Professional portraits are like school photos. They take on a life of their own, get passed around, re-posted, placed on everything from websites to name-tags, and they aren't likely to be updated in the next decade unless you happen to be CEO. You'd better like them, or they'll haunt you for years. It's a formula for serious photographic anxiety, but don't despair. Keep in mind a few simple guidelines, and you'll have a portrait worthy of, well, a pro.
This is a time to heed that familiar advice your dad probably gave you: dress for the job you WANT, not just the one you have. Would you need to update your look if you took over the role your boss or her boss now possess? Would you want to dial up your wardrobe if you were sitting down to a meeting with the VP or lunch with a high profile client? When you're selecting your outfit, you want to project confidence and competence for the next phase of your career.
Great, so you're ready to be the boss or look like you could. Let's talk about how to get it done.Remember you'll likely be looking at this image for years, so now is not the time to be trendy. For example, those exaggerated shoulders recently seen on so many runways don't belong, unless you happen to have a job in the military. You want clean lines, quality fabric, and perfect fit. (If you haven't already, now is the time to avail yourselves of the skills of a gifted tailor). If you're wearing a jacket, be sure it is not too big or too small in the shoulders. Tops can be close fitting, but not clingy, with no pulling or gaping at the bust. We'll tackle lingerie in another post, but for now let's just say you need to wear a smooth cup, t-shirt bra that fits and provides you with lift and shape. If you are wearing a top or underpinning with an empire seam, please, please be sure it goes all the way under the bust. This is a pet peeve of ours, but it is non-negotiable. Repeat after us: If you find you have "Bisect-a-boob" seams, the top it does not fit.
Hurrah, so now you're wearing clothes that fit. Let's talk shape, starting at the top. When it comes to a neckline, the most universally flattering one is a v-neck, so that's a good place to start. Your mission is to create an open, slimming, face-framing effect, and a v-neck will help you do it. Just keep it subtle, and please no cleavage. You could also convey the same idea with a cowl neck or open scoop. The only things off limits are turtlenecks or crewnecks--they'll do you no favors in a forward-facing headshot. Once you've selected your top or blouse, consider adding a single breasted jacket to reinforce that long, lean line, especially if you work in a more conservative field. If you're in high-finance, the suit is mandatory. P.R. pros can choose a great dress and convey the same authority. It's not likely that you'll be taking a full-body picture, but dress for it no matter what, with pants or a skirt that are clean, simple, and properly fitted. Now's the time for everyone to be focusing on your face, and the brilliant professional brain housed inside it.
Now you've picked an outfit that flatters your unique shape and frames your face. Selecting the right textile can make it even better. For a jacket, be sure you have a natural fabric with a matte finish. Shine is not your friend on picture day. If you'd like to incorporate some pattern, it's best on an underpinning or layering piece, instead of the dress or jacket you've selected. Geometric patterns can be so chic in person, but put some stripes on camera and they take on a life of their own. A safer bet is a abstract, "painterly" fabric in proportion to your overall size. No giant florals on petite women here, or the picture becomes all about the fabric and not who's wearing it. Again, you want all eyes to go straight to your face, to comfortable, competent YOU. When in doubt, create interest with textured, quality fabrics and clean colors, and save the wild patterns for another day.
When it comes to color, remember black and white can both appear especially extreme in photos, so it is best steer clear. Look to charcoal greys and rich navy tones as your neutral, and accent with jewel tones or other saturated color. Soft nudes and pale pastels can wither under the punishing light of a flash, so it is better to be a bit more bold when you choose your hue. If you're unsure about a color, stand in front of a mirror in the most natural light you can find, and put the shirt, dress, or jacket you are considering right against your face. If you look wide awake, you've succeeded.
For the hair and make-up, it's pretty straightforward: Hair down or softly pulled away from the face, make-up on. Now is not the time for au naturale. The camera flash has a special talent for bleaching out all naturally occurring color your face, so you have be a bit more generous in adding your own. Use a tinted moisturizer or foundation blended with a sponge or foundation brush, and keep blush on the apples of your cheeks. Curl your lashes and apply mascara, and finish with neutral eyeshadow in a matte finish. No sparkle here, or you might look like the VP of Disco. Choose a lipliner close to your lip color and a dab of lipstick. Dust your lovely mug with some translucent powder (do this before you get dressed-- you don't want to powder your outfit).
Jewelry should be subtle but present. You don't want it to detract from your face, but you do want your look to be finished. One solution is simple hoop or drop earrings that don't hang past your jawline.
You've done it! You've conquered your closet, and you look like a professional badass. Now you can face the camera fearlessly. We suggest doing it with one foot a little in front of the other and your body at a very slight angle. This is a professional portrait, not a mug shot. Now relax and smile. Literally, relax. Think of something that makes you laugh, or simply inhale, pause, and smile on the exhale. You'll look more natural and at-ease, like you know exactly what you are doing. Of course you do, you're a pro!