My first professional photoshoot experience was over ten years ago, when I was a young, naive, completely sheltered theatre major who knew nothing about myself and even less about fashion, image, or the industry. I needed a headshot to satisfy a class requirement and audition for parts that semester at school, but other than that I really had no idea what that entailed. Did that mean I had to smile or be serious? What clothes did I need to wear? All I had was plain black and gray tops at the time- I had heard wearing black was against the rules, so what did that leave me with? What were “They” looking for? I had no clue.
I remember showing up at my photographer friend’s house one cold, hazy morning to have some photos taken, with my crumpled clothes, my clueless makeup and my God-only-knows hair. I hadn’t prepped anything; I didn’t know I needed to. I hadn’t thought anything through; I didn’t know there was anything to think about. I only knew I needed to have a headshot for school.
If I had a time machine, I would go back post-haste and give myself this advice:
1. Understand Thy Homework – If something seems too simple or too overwhelming to understand, ask somebody. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it never hurts to double check yourself before your wreck yourself. If I had, I would have learned to steam my clothes at some point, have a proper hair and makeup artist, and do some reading about what a good headshot needs to do. I would have done this before the shoot.
2. Who Are You?- This is your chance to take charge of building your image. What’s the purpose of this photo shoot; what’s your goal? Just like every essay has a thesis in the intro paragraph, a photo shoot can and should have a main idea that you will be communicating to your audience. Who is your audience? How do you want them to feel when they see your photo? Use that intention to guide your decisions about (hair/makeup/wardrobe) styling and general vibe.
3. Be Predictable- Now is not the time to switch up your diet or beauty routine. Stick to the tried and true, no matter how boring you might think it is. If you’re going to be adventurous (getting a facial or new haircut, going rock climbing, switching up your shampoo), do it well before your shoot date so that you have plenty of time to not only welcome that serendipitous break out, face scratch or sunburn, but sort it out, too.
4. Essential Toolbag- Every lady should have a nude strapless bra and a t-shirt bra, and appropriate undies to wear underneath all wardrobe. Unless it’s part of a funky look that you specifically want, let your undergarments stay under your garments. And never be upstaged by VPL (visible panty line). Do what you must.
Other suggestions: deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste or mints, a razor and shaving cream, beauty tools and products for touchups (you never know), nail polish remover.
5. TLC- In the days and nights before your shoot, you must take care of yourself because nerves, fatigue, and sub-par nutrition really do affect the end result. Ideally self-care is part of your normal routine, but make an extra effort to get some quality sleep, stay hydrated and eat right. Moisturize your skin. Wear sunscreen. Get a massage, take a bath, a mani/pedi – whatever it takes to let go of some stress.
Every photo shoot will be different- maybe you work with another photo team, or you’re in a transitional time in your life, or you have a specific goal you need to accomplish this time around. The general process is the same for each one, and as any seasoned actor or public figure can attest, it does get easier and more familiar each time around.