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What’s involved in a professional headshot?

You need a new headshot and you’re thinking of investing in a professional photography session. If you want to know more, this blog is for you.

Headshot of lady
Classic headshot for a psychoanalyst taken studio lighting and a beauty dish, using background studio paper.

Location settings for your headshot

What sort of location reflects you and your brand? Are you happier outside, in a building or with a studio setup? Below, I will describe how the different setups play out and show you how they look.

The studio setting

In a studio setting, the photographer has full control of the light. This gives consistency and is great for a business that has a number of people needing headshots, because they will all have the same look and feel. Even if you are a single person, having a studio headshot creates a clean fresh look that portrays a professional ‘can do’ image.

Studio lights are very harsh and need to be softened. This is done by using a light shaper which well, shapes the light. Your photographer may use what’s called a ‘beauty dish’ which creates an extremely flattering light and is pointed directly at the sitter. Alternatively, the photographer may use two lights one on each side of you; a main light and a filler light and use soft boxes as light shapers. 

For a shoot with a full portable studio you will need about 10.5 feet square. You need this space so that you can be ‘separated’ from the background.  However, there are options and as a photographer, I like to see the location beforehand. This way, I can discuss alternatives with the client to bring the best solution.

The photographer may ask you, or their assistant, to hold a white piece of card under your chin. It lightens up your chin giving more definition.  Nice. 

Headshot of businessman
Classic headshot for a business person taken with one studio light and a reflector, using background studio paper.

The outside location setting

Bright sunlight is only good when you want to get a tan. It is harsh light and is unflattering and it makes shadows on the face which emphasises large noses, lines and basically anything you don’t want. On the other hand, soft lighting is calming and forgiving.  Clouds make great soft lighting. They are like a big soft box in the sky and are a joy for a photographer. If the shoot is outside and the sun is high, the photographer may use a reflector to ‘fill in’ the shadows on your face, or a fine mesh to diffuse the light.

Headshot of author
Headshot of an author taken outside with a reflector, with a hedge behind.
Headshot of businesswoman
Classic headshot for a business person using natural light and a reflector with a hedge behind.

inside location setting

If you chose to have a shoot inside without extra lighting, you are going to have to rely on the windows letting in enough light. All the same principles apply, clean background, no distractions. Inside photography using natural light gives a relaxed approachable look.

Headshot of fitness teacher
Classic headshot, taken inside using natural light only and using a white wall.

a word on backgrounds

To create a clean headshot you will need a neutral background. However much you like the painting on the wall in your sitting room, it will distract for the main event, which is you. The less distractions, the better the image.  This photograph is about you, not about your home interiors, or the office filing cabinets.  If your walls in the office or the home are filled with pictures, the photographer can bring background paper.

If you want a relaxed look and decide to have your headshot taken outside, again think about the background.  A pole sticking out of the top of your head won’t look good. Neither will a crazy wall or a children’s playground. A solid hedge works well because the leaves enable a seamless consistency, which makes for a ‘clean’ background. 

What should I wear?

This is probably the most asked question I have.  Think clean. I don’t mean, in case you are run-over clean, I mean less busyness in your clothes, clean. Headshots are used mainly for LinkedIn, other social media or as a way to put a name to a face on a website.  They identify you.  You don’t want anything that will distract the viewer from your face so it’s avoid busy patterns or stripes because they draw the eye away from the face. 

Think about your colour tone.  Which colours flatter you?  Of course you don’t want your clothes to be the same colour as your background because there is a tendency to disappear. (Note though, an experienced photographer can put people in coloured clothes against a background of the same colour and it can look great.  But that’s more portraiture.  Here we are talking clean, no nonsense headshots.  There’s a difference.)

Here’s a tip: don’t wear anything new. It’s important that you feel comfortable and clothes that have had a few washes feel better, more lived in.  They should reflect who you are. That said, make sure the clothes are clean and well ironed!

Keep makeup simple.  That is, unless you are someone like Grayson Perry and wear a lot of makeup, in which case go for it!   Remember you are reflecting your brand and you want to look like you, not someone else. Don’t worry if you have a blemish. These can easily be removed in post production by the photographer. However, the more you try to hide them, the harder it is for the photographer to remove them. A warning though; BEWARE OF SHINE.  Shine is a photographer’s nightmare.  If you a prone to glow, carry powder in your bag.  Men too! 

Breaking the rules. An artist poses in front of one of her pieces. Her clothes are in a similar hue to the artwork. Rules can be broken, but you have to know what you are doing.

how should I pose for my headshot?

Your eyes are the windows to your soul. Make them work for you.  Keep them awake, alive, engaged. Use drops if you wish. Think happy, kind and successful. Get yourself into the mood for the shoot. You don’t need to be too hyped but a bit of your favourite music can help.  Feel light. Don’t take it too seriously.  It’s an uplifting event. Keep the mood fresh. 

Make sure your surroundings are comfortable, not too cold or too hot.  If the photographer is coming to you, make the temperature of the room how you like it, so you can be at your best.

*sneaky insider tip* The photographer won’t know if you’ve spent a bit of time practicing in front of the mirror.  Do it. You want to look as good as you can. When you are having the photograph taken, keep your chin level with the floor, not too high which exposes your throat and not too low, which can give you a double chin.  If you push your chin forward it looks good because emphasises your collar bones and defines your chin. 

what next? how do i book a headshot?

Ready to get your headshot done? Get in touch with me here . Want more info? Press here to find out how I work.


  1. Marie

    Hi I have had two professional head shots done over the last few years and they were not me!! 😀
    So I use unprofessional ones.
    How much do you charge please?
    So you on gossip girls

    • Nicola Kay

      Hi Marie – Great to hear from you. I will get in touch with you for a free no obligation chat and we can talk about what you need.

      Speak soon.

      Warm wishes



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