Planning Your Headshot Session — Moodboarding 101

How to Plan for Your Headshot Session

Planning your headshot session in advance has major benefits! When any client comes in for a headshot session I take some time to get to know them a little bit before we begin shooting. Whether we chat on the phone before the session or just take a few minutes the day of the shoot, it’s important for me to determine what my client needs from the session. Obviously I have a standard set of light and backdrop setups for business headshots, but the client’s personality, profession and intended usage for the photos will all impact how the shoot flows. A doctor will need a different look and attitude than a realtor, who will need a different look and setup than an acting client. Knowing as much as I can about my clients’ needs helps me to prepare, but I also leave room for unique images ideas or poses that the client may request.

Often (for those clients who purchase a standard or extended headshot session) I request that they send over examples of other headshots they’ve seen and liked, and let me know if there’s anything they’d like to emulate as far as posing, lighting or backdrops. Some clients get into this right away, jump on Pinterest and send over a slew of inspo images. This post is for those clients who have no idea what I mean by “inspo” or “moodboarding” and may need a little help.

I recently went through this for my own updated headshots, so I thought I’d share that entire planning process with you, to help explain how this works.


“Moodboarding” is a term and process that is commonly used in many creative professions, from graphic design to marketing, advertising and moviemaking. It simply refers to the process of pulling references (usually images) that depict the “mood” the finished piece should reflect. It’s a great way to make sure all members of a team are on the same page, creatively, as one person’s description of their idea may look/sound/feel completely different in someone else’s mind. You can moodboard wardrobe, makeup, lighting, color and pose references for photography, and seeing what a client likes in terms of other headshots helps make sure the images we end up with meet their specifications.

Pinterest is a great place to search for inspiration or “inspo” images, but a simple Google search will work quite well, too. Search for “professional headshot” or “medical headshot” or “headshots for actors” —whatever term gets you the type of image you’re looking for. This doesn’t mean we will try to copy any image exactly, or get you to look like someone else, it’s just a way to find the vibe/mood that you are seeking when you are planning your headshot session.

Moodboard for My Headshot Session

It had been more than a year since I’d updated my own headshots (I know, it’s the shoemaker’s children who go unshod, etc.) and I needed to shoot something new. (Keep in mind that I absolutely hate being in front of the camera the same way most of you do.)

I had seen quite a few photos of women around my age that I liked and I knew that:

  • I probably wanted to convert the image to black and white
  • I wanted to keep the wardrobe and makeup simple
  • I probably wanted a dark background (my curly hair doesn’t do well with the backlight of a bright white background)
  • I wanted to try poses that incorporated hands near the face, to add some interest to the shot
  • I wanted something professional, yet friendly and relaxed (that’s pretty much the vibe that I strive for with all my clients)
  • Since I am in a creative profession I knew I could use more dramatic and moody light (you wouldn’t see this moody lighting for a real estate agent or a dog trainer, for example.)

I started off by searching “headshots, women, 40s” and “women, headshots, white shirt” and “women, Vogue, white shirt” as well as searching for “headshots, black and white” and “headshots, mature women” —and I went down quite a happy rabbit hole finding images I loved. Tons of inspiration here.

So here’s what I came up with. (Cate Blanchett and Charlize Theron are excellent with “hands near face” posing.) See how they all feature simple wardrobe options, strong moody lighting and are mostly black and white? If someone sent this to me I would know immediately the vibe they were going for.

The Shoot

I shot three lighting/backdrop setups and two outfits (black shirt and white shirt) as well as both with and without glasses. This is the final shot I settled on. Hopefully you can see the influences of the above images in this final headshot.

(I will walk to you through a few of the “almost but not quite” images too.)

Headshot Susan Bennet
Planning your headshot session pays off

So this hits all the points I was searching for. Friendly, yet professional and direct. Simple wardrobe, dark backdrop, hands near face. I am really happy with it. Converts very well to black and white as well, although I ended up like the color version more than I thought I would.

Headshot Susan Bennet Black and white
Black and white conversion also works quite well

Also-Ran Images

Here are a few “almost but not quite” images, and why they didn’t make the cut.

Planning your Headshot Session
Not friendly enough, also unretouched, so enjoy my undereye bags, if you will.

So, I am a dramatic lady, and I love the black-on-black look of this, but it was a little too solemn for a professional headshot – I didn’t want to scare anyone (trust me, I have my own problems getting a relaxed smile in front of the camera, that’s why I am so good at coaching my clients. I have to use all those tricks on myself. My RBF is epic.)

Collar went all weird – hazard of not being able to see what you’re shooting

Here’s one with a lighter background, but unless I am willing to pull my hair back or spend a lot of time retouching strays, I don’t love my curly hair in this setup. Pandemic hair is a real thing. Also my collar went all funny

Planning your Headshot Session
Not quiet the vibe for this usage

I liked this one, and the expression is better, but I still thought the image above in the white shirt with my glasses was more the tone I wanted to convey – sometimes neck touching can go a little overboad. However! I am impressed with my own hand posing in these, because non-awkward hand posing is HARD.

Let Me Know if You Have Questions!

Overall getting new headshots of myself is not my favorite activity in the world, but with a clear goal in mind and careful planning I vastly simplified the process for myself, and clarified a lot of wardrobe, makeup and posing/lighting decisions before I even got started, so I didn’t waste time and get frustrated with images that weren’t what I was looking for.

I hope this has been helpful for you, and will be a resource for planning your headshot session, but by all means please reach out to me if you have any questions at all about moodboarding, where to find inspiration or how to plan wardrobe and styling for your own professional headshot session!




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