Making Sure Your Headshots Tell a Story
Updated: Feb 6
When preparing for a headshot session, it's easy to get caught up in looks. What are we going to wear, how should I get my make-up done, should I have any with my hair up? All sensible questions–this is a photoshoot, afterall. You want to look your best.
However, when taking these questions into account, you absolutely most consider story and character. What does this shirt say? Do I want to wear an edgier style of make-up? If I put my hair up, does it make me look sporty or conservative? Everything in the image to add up to one story.
If you're wondering what I mean by story, an analogous word might be 'type'. Let me tell you why I prefer 'story'.
Everyone involved in putting on a production, whether they be actors, director's, DP's, costume designers or sound engineers, are always working in service of the story. That includes casting directors. When someone looks at your headshot, you want them to see how you fit into that story. It's not enough to look good. That's not the point. They want to know: does this look like the character? Can I picture this person in this role? Like a breakdown, you want your headshot to communicate efficiently, you want it to tell a story.
So, how do you make sure you're doing that?
1. Sort your wardrobe
When looking at the clothes you own, sort them out into different stories. What are the stories you easily fit into, what are the ones you want to tell? Sort your outfits accordingly so that you are clear on what you want to do with each look. Note: you do not need to go out and get new clothes. Work with what you have. Also, keep it simple. Clothing is just an element of the story–it's like an illustration at the top of a chapter, but it's not the whole book. You are a real person just wearing some clothes, not a person in a costume.
2. Consider changing up your hair for different shots
The way you wear your hair can make an enormous difference in how you look, and what vibe you put out. Don't be afraid to try something a little different for a few shots! If it fits with the type of role you are channeling, there's no reason not to give it go. You might be surprised by the results.
The same goes for make-up. If you want to change up the look, discuss it with your make-up artist so that they can plan and coordinate with the photographer accordingly.
3. Come up with a few circumstances to throw in during your session
Any good photographer will work with you on creating authentic, spontaneous moments, but why not come prepared with a few circumstances you can fall back on during the session? If you see yourself fitting into the teen-drama genre, try finding a circumstance in that world that resonates with you, and use it during the session. To go even further, find a single line of text you might use if you were speaking to someone in the world, trying to convince them of something, or make them understand. You can use that text, even if it's just in your head.
There are a number of ways you can create a story with each look and different things work for different people. I hope that some of these work for you, and that these tips help you focus in on the stories you want to tell.
Michelle Chin is a headshot photographer, located in NYC, who has worked with actors, musicians, comedians, directors and artist from the New York City area, Boston and LA. Her headshots are born from a deep respect for acting, as well as a passion for visual storytelling, and photography.
Her approach to headshots is best described by this phrase: "Less glam. More Human (unless you're a glamorous human)."
View her work here.