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Headshot How-To

In the era of Facebook, never underestimate the power of a really fabulous headshot and the comments and likes that ensue after posting.

Before you groan and tell me you hate to be photographed, wait just one second.  Speaking as an American woman, there is something we’re all taught at a very early age – to hate photos of ourselves. I am not sure when we learn this, but it comes through loud and clear and I encounter folks suffering from this issue almost daily.

But there is something SO empowering about having a set of (professional) photos of yourself that you feel really good about.  I had never gotten headshots taken (unless you count my senior portraits which were taken in the Winston Churchill High School cafeteria in the Spring of 2001 at the height of my oversized sweater and very long hair phase), but the Chef’s Table publisher needed one for the book jacket.  Once I learned this, this is how the internal dialogue went:

I will fast for the next 100 days and shed 100 pounds.  Or maybe I should eat some pudding? Who will take the photo?  Maybe I can use Instagram. Should I get my hair done in a beehive up-do?  Clearly I will wear false eyelashes.

Then I took a deep breath and sent an email to my friend Tosha F.  What ensued about a week later was the most productive 30 minute photo session and a set of images that I feel so good about.  I decided to put this post together to sing Tosha’s praises, and to tell you how you too can get great headshots taken.  I speak from the perspective of the photographer and the photographed.  So meta, I know.

Above All Else
Adults look best when photographed from above.  If I have ever photographed you, you may remember that I asked you sit in a chair or even on the floor, or I stood on a chair to get the most flattering angle. In the image I ended up using from the set Tosha created, the ones I like best were taken from above.  This angle elongates the neck and emphasizes the eyes.

Make-Up Not War
If you are getting professional photos taken you and you usually wear makeup, you should get your makeup done by a professional.  I worked with a makeup artist at Blue Mercury in DuPont Circle.  I made an appointment in advance and scheduled an hour for the makeup to be applied. The store’s policy is that folks who get their makeup done need to buy three products (which I did and am loving), but you can also get your makeup done without any obligation to buy cosmetics at most department stores. For a subsequent need for professional makeup, I worked with my elementary school friend Avanti W. (of Beauty Buff Blog).  More on my fun morning of makeup and chatting with Avanti in another post…

Related: tell the makeup artist you’re getting your makeup done for a photo session.  The camera washes the color out of one’s face, so makeup for a photo shoot should be a bit heavier than what you’d wear on a regular basis. If your photographer plans to use artificial light (if photos are being taken in a studio), you’ll want to make sure the makeup is even more significant since the flash has a tendency to wash people out as well.

One other makeup suggestion: people look shiny in photos even if it is not the middle of Summer (which, by the way, it was during my photo session).  So, I brought a small compact of pressed powder, which I reapplied once or twice while we were taking pictures to keep the shine down. This made Tosha’s editing job easier since she wasn’t spending time Photoshopping out my shiny forehead, and kept me feeling stunning (which shows through in the images too).

Not Black is the New Black
People always ask me what to wear when getting headshots taken.  My answer could not be cheesier or truer: wear something you feel GREAT in.  I chose to wear my standard – a belted dress – because I feel really good in that silhouette.  I decided on something that had sleeves since I am sometimes self-conscious of my upper arms.  And lastly, I chose a polka dot pattern since I think that fits with my image and personal brand.  My only specific advice as to what to AVOID is a solid black or very dark turtleneck.  This will make you look like a floating head, which is not a good look for anyone.

Consider bringing someone with you to stand behind the camera to make you laugh.  This is a skill that my mom perfected when I was getting photos taken with my big sisters – and we have some wonderful results!  Tosha is a friend and I knew she’d make me laugh with all of her creative posing ideas and great energy, so I didn’t follow this piece of advice for myself… but it is a suggestion I make to most folks who grace my lens.  This is especially important for portrait sessions featuring tiny people or animals if parents will also be in the photos.

Location, Location, Location
Trust your photographer to pick a location.  I almost always do portrait sessions in the blocks surrounding my apartment because I know where the light is best, where there won’t be people wandering around, and where I can get just the right amount of trees or exposed brick wall in the background.  Tosha suggested a block on N Street just South of DuPont Circle and it worked VERY well.

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
My photo session with Tosha lasted literally 30 minutes, and she must have taken over 200 photos.  I have 12 favorites and have used 4 or 5 for different purposes since I got ‘em.  Remember this during your photo session – it just takes ONE great photo (but a good photographer will get many more).  Play along with our ideas for poses and trust the process… if you are comfortable you’ll photograph better.  (I have recently photographed two folks who had some camera related jitters, which we took care of with a glass of wine!  A strategy that should not be overlooked…)

Not only did I submit one for the Chef’s Table inside flap, but it just so happened that I needed a new headshot at work for a blog we’re launching and my new Tosha Francis origional came in very handy.  I have also plastered the images all over the Internet (including the new “About” page on the NEW W and CP)as my new Twitter icon and Facebook profile picture (and let’s be real, I also updated Google + and Instagram, too).

If you’re interested in a headshot by the fabulous Tosha, visit her website to learn more about her stunning work.

  • jodibart

    I love the photos that came our of your session with Tosha!

  • Pam Rutter

    This is a great post! I love the way you’ve actually are teaching to everyone in front of and behind the camera. And I love the new website! Fun Fun Fun background image…although I thought your kitchen-aid mixer might also make the background. :)

  • ET

    Nice. Great advice

  • Tosha Francis

    Awwww this is very helpful advice Emily. You were SUCH a breeze to work and play with! I love ya to pieces!

  • Reem

    This is an awesome post…VERY timely for me. Yay for the Tosha and Emily collaborative :)