Professional headshots are necessary in many careers – musicians are no exception. If you have been to music school and are surrounded by aspiring professional musicians, you will be pressured into getting a headshot done.
In general, getting headshots done is a good idea.
In this guide, we will cover whether to get headshots taken, how to get professional headshots done, and what to do if you cannot afford professional headshots.
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Do You Need Professional Headshots?
Singers, actors, musicians, and performers often use headshot. Photographs are regularly required at auditions and they are requested for use in media and in brochures and promotional materials.
If you are trying out for parts in a musical theater production or even a spot in professional cover band, you may be asked for headshots that will be kept on file.
Headshots are a specific kind of photograph that attempts to realistically demonstrate a person’s appearance for casting or branding. They are usually professional photos that show a face or a full body with a plain background, to show the subject’s personality.
After all this, you may be convinced – I need a headshot! Not so fast. Headshots are only necessary in certain lines of musical work.
If you are auditioning, working in, or playing for:
- Musical theater
- Jazz groups
- Groups associated with universities or colleges
You will likely need a headshot.
For most other musicians – even professional musicians – you will not likely need a headshot. Side musicians playing in working bands do not typically need headshots either.
Artists, solo performers, and even cover bands are typically better served by a more casual and artistic approach to promotional photos. Think about your favorite artists and bands – they have awesome photos – but they are not professional headshots.
It will not harm anyone to have some sharp headshots, but don’t worry about them unless you need them for your professional career.
How To Get Professional Headshots
Getting professional headshots taken is straightforward. Here are the steps to follow.
Find A Professional Headshot Photographer
The best way to find a photographer for your headshots is to find out who took headshots for you peers of for a local musician you admire. Keep an eye out for particularly striking headshots, and then reach out to the photographer that took them.
If you cannot find a photographer this way, simply perform a Google search for “Headshot Photography in [your city]”.
Make sure to check out their portfolio first. Make sure to look for photographers that are experienced with musicians, as musicians often want slightly different things out of their photo.
Dress For The Stage – But Remain Professional
When you arrive to get your headshots done, you should bring a couple different outfits, and arrive ready to get on stage and perform.
Of course, you are not actually performing. These headshots are for auditions and media, so you need to present your performing self. This means suitable attire, a fresh shave, a fresh haircut, and appropriate makeup.
Headshots are not artist promo shots and they are not glamour shots. These are more professional and less artistic.
You do not need to be drab, but typically, neutral, dark colored clothing will be flattering and professional. Jewelry should be appropriate – whatever you would wear on stage is fine.
Choose A Location and Lighting
If you are taking professional headshots, you will most likely be shooting at a professional photographer’s studio. This saves you the headache of finding a location.
Typically, headshots are shot on a neutral colored backdrop. Try to use natural light or at least light that appears natural. Headshots are not intended to be glamorous, they are simply professional.
Include Your Instrument
You are first and foremost a musician. Take your instrument to your headshot session! Many instruments can be held while photos are being taken.
Most orchestral instruments (violins, flutes, cellos, horns, etc.) can be photographed. If your instrument cannot be easily moved (like a piano) then you should consider getting your photo taken in your practice studio or piano hall.
Including your instrument is a way to express your personality and the job you want.
What To Do If You Cannot Afford A Professional Headshot
So, you need a professional headshot, but you can’t afford one.
Not a problem! Here is how to get a professional headshot done using a DIY method.
How To Take DIY Headshots
Taking DIY headshots is completely possible, especially because smartphones take such good pictures. Simply follow these steps to get a professional headshot with a small monetary investment.
1. Dress For The Stage
You need to dress and polish yourself in the same way that you would before going onstage or getting a professional headshot done.
That means you should wear stage-appropriate clothing. Generally, this is neutral or dark colors. When in doubt, wearing your stage blacks will do the trick. You want to look as though you are ready to play!
Make sure your hair and makeup is done appropriately. No need to overdo it – you are not starring in a musical – just look presentable and professional. Same as you would onstage!
For the men, a fresh shave and a fresh haircut go a long way towards looking polished in photos. Make sure that you are wearing a well-fitted, clean shirt. A sports jacket is acceptable as well!
If you play music that usually necessitates a more casual look, don’t be afraid to dress it down a little bit and show your personality. Just make sure that you look ready to play a show.
2. Find A Background, Location & Lighting
If you are doing this headshot yourself, finding a location and using good lighting is critical.
If you are doing the headshot in a home, find a solid-colored wall. Grey is an ideal color, but any neutral color will serve you well. Avoid a space that is cluttered or a background that is patterned or otherwise busy.
Pick a time of day when the room is filled with natural light. Non-directional light is best. That way you get even coverage across your face.
Disable the flash on your phone. You should use 100% natural light for a headshot shoot. Too much artificial light will result in a tinted or posed look that is not appropriate for headshots.
3. Find A Friend To Take The Photo, Or Use Self-Timer
Ideally, you should find a friend to take the photo. Having a friend behind the camera – even if it is just a phone – will allow them to take a few photos, make some adjustments, take a few more, and you can work on it together until you're happy with the results.
Taking photos with friends can be fun and creative! Have them show you the photos after they’ve taken a few. See if you can get close to what you imagined.
If you don’t have a friend to take the pictures, not a problem. You can use the self-timer feature that is available on all smartphones and most cameras.
Set up the camera on a stack of books or better yet – a smartphone holder. Then, set the self-timer and start taking pictures. You can take as many as you want, until the lighting changes, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
4. Try Different Poses And Outfits
While you are doing this, try out a few different poses and outfits.
Switching outfits can be very helpful. Depending on the background, the lighting, and how you are feeling that day, the right outfit can bring out the perfect smile! Outfits also affect how your face is framed, which can help you get a better photo.
There are plenty of poses to try. Try a few to find a pose that works for you.
You may find that a specific pose works well with your body and the lighting you are working with. Go with whatever feels good!
5. Export And Edit The Photos
Editing the photos is also an important part of the process. Dump the photos onto your computer and open up a program like Afterlight to edit the photos.
You should not be afraid to retouch any blemishes or acne that is visible in the photo. This is completely normal in headshot photography.
Make sure that the photo is nice and bright. Play with the Brightness setting until it looks right. Then, play with the Contrast setting. You need a nice, tight contrast to bring out the best in your photo. Finally, play with the Sharpness setting until it looks professional.
If you are not satisfied with your attempts at DIY editing, try reaching out to freelancers on Fiverr. You should be able to find service providers who are able to retouch your DIY headshot at an affordable rate.
Final Thoughts On Professional Headshots For Musicians
Getting headshots done can is an important part of your marketing package as a musician. In fields like orchestra and musical theatre, headshots are a big part of your audition and casting process.
Don’t be afraid to spend some money on professional headshots that will last a few years. It can be very worth your while!
At the same time, if you are looking to save some money, taking headshots with help from a friend can be a fun and rewarding activity.