How to Look “Picture Perfect” for Portraits

Good Housekeeping Magazine asked for my input on how get your hair to look its best for a picture perfect portrait. Below are the writer’s questions and my unedited answers.

  • What types of hairstyles look best in photos?
  • What can you do to quickly touch up your hair before having your picture taken?
  • Any other tips to making your hair look good on camera/in pictures?

This is one of my particular areas of expertise. I am a salon owner and stylist, taking care of clients’ hair and makeup at my salon (Vince Smith Hair Experience). I am also a photographer and partner and at my Harlem Photo Studio (VenturaPhotoNYC.com). We shoot fashion, advertising and portraits and headshots.

It’s really important to plan your hairstyle when you are preparing to have your picture taken. As a photographer, hairstylist and makeup artist, I conceive the entire look of the portrait before I start a session with my client. I spend lots of time with the consultation to make sure that the client and I are envisioning the same type of outcome from the photo shoot or portrait session.

Hairstyles for pictures, portraits and headshots really are different than the style you wear everyday. There are several important factors to consider when styling your hair or having your hair styled for photos. The number one thing to look for is the dreaded “flyaway hairs”. Make sure that when you step in front of the camera, your hair is smooth. Take a serum, gloss or de-frizz product (instead of hair spray) and smooth down all the flyaways, especially the ones in front of your face. There is nothing harder to retouch than a hair (an individual hair or group of hairs) that falls in front of your eye(s).

Flat hair will look really flat in photos, so make sure to add volume when styling. Full, thick hair can look “helmet-y” in pictures if it is too full, so make sure you use enough serum to smooth and tame your thick hair for photos. You can also heat style with a flat iron or curling iron to reduce volume, if needed.

If you color your hair, especially blondes, make sure your color is freshly done. The flash really accentuates the unwanted dark roots or the dreaded gray regrowth. And that can ruin a great picture.

I don’t like to use much hair spray before the photos, just enough to keep the hair out of the eyes. Otherwise, it can make the hair look plastic and dated. It also makes it hard to adjust during the shoot without causing problems of clumping, flaking, stickiness or more flyaways.

Your hair may look great when you leave the salon chair or when you finish doing it yourself, but always check your hair when you are in front of the camera. In the industry, we call it “last looks”. A great advantage of digital photography is that you can easily do a test shot. Ask the photographer if you can see the viewfinder screen. Zoom in and check your hair and makeup. That way you can fix any obvious problems before you continue.

If you have a hairstylist on set with you, they’ll need to take one last look before the photographer starts shooting. They’ll make sure that your hair is perfectly smooth with a beautiful silhouette. If you are going it alone, the best thing to do to refresh your style before you start to shoot is to flip you head upside-down. Tousle the roots to get lift and fullness. Then flip your head back, smooth the surface and re-frame the hair around your face. (The head-flip will also bring a lively color to your face.) Again, check the mirror and ask the photographer to see a test.

For thick-haired clients, it’s best not to do the head-flip. It could create too much volume. It’s better to run a brush or your fingers through your hair when you are in front of the camera to smooth any flyaways and give a smaller silhouette.

Heat styling with the proper styling products will give the hair a polish that blow drying alone can’t do. A curling iron or flat iron will give extra shine and smoothness while taming frizzies and flyaways.

It’s easy to make your photos look dated quickly with trendy hairstyles. Choose a classic style that is flattering and modern for a portrait or headshot that will last.

Most importantly, choose a style that makes you feel comfortable and look your best. Ultimately, it’s the confidence that will shine through to give you the best possible portrait!