat around the edges. If you have a fringe and want that looking good, try not to have any big gaps in there, unless that’s what you like. Photoshopping hair is so difficult as there are so many lines in so many directions that it really is a specialist job, and usually over and above what is included in the original pricing/time. It’s so much easier to get it right before the photo is taken than afterwards.
4. Make up
This is a professional shot of you at work. So think about that when you’re applying your makeup. A natural look always works best. Don’t go overboard. A big night out look probably won’t work for a corporate headshot. Keep it simple and make sure it feels good for you. If you normally wear a strong lipstick, then that's fine, but don’t go for a bold look if you don’t normally look like that. After all you want the image to be a good professional representation of yourself.
This isn’t a big one, but it’s probably worth mentioning. If you normally wear glasses and people are used to seeing you in them. Wear them. If you only wear them for computer work and don’t often wear them when meeting people, make the decision beforehand whether to wear them in the photo. If you aren’t going to wear them, make sure you take your glasses off way before you come to have your photo taken, so you don’t have two red marks either side of your nose. It takes a while for them to go down, so leave plenty of time.
If you are going to wear your glasses, there are a couple of things that are really worth doing. Firstly, give them a good clean. It’s surprising how much dust / fingerprints / eyelash hair etc can show up in a final image, so make sure the lenses are spotless and if your frames pick up fingerprints or grease marks, give them a clean as well.
Lastly, when you’re having your photo taken, make sure you push your glasses back as far as they will go. Often glasses just slip slightly down the nose and tend to cover your eyes ever so slightly. In professional portraits and headshots, we must see your eyes, so when the glasses are pushed back that shows them off to their best.
5. Your best side
Many people know how they look on camera and what side of their face they prefer. I, personally, don’t, so it always surprises me when people say this is my best side. But it really helps me and makes my life easier if you know, as I’ll focus on that side and work with it.
Likewise, if there is a feature of your face that you don’t like or something that you are self-conscious of, let the portrait photographer know. People often let me know that they don’t like the fact that one of their eyes is bigger than the other. If this is the case, I’ll make sure to shoot with that eye closest to the camera, thus making it look slightly bigger. I’ve also had lots of people tell me they that don’t like their teeth, so we’ll get them to smile with their mouth closed. It’s much easier to tell your photographer these things beforehand, rather than simply put up with a professional portrait that you don’t like forever. Think of us photographers like doctors, you can tell us anything without being embarrassed. Chances are we’ve heard it all before anyway.
6. Shut up (in the nicest possible way!)
I can guarantee that one of the first things that people say to me when they come in to have their photo taken is ‘I hate having my photo taken, I’ve never had a picture that I’m happy with.’ They then proceed to nervously chat away in front of the camera, and all I’m capturing is them talking and pulling faces. So if that's the kind of thing that you’ll do to calm yourself, don’t.
Stop talking for a few minutes. Take a deep breath and relax. You’re in safe hands. The photographer wants to take the best picture that they can of you, and make you happy. Just put your faith in them. Saying that, I often talk to my clients to relax them a bit and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera, but just be aware of how much you’re talking and if you’re talking too much.
Easier than you may think. How do you like yourself when you’re smiling in a photo? Lips shut or lips open? If you’re not confident, ask your photographer what looks best. They can take a few test shots and work with you to find out what suits you best. Or simply take a few photos of yourself and ask friends and family.
I’ve always found that when you ask someone to smile for the camera, it tends to look a little fake. It’s not a proper smile, and you never see it in the eyes. Normally, I never ask people to smile. I either try to make them laugh, or I ask them to think about someone or something that makes them smile. That way I get a genuine reaction and a real smile.
8. Visit the mirror just before you have your photo taken
Lastly, I’d always advise a quick stop off to check yourself in the mirror before you go to have your professional headshot done. Give yourself the once over to make sure that you’re happy with the way you look. That your hair looks good. Your necklace hasn’t slipped round the back. Your tie is straight, and the top button isn’t showing. Is there any food in your teeth?!
So that's about it for now. I may do a follow-up post at some point in the future, as this isn’t a definitive list by any means, just some easy tips that I’ve picked up over the years.