Competition Headshots

Photography for pageants and other competition headshots (and portfolios) is generally approached very differently from the type of shots you would use to audition for work in the modeling/talent industry. Call or email for help in getting your wardrobe together or prepping for a competition headshot (or portfolio) shoot based on the event you plan to enter.

General Tips

If the final image is a color shot, wear bold/vivid colors. Color can make the difference between a winning shot, one that simply places, and one that doesn’t place at all.

If wearing all white, consider framing the face with, for example, a white fur jacket with a matching fur hat to bring attention to your face and eyes. Shoot on a white drop or one that compliments the eye color to frame the face and bring attention to the eyes.

If going with a bl/wh image, consider wearing deeper, darker tones which will again frame and bring the viewer’s eye/focus to the subject’s face (and to the eyes especially).

Whatever you’re wearing, consider framing the face with hats and accessories.

If you wear glasses, consider buying or borrowing a set of frames with the glass removed. Another option is not wearing glasses for the shoot. Glass tends to diffuse (soften) the eyes. You want the eyes to be clear, expressive, and sharp. Also, not having glass to work around means prioritizing finding the best shot of YOU rather than spending time moving the pose or lights around to avoid reflections in the glass — or paying for post-production retouching to remove reflections.

If well-considered, bold patterns and designs can strengthen the overall look of a competition image — they tend to look better if, for example, you wear a hat or scarf/wrap that matches the outfit so the subject is wrapped in the pattern — which again, will tend to bring the viewer’s eye back to the subject’s face and eyes.

NOTE: If you doubt whether an outfit or accessory will work for you, bring it, and I will help you decide if you should go with it or try something else. Better to bring it and not use it than not to bring it and wish you had. My basic policy on wardrobe, accessory, and prop selection is that if you’re willing to haul it in, I’m willing to consider it. Some clients bring in half their wardrobe, etc. — I love it as it gives me a lot to choose from and makes it easier to know we will surely be able to pull some terrific pieces to use for the shoot. IMPORTANT — About backdrops for competition headshot sessions: I primarily keep primary background colors (white, gray, blue, brown, etc.) as it is nearly impossible to stock colors to match every hue/intensity a client might bring in to work with. My preference, however, is to shoot high key (white drop), which means more time shooting and less time changing backgrounds. If you agree to shoot high key for the entire session, you will receive up to two backdrop/color changes on your choice of ¾ body or headshots. If you prefer I change drops during the session, you are welcome to work with any colors I may have on hand, but for the best results, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you:

1) Take the outfits you are wearing for the shoot to a good fabric shop (just the top is fine) and purchase 3-4 yards of slinky, fluid (easy to drape) material with colors to match or compliment your wardrobe pieces.


2) Shop for hats and accessories to compliment the look you are trying to achieve with your wardrobe pieces (don’t forget jewelry, scarves, and other accessories to complete each outfit/look). Although I keep some hats and such in stock to get something unique –that a zillion other clients haven’t worn over time, it is important to bring hats and accessories that are unique to your session — especially when competing. This helps avoid images going before the judges where multiple contestants are wearing the exact same hats and accessories, etc.

If purchasing items you do not intend to keep, simply double-check with the store’s return/exchange policy before making purchases.

TIP: Don’t forget to raid the closets of friends and family when putting together something extraordinary for the session. Sometimes someone you know has just the thing to help create that next award-winning photograph! Contact the stylist/assistant (muah) well ahead of your shoot date to discuss the types of looks you want for your shoot (discuss all with me as well) so that everyone is on the page the day of your session. Tans may enhance the image but don’t overdo it. Aim for a pretty tan, not so dark that you look overbaked. If getting sprayed on tans before a shoot, give yourself time to dry before putting on your clothing so the tan does not rub off and ruin the shot. Note: There is an a la carte fee to even out tan lines, minimize sunburns, etc.

What judges tend to look for in a winning photogenic entry:

* Impact (first impression of the overall look of subject/image). * Photogenic qualities of subject/image (good-looking subject in outfit, accessories, and colors that flatter the subject and draw attention to the face, particularly the eyes). * Subject should show personality (not just sitting pretty). Photogenic means’ camera personality’). You should ideally get a sense that the subject loves being photographed — and that the camera loves them too. * Photo quality. Make sure the image is printed by someone who understands print quality (every point matters in winning photogenic, especially when going for overall awards) — photogenic scores often carry a lot of weight in deciding overall winners. They can mean the difference between ‘walking in the winner’s circle on awards night or just walking away.

Remember: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!

Personal note: I am always surprised at folks who invest an incredible amount of time and money on dance, modeling, and other lessons; who pay for spray tans, flippers, beautiful costumes, and accessories — but approach getting their photogenic entry done almost as an afterthought.

With photogenic scores often the deciding factor in who takes overall awards in many competitions (sometimes with prizes like cars, cash, and travel at stake), getting and updating your competition pictures should be a priority, not something done last minute with little-to-no time to reshoot or tweak things like retouching and final prints before entering your best image(s) in photogenic events.

Pageant people: Anything goes. Ask your pageant director for specific guidelines. Call or email to discuss specific suggestions for wardrobe and accessories for your particular shoot.

All others: We’ll discuss your wardrobe choices on a case-by-case basis. Have a good one! Looking forward to helping you create what we hope will be your next award-winning headshots/ports.