by Andi Whiskey September 10, 2023 6 min read

Let's start with defining what a modeling headshot is.

What is a Modeling Headshot? 

By definition, it's a photo of you, your face, from the shoulders up, with your face as the main focus. A good headshot should showcase you, your unique features, and show off what makes you different.

Why Do You Need a Modeling Headshot?

For professional models, your headshot is your business card, your calling card, your ticket in to your modeling gigs. It's what you send to creative directors and talent managers to get considered for paid modeling jobs.

This is your first and potentially only chance to make an impression with the scouts who are looking for talent for photography gigs. 

So make it count!

Here are 8 tips to prepare for your first modeling headshots.

Skincare modeling photo shoot

1. Start With a Modeling Goal 

Something we ask our models before we start with their headshots is if they have specific types gigs they're going after for their career. Your goals should realistically be based on your strengths. If you have gorgeous freckles or unique hair, maybe hair care or skincare modeling gigs might be a goal. If you're fit, then fitness photo gigs could be a goal. 

Knowing these goals is important so that the photographer can make sure these characteristics are accentuated in your photos. 

Knowing these goals is also important so you can dress and do your hair/makeup accordingly. If your plan is to go after skincare or, let's say, healthy lifestyle modeling gigs, you won't want to have heavy makeup for the shots.

And it's okay if you don't completely have this all figured out. If you don't, then your goal might be: "cast a wide net and figure out what works for me by trial and error". If a model tells me that, I know exactly what we'll be doing for the shoot to get some general and versatile shots.

But in that case, do make sure you keep your makeup and hair natural, and your attire fairly neutral.

2. Find an Experienced Photographer Who Works With Models

This is pretty important. You want to find an experienced photographer who has worked with experienced and inexperienced models, alike. This is important because since you're new to being on that side of the camera, you want an expert photographer who can help guide you through the process. 

Modeling is largely a relationship and a dance between the model and photographer in every shoot. You need to be able to work together. For you first modeling headshots, finding a photographer that is willing to help coach you through what a healthy model-photographer relationship looks like is highly valuable.

So how do you find them? Start with sites like Thumbtack or just googling model portrait photographers near you. 

Make sure that you go through their portfolios. Really look at all of their photos, and make sure they're showcasing consistent quality. It's easy to see one photo in their portfolio that you really like, and ignore the potential fact that the majority of their portfolio is not to your liking. 

Make sure their style matches the vibe that you're going for. And also check to see if they have experience shooting model headshots. That's important! There are lots of types of photography out there, and a wedding or food photographer may not be able to take headshots as well as a dedicated headshot photographer.

Skincare model smiling

3. Practice Poses and Facial Expressions For Your Shoot

I'm going to admit... Pinterest can be your best friend. I call it my "pose rolodex" for when I need to give my brain a little help and find some posing inspiration for shoots. Don't be afraid to dig around Pinterest and google for some pose and facial expression ideas for your shoot.

We also have another article on some photography poses for your modeling portraits. I highly recommend finding a full-length mirror and practicing some poses in the mirror. Maybe even set your phone up and record yourself hitting some poses. It'll help you notice some of the nuances of how to hold your body in poses.

Some quick tips:
Notice if your eyes get wide when you smile for the camera or not. Some people's eyes do look a little wide and crazy when they fake a smile. If so, don't be afraid to give your eyes a slight squint when you pose for the camera.

Notice if you have a naturally defined jaw line or if you need some natural help defining it. If you feel like it could be more defined, then practice having a nice tall forehead and sticking your chin out and down slightly when posing. This will help define your jawline more.

4. Prepare For Your Shoot in Advance

There are a handful of things you can do to prepare for your shoot. Make sure you have your hair and makeup figured out well in advance of your shoot. 

If your hair looks better a few days after a fresh cut, then plan accordingly and schedule a hair cut with a trusted hair stylist a few days before your shoot. And spend some time picking out a good 

Have everything in place weeks in advance of your shoot so that you can be relaxed and ready when the shoot comes around. The idea of being on that side of the camera can already get nerves going, so you want to make sure you have everything else already in place so you don't have to worry about it.

5. Cross Your T's and Dot Your I's

Make sure you have found a photographer that uses good, standard photography contracts and that your contract is signed in time for the shoot. This is a tip that I think most other photographers forget to share. It's so important to make sure that all the paperwork is in place, though, so that you have the license to use the photos in your portfolio. 

Important: Even if you found a photographer to do the shoot for free, make sure there is a contract in place that says they will deliver photos to you and that has a clause in it that allows you license to use the photos in your modeling portfolio. This protects you from a lot of headache in the future. Contracts are there to protect all involved.

Also make sure that you have put the photo shoot into your calendar! Everyone hates a no-show. 

6. Prepare Your Wardrobe

Our Long Beach studio always does a wardrobe consult on the day of the shoot, if not before. You'll want to have some different options that you bring to the shoot in case some of them don't work for the photographer's lighting setup, or in case they have some expert tips for you for outfits that will photograph well for you. 

Some things we look for in our Wardrobe Consult for Model Portraits and Headshots:

  1. Have a "neutral" outfit choice. That essentially is just a black t-shirt and jeans. Some modeling agencies require that your initial headshots be this outfit. 
  2. Avoid anything with logos or patterns. These will distract from your face and your features. A lot of guys love their plaid buttons ups, but unless the colors are fairly muted, this is still a no-go for headshots.
  3. Avoid faded clothes or clothes with a lot of fabric pilling. 
  4. Pick out outfits that you feel great and confident in. 
  5. Have a few different outfits to choose from, so the photographer can help you with your selection.

7. Rest and Hydrate

It sounds silly or simple, but seriously. Drink your water. 

We want to see your skin glow, and your smile (or stoic look) shine in these shots, so do that self care and bring your best face for the shoot.

8. Bring That Confidence, Yo

Lifestyle photography

If you take all these tips for your first shoot seriously, you should be able to walk confidently into that shoot and knock it out.

You have something to show off, so let's make it happen. Confidence is key in modeling. Believe in yourself and your abilities.

Stay positive and open to direction from the photographer. And keep that energy up. Don't forget, modeling is hard work. So bring your game face and get it done. 

Los Angeles Area, Schedule With Our Long Beach Studio

If you're ready to knock out your first modeling portraits, we can help! Book a consultation with us to see what shoot works best for your goals, and then we'll get it scheduled!

Andi Whiskey
Andi Whiskey

Serial entrepreneur and photographer. Stand up comedian after hours.