Operation Headshot: 10 Tips to Make Your Shoot Rock (Part 1)

In the age of selfies, no one is shy about smiling for the camera. We point our phones at ourselves at close range and never think twice. If we don’t like it… delete. Simple. But ironically, when most of today’s talent gear up for a professional headshot shoot, suddenly the nerves take over. You know what I’m talking about. Preparation panic. The questions we ask ourselves start rolling in. “Which photographer should I choose?” “What should I wear?” “What if my hair doesn’t cooperate?” “What if it rains?” “What should I do the night before to prepare?” We can drive ourselves crazy with a game of 20 questions (or more).

If that sounds familiar, you’re in luck! In this two-part series, you’ll get the scoop behind your shoot and be more than ready for your close-up! From photographer Emily Lambert and makeup artist Kelli J. Bartlett, you’ll get the tips of the trade from two gals I call the Fiery Red Headed Duo. This week, Emily shares her view from behind the lens.

1. What is your best piece of advice for an actor/talent for their shoot?
Relax, and trust your photographer. Actors often approach the camera with the idea that their face should look a certain way- what happens then is they contort their face to fit their ideas, in turn making every picture looked posed. They forget that when they enter a room, everyone in that space is seeing you move, and speak. We are not always placing our face in the same shapes that we see in the mirror. It’s more than ok to embrace the face that you have outside of ‘mirror face’ as that is what other people see the most anyway. Your photographer should be your mirror, trust them. They do this for a living- if they place you in front a certain background, there is most likely a tremendous amount of thought that went into it. If they light you a certain way, it’s most likely that your heart shaped face looks best with that light. Be open to all their suggestions. Remember, they see hundreds of faces a year!

2. Are there tips for the night before? The week before?
Drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest. Hydrating can reduce under eye circles and soften the skin and cracked lips. Resting helps the under eye bags as well and will make you calmer and more alert on the day.

3. You both tend to reach out to your clients before the shoot. Can you explain what it is you discuss? Wardrobe, color, locations? Share.
I always send my clients an email confirming their shoot a few days (at least) before their session. The email includes a few tidbits about what to wear, suggestions to bring, where to meet, payment and cancellation information, and basically, anything they might need to know to help relax before their session with me.

4. A lot of people stress about the shoot. Fear the photos won’t be good. The weather will be bad. The Makeup isn’t right, etc. Do you offer any advice to break that barrier?
It goes back to what I mentioned before, relax! The weather is very much out of your control, so don’t stress about it! If things don’t work out to shoot outside, be honest with your photographer that you’d rather reschedule than move to a studio or shoot in poor conditions. If the weather is ‘iffy’ I will typically touch base with my clients the day before and ask them to make the call. If they choose to go through with their session and it rains on us- then we either find a covered area, or reschedule and go grab a drink instead. Makeup and hair obviously affects a photo tremendously, however, don’t forget that it’s really about what is happening behind the eyes. Again, be honest and open with your hair and makeup team. They won’t get offended if you tell them you aren’t sure about something they’ve done- they just want to make sure you are happy! Don’t hold back if you think your hair is too wavy, or you have too much eyeliner on, have them change it! They, or your photographer might be able to tell you if something the artist has done is worth keeping- in which case, listen to their advice. But remember, you are paying, most likely, a pretty penny to have these look like you, and your photographer and artists don’t know you as well as you know you- so be honest with them if you don’t feel you look like you!

"It’s less about looking natural...and more about looking polished, clean, and camera ready." -Emily

“It’s less about looking natural…and more about looking polished, clean, and camera ready.” -Emily


5. How do you think your dynamic working together makes you different? What do you offer that others may not? What makes you unique?
I am very hands on when it comes to how MUAs and Hairstylists style my clients. I also get to know my MUAs and hairstylists and their particular style and what they can, and cannot achieve, making it easier for me to recommend the right MUA and Hairstylist for each client.

6. When it comes to changing looks both location and even physical/wardrobe/ hair/makeup, are there suggestions you give when you know a client wants to change it up a bit?
Work in terms of type and be creative. Express yourself in each look, and let your wardrobe help make that subconscious connection of character to anyone viewing your photos. We’ve moved past the time that once required you to dress ‘professionally’. If your photographer allots you three outfit changes in your session, why on earth choose three v-neck t-shirts in three different colors? Make each outfit completely different and catered towards your types. If you could play the punk guy who drives a motorcycle, and the Swiss banker, and the dashing, hardworking country boy, then wear a dark leather jacket and a ripped up shirt, a pressed and polished suit, and a plaid work shirt, unbuttoned, over a fitted tee.

Know your brand! For my shoot with Emily, I had some ideas of what I wanted and talked to her beforehand. I knew I wanted a mix of looks of both lifestyle and a commercial to use for my various fields of work (from hosting to commercial) as well as for my marketing (website, postcards, neweletters, etc) and headshots. Consider what you're trying to achieve with your shots and talk to your photographer.

Know your brand! For my shoot with Emily, I had some ideas of what I wanted and talked to her beforehand. I knew I wanted a mix of looks of both lifestyle and a commercial to use for my various fields of work (from hosting to commercial) as well as for my marketing (website, postcards, neweletters, etc) and headshots. Consider what you’re trying to achieve with your shots and talk to your photographer.

7. What do you look for when you shoot a subject? You whittle down the best of the best pics. How do you decide to help your client?
After a client leaves me I go through their images and delete any unusable images, then I send you the remaining photos. I have an easy to use web based proofing gallery that allows you to go though your images, rate your favorites using one to five stars, and comment on your favorites. You can also share your proofing gallery with anyone else you would like to have view your images and they can rate their favorites, comment on them, and provide you with feedback. But be careful not to choose three or more images that all look the same! You would be doing a disservice to your career.

8. When it comes to retouching? What’s your best advice? Is it necessary?
Retouching is absolutely necessary! Never skip this step! If your photographer doesn’t offer retouching directly, then bring your images to a someone who can retouch them. But never, ever, use un-retouched images. This not only will make you look unprofessional in front of industry, but it also makes your photographers work look unprofessional and you’ll most likely be told by industry that you need new headshots. When in reality, you don’t, you just need them retouched!

9. Do you find that more men are using MUA and hairstylists on set now? If so why? Isn’t it about being more natural? How do you help maintain that natural look?
Makeup for men is included in my headshot sessions, and applied before shooting. It’s less about looking natural, as, of course, your going to have natural makeup applied, and more about looking polished, clean, and camera ready. Good makeup and hair aids in this, and can drastically reduce your wait time on retouched image returns. When makeup is applied, it’s usually done so to decrease skin discoloration, redness, and acne.

10. What’s the biggest mistake actors and talent make or you have seen? Things to avoid.
The biggest mistake actors make is trying to be someone they’re not. Embrace who you are, what you look like, and what you can play! Trust yourself. Leave the duck lips at home. Headshots aren’t the same as a selfie. Beyond that, I cannot stress enough how important it is to trust your photographer. You’ve seen their work, it’s what their portfolio looks like that has made you choose to work with them. They’ve put a lot of thought into what body position they are placing you in, or what light they have placed you in, or what background. It’s their job to do that work, so why try to do it for them? It’s more stress than you need! You’re paying them to make those decisions for you, and clearly, the particular way that they work has produced the images that have triggered you to work with them. All you need to do is relax, breath, blink, and think like your character. If they’re a good photographer, they will do the rest for you!

Photographer Emily Lambert, Creative Design & Photography

Photographer Emily Lambert, Creative Design & Photography

Emily Lambert has worked as a headshot photographer in New York City for 5 years, shooting in England for one year before moving to NYC. She began her career as an actor and makeup artist. Her clients have appeared in many Broadway, Off-Broadway and Regional shows, TV shows such as The Leftovers, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, 30 Rock, and such films as Inside Llewyn Davis, Men in Black III, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2, and many more. Her work has been seen on “The Today Show”, and in magazines. Check out her blog to read more great advice on how to take the best headshots possible! www.getcalledin.tumblr.com and visit her web creativedesignandphotography.com

Next week, Makeup Artist Kelli J. Bartlett will add the finishing touches to the story.

About Hilary Russo

Host, Journalist, Spokesperson, Lifestyle & Design Expert: QVC Home/Garden Guest Host, Professor, Adventure Seeker & of course... Renaissance Woman - I'm a city girl with my pedal on the metal.
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