Personal Branding

How to Execute a Killer a Personal Branding Shoot with Any Budget

Headshots: we all need ’em. Here are 5 pro tips to do it right and not break the bank.

Danielle Vardaro
8 min readMay 14, 2021


portrait of a girl in red hair style 80s
Photo by Jarosch from GettyImages

In my last episode of “it’s time to get your life together” you learned why you need to update your headshotslike Glamour Shots (remember those?!) but the photos you actually want on the internet — and now it’s time to nail your photoshoot.

But first, a short story:

There was this one time in my life, many moons ago, where I was in a full production photoshoot produced outside of LA (shoutout to the OG Nerd Girls!). I was privileged enough to have an entire glam squad — makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion stylist, photographer, videographer, production team, and many hype women — and the shoot location was perfectly selected in the Santa Barbara hills which had fantastic lighting and cool backdrops. I flew in for the event, and when I arrived I had my own dressing room that I shared with the other all-female talent (2 of which were my best friends, still are!) with seemingly endless clothes and jewelry options to choose from while the soundtrack of “you are a fierce and flawless badass B” played in the background. Simply put: It was awesome, and I felt like a complete diva queen.

To this day, I still think back on this experience every time I ramp up for a big photo event (headshots, wedding, family photos etc…) and I long for the deep pocket budget required to execute something like this again (someday, I’m certain of it), but the reality is that everything comes with a price tag, and most of us will need to be choosy with what we outsource. And that’s okay!

But how do you prepare for and execute a killer personal branding shoot with any budget?

I’m so happy you asked! I’ve got your covered. Check out the pro tips below.

1. Create Pinterest Boards to dial in your vision

It’s time to get inspired and creative. And as the creative director of this thing, YOU need to get crystal clear on your vision of how you want to show up on camera. In order to do this, you need to do two things:

  1. Create a mood board — this is your chance to create the vibe of your photoshoot. Pin whatever moves you. How do you want to feel? Pin it. What colors are you into? Pin it. What style are you going for? Pin it. What looks inspire you? Pin it. What fab females do you want to channel? Pin it! You get the point. Don’t forget to have fun with it.
  2. Create a shoot board — this is your chance to select specific pictures with poses and styling that you like, that you are going to replicate. This is a great tool to hand over to your photographer (if you choose to have one) so that everyone shares the same plan, AND for yourself to take any guesswork (+awkwardness) out of what you’re going to try and accomplish.

Happy Pinning.

2. Dial in your look; style accordingly.

First: Ask yourself: What look am I going for? Professional? Fun? Casual? Approachable? A blend of these is also an appropriate answer. Second, review your Pinterest boards, and think about what items will give you the look you’re after in photos. Next, shop your wardrobe and pull out pieces and jewelry that you want to consider and take notes on what items might be missing. Ask yourself: What do you like to wear? What makes you feel good? What colors/styles/pieces make you feel like YOU? The key here is to do this exercise without input, so that you’re not influenced by someone else’s vision. You may find that you need to go shopping (this is the last step).

If you’re having any trouble with this exercise I highly recommend soliciting the help from a stylist (see tip #3 below). This person can help you dial in you photo-fresh look and make your vision POP!

3. Assess your budget and decide what you’re going to outsource.

If you can outsource all aspects of a VIP-photoshoot DO IT, however I’m here to remind you that you don’t need a giant bankroll to get great photos of yourself, you just need to decide where to spend your money.

Let’s talk about it. For great headshots, here are the main investments to consider:

  • PHOTOGRAPHER | Options: Hire a pro ($$-$$$), ask a friend (free-$), or do it yourself (free). For the free option, you can set up a tripod with a clicker and take them yourself.
  • HAIR STYLIST | Options: Hire a pro-stylist who joins you on-site at the shoot ($$-$$$), hit up a blow bar ($), do it yourself (free). If you’re great at doing your own hair, this is an easy way to save some money.
  • MAKEUP ARTIST | Options: Hire a professional makeup artist ($$-$$$), schedule an appointment at Nordstrom or Sephora ($), do it yourself or ask a friend (free). Working with a makeup artist at the mall is a great option because you can request exactly what you need for any budget, from a “full makeup photo-friendly look” to “just face coverage” or “just eyes”. Remember to book these ahead of time and ask if there’s a minimum purchase or a sitting fee — both of which are usually very reasonable.
  • FASHION STYLIST | Options: Hire a profesional stylist ($-$$$), book a Nordstrom stylist appointment (free-$$), style yourself or ask a friend to help you (free). Let your Pinterest board guide you in whatever route you decided to go here. You may find that you need to acquire a few key pieces to give your shoot that Wow-Factor and to represent your brand best, and for that I recommend working with a stylist at whatever capacity your budget allows. Pro Tip: Nordstrom stylists are fantastic; their service is free and you pay for whatever clothes you purchase.
  • SHOOT LOCATION | Options: Book a venue or use a photographers’ studio ($-$$$), hit up a local coffee shop or hotel or outdoor venue or shoot at home (free-$). I always recommend trying to go the free-ish route first by leveraging public spaces with cool backdrops; just know that some spots — like wineries — have specific (for charge) photo-policies. Also, don’t underestimate the power of asking your friend with that really cool couch and great windows if you can use her living room (thanks Kate).
  • PROPS | Options: Buy stuff ($-$$), use what you’ve got (free). This is especially important if you are leaning more towards the lifestyle photoshoot headshots. You may have some items around your house that you plan to use, but it’s also a good idea to acquire some fresh desk props or a bottle of champagne (or insert your prop of preference), to add some personality to your shoot.

Remember: you have options to make any budget work! Also, don’t forget the power of negotiating a trade for a service, make it a win-win.

4. Know how to best showcase your assets — aka choose flattering outfits, style your hair, and use the right makeup.

Everyone should know how to pull herself together in a way that makes her feel like herself and allows her to feel great. Confidence matters everyday, including on shoot day, and it starts with how you show up for your life and how you feel about yourself. This is often reflective in the effort you put into (or not) what you wear and how you look. So let’s put the right effort in and dress for the life we have and the life we want, shall we?

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” — Lucille Ball

And let me be clear: You do not need to change a single thing about yourself in this season of life that you’re in to show up as your best self, nor do you have to “be in your best shape” or have the most expensive clothes, or wear all the makeup; you just need to know how to showcase your assets — we all have ’em, what are yours?

Simply put, to nail some photos of yourself that you love, you need to know what styles look best on you, and how to do your hair and makeup.

You have two options to do this successfully:

  • Educate yourself, practice and stay opinionated. Become a student at every wedding and special event that you’re part of; practice taking photos so you know your best angles and what you like; go on the internet and understand how the pros do it, from makeup to styling, and understand what’s needed to show up best on camera (ex. photo-friendly foundations, primers, setting spray, the best mascara and what colors and styles shoot best on you). Seek out experts, glean tips and practice so that you develop an opinion on what you want and can stay true to it.
  • Outsource it. Refer to Tip #3 for how to do this. Have fun with it.

5. Prepare for that day so that you can show up as your best self.

The camera doesn’t lie. Therefore it’s important that you make every effort possible to prepare yourself for your big shoot day so that the most self-assured and fabulous person is captured behind the lens.

Leading up to the big day I recommend treating it like the special event that it is: get sleep, drink all the water, consume energizing and healthy foods that make you glow and feel good, and get your fitness on. The day-of: give yourself a Boss pep talk and blast some feel good playlists leading up to and during the shoot (I recommend this one). Do anything and everything imaginable to help you bring your A-Game to your photoshoot.

The person that shows up on shoot day, is the person who will be captured on camera. Set her up for success!!!

Okay, you’re ready.

Now, if you’re thinking “wow, that’s a lot of effort”. Uh, yeah, it is, but you’ve got this. Like anything in life worth doing, achieving or going after it takes effort. If it was easy, everyone would have perfect glamour shots. And look at you, now you have all the tools to make it a success!

Last but certainly not least, as you prepare for your big day, feel free to channel your inner RuPaul:

“You better work, cover girl, work it girl, give us a twirl
Do your thing on the runway
Work, supermodel, you better work it, girl of the world
Wet your lips and make it love to the camera”
“Supermodel” by RuPaul

I believe in you and your abilities to execute the kind of personal branding shoot that highlights your most self-assured and confident life.


xx, Danielle

Ready to level up?

Are you in a career transition or inflection point, or on the verge of change? Let’s chat. I’d be happy to guide you through the tools and mindsets I used to crush my major career transition (layoff due to COVID-19) that ultimately helped me land my dream job. I can offer some real-time feedback on your LinkedIn profile, help you dial in your purpose, or arm you with the tools to glow up in your current season of challenge and change.
Let’s talk about it: Work with Danielle.



Danielle Vardaro

Creative. Feminist. Champagne Lover. Proud Working Mom of Twins. I write about ways to live our best lives & actualize our full potential, and bubbles. CHEERS!