A great headshot of a woman shoot looks fresh and natural. It has a confident vibe to it, and it doesn't come across as being overly fussy.
I think overly made-up headshots with elaborate hair send a negative message to casting people, and that message is, "I'm high maintenance." No one wants to work with anyone who is high maintenance.
Remember, directors want to say, "Jump in the pond," and they want the actor to say, "The deep end or the swampy muddy end?" Your headshot has to get that, "I am ready for whatever" attitude across.
So, below are a bunch of ideas regarding how to get a great women's headshots.
A key to good make-up in a woman's headshot situation is to use as little as possible to make you look as natural as possible. Too much make-up in a headshot looks won't help you get cast. This isn't glamour shots; this is a headshot.
If you're good at your own make-up there really isn't any reason to hire an outside make-up artist. Between you, me and Photoshop we can can get a beautiful, natural look for you. However, if you want a make-up person to come in I can recommend several who know how to do looks for headshots.
Your general day make-up, if it isn't a lot, is usually perfect for an acting headshot. If you're a classical singer or performing opera roles, you would probably wear more, going for a dressed up evening look rather than a business casual look.
I generally try to avoid hard lines in headshots because it can make a face look tight and pinched, so that means unlined lips, softer eyebrows, mascara rather than liquid liner, a reasonable amount of blush.
There is a trend these days towards heavily manicured eyebrows, noticible contouring, shimmer everywhere, lots of blush. Honestly, this isn't what you generally see on the desk of casting directors and agents. If you love make-up and love having people comment on your make-up, dial it back a lot for a headshot session.
If you're unsure about make-up we can certainly discuss it before we ever get close to shooting. In general, what you do during the day is fine for a headshot. That and a little bit of... Photoshop.
There are so many possibilities for hair in a woman's headshot! Hair can set the mood, it can give an indication of personality and temperament. Hair brings energy and life and color to a headshot.
The best thing you can do for your hair before a headshot is wash it well and don't use a lot (or any) product in it. Longer hair generally gets flipped around a lot during a headshot, and mousse and spray tend to get in the way of that. Embrace fluffy!
Bring a brush or comb and a scrunchie. Often long hair looks great in a loose french braid, where we can see the volume of your hair but it isn't out of control and all over the place.
Often people with really curly hair come in with it straightened for the shoot. I think naturally curly hair shoots better than straightened hair, but it is your choice. Remember that your hair in an audition should be similar to your hair in a headshot - hair is a huge part of someone's look. If you have straightened hair in your headshot you'll probably have to straighten it for auditions, so keep that in mind!
There are a million ways to pose for headshots, and it comes down to what flatters you and what tells your story.
The way a photo is framed and posed should suggest what the rest of the person's body looks like. Ideally, a casting director should be able to look at a headshot and gage your height and your build - all that from a picture that starts around your sternum!
One think to watch out for is head tilt. It is really common for girls and younger women to cock their head a bit to one side or the other in a photograph. That tilted head makes a person look a bit submissive. I think in headshots it looks indecisive and unsure, so I try to get subjects to keep their head fairly straight. No one casts someone that looks unsure as to whether or not they can do the job.
The best rule ever is bring clothes you like that make you feel good about yourself.
Most women wear t-shirts with crew necks in headshots, and this usually works well. Pick tops with less saturated colors. A t-shirt that is a bit worn and has been washed so it is broken in somewhat is a good bet. Avoid distracting patterns sports team logos, writing, etc.
If you have a lot of contrast between your hair and skin (dark hair, light skin) you can generally get away with stronger color choices then women with skin and hair of similar shade. If you're a blond or redhead you have to be careful not to wear something that totally takes the focus off your face.
Greens and yellows... Clothes tend to reflect light up into your face, and green and yellow clothes can add a weird overtone to your skin tone that makes you look sallow and sick. The exception for this is redheads: redheads can always wear green and it usually looks great. People with blue and green eyes tend to look good in blue and green.
When you're not sure what color to wear, gray works well, and teal works great. Teal almost always looks good with any skin tone. If there is one color that looks good on virtually anyone and that works with any shade of skin it's teal. When in doubt, get teal.
You have to pay a lot of attention to how blouses and dresses fit around your neck and shoulders. Cowl necked and ruched tops - really anything with a lot of extra cloth on your upper body - will tend to make you look dumpy and heavier than you really are. Try to bring things that have a sleekness - not tight, but sleek and well-fitted.
Clothes should fit reasonably well. Excessively loose clothing can make you look overweight in a picture, but excessively tight clothing can make you look overweight as well. It depends on your body. Bring a variety of things so we can experiment a bit.
Sleeves vs Sleeveless
Bring both types of shirts and here's why: sometimes sleeveless tops can make arms look fat in a picture. I don't know what else to say regarding that.
Shoulder-less tops can be very problematic in a headshot. They can look great, but depending on the angle. showing a lot of skin around up there can make a person look HUGE. See the picture below for visual evidence...
So, if you're bringing a shoulder-less dress or top, make sure you have a wrap or another option.
Wraps and Dresses and Gowns
I shoot quite few opera singers, and they almost always bring wraps of sort and often they wear gowns. The basic ideas I've written above still apply.
Usually you want to try to match your collar to your jawline. So, if you have a squarish jaw, you should wear a squarish collar. If your face is more V-shaped face, a more V'd collar tends to work better.
Tab collared shirts function by opposite rules, and generally you want a collar that does the opposite of your face. So, if you have a long face you'll do well to wear a wider collar, as a narrow one will make your face appear excessively long. Beware of small collars if you have a wide face or a big head however - they can make your head look tiny in a picture.
Below the waist - wear shorts, pants, a skirt, a dress - whatever you want. Unless we are shooting 3/4 or full body shots this won't be an issue because we are above your waistline.
All this being said, generally anything you wear can be made to work. Drive yourself crazy - pictures of crazy people aren't good for business. Pick a few things and come have fun at the shoot!
I will be blunt, I think women's headshots are too retouched and unnatural looking these days. I think they look awful and fake. When I retouch photos, however, I do it such that you look great and natural.
I definitely spend more time retouching skin issues on women then on men, so I do whatever is needed to get natural, even skin tone, bright awake eyes, and get rid of blemishes, clean up eyebrows a bit, etc. However much work I do I try to make it look like no Photoshop was done at all.
I tend to leave hair a bit unkempt - I leave some flyaways and such because I think it sends the subtle message that the photo wasn't Photoshopped.
Sometimes face and body geometry has to be fixed. By this I mean a big smile can make a nose look too wide, sometimes the angle of the camera can made someone look far more buxom in a photo then in real life, etc., so I do whatever work needs to be done to get you looking like I see you in the photoshoot.
A last word: Natural is better!
God no. I don't even know what she looks like anymore. How can someone possibly make a casting decision when there is no nose? This is like..., I dunno... Voldemort's sister. A little bit of Photoshop to bring out the eyes and maybe clean up that freckle concentration on her cheek... but it goes way too far. And then the head tilt and the silly "I'm trying to get a fly to land in my mouth..." thing. Yuck.