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How to Choose the Best Reference Photos to Bring to Your Next Hair Appointment, According to Stylists

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But we’d like to believe a reference photo is worth tenfold. Any hairstylist can attest to that. Yet as clients, we can often feel unsure about which types of photos to bring to our stylist, meaning we go overboard or don’t even try at all. To help you better prepare for your next salon sesh, we reached out to various hairstylists to get the low down on how to pick the best reference photo for your next hair appointment. See their expert tips below!

Use Ones That Are Most Similar to Your Natural Hair Texture

All of the stylists we spoke with made it clear that you should use a reference photo featuring someone who has a similar hair texture to yours. “If you have dark, thick, wavy hair, referring to pictures that have a similar thick texture to yours is more ideal than a picture with hair that is very fine, blonde, and straight. Your overall outcome will more likely meet your expectations this way,” shares Alex Brown, a Chicago-based celebrity hairstylist and salon owner.

StyleSeat hairstylist and colorist Brittaney Danyel echoes what Alex has to say. “As a stylist that specializes in natural curls, it is so important to find a photo that is similar to your hair texture. Not only will this help with envisioning the outcome, but this will also drastically help with hair color placement as well.”

Avoid Using Photos That Don’t Match Your Face Shape or Hair Type

Again, all the stylists recommend trying to see yourself in the reference photos you choose. You should use a photo of someone with a similar hair type, along with a similar face shape and hair color to be able to see yourself in the final look.

“Avoid bringing photos that are not similar to your own hair texture or photos of someone with a different overall face shape,” notes Alex. “These are important factors in the end result of your hairstyle. The same exact haircut can look so different on someone with a different face shape.”

Check Out Your Hairstylist’s Instagram

One of the best places to find references photos is on your hairstylist’s Instagram. Most stylists use the social media platform to showcase their work, so you should have no trouble finding a cut or color you like. But if your stylist doesn’t have any cuts or colors you’re looking for, Brittaney shares that “it may not be a good fit (i.e. if you want to be all over platinum, but your stylist specializes in lived-in balayage).” Still, looking through their Instagram will help you figure out what is achievable pretty quickly.

Don’t Bring Too Many Photos

The more, the merrier does not apply to reference photos. Brittaney suggests “finding two to three photos that are similar in color, cut, or style” to show your hairstylist. Bringing too many photos to flip through will make it difficult for both you and your stylist. Save yourself the headache and stick to two or three reference photos for your next hair appointment.

Get Specific With the Look You Want to Achieve

It’s one thing to narrow down the number of images you choose, it’s another to ensure they’re relatively similar to the look you want to achieve. What we mean by that is they all share the same general cut and color. Don’t bring a photo of a shag haircut on straight hair and one on curly hair.

Whitney Eaddy, founder of Juices & Botanics and a celebrity stylist, walks us through why this is important. “A lot of times, clients come into a salon with completely different styles in all of their reference photos. I always encourage every client to find similar photos to ensure that they get the look they’re going for. When selecting photos to take to your stylist, I recommend going general and start pinning looks that inspire you. Go on a pinning spree and start saving screenshots too. Pin any hairstyles, cuts, and colors you like—have fun with this part! After you’ve gathered a collection of images, start finding similarities and patterns among the photos you’ve saved. This will help you narrow down what your style goals are by being more specific about the style you’re trying to achieve,” she says.

Browse TikTok and Pinterest

Instagram is often the go-to for reference photos, but TikTok and Pinterest work just as well. As Whitney shares above, you can pin a number of hairstyles, cuts, and colors you like so you can narrow down what you actually hope to achieve.

Brittaney likes the video aspect of TikTok, especially when it comes to getting a fuller picture of the overall look. “I love videos because I’m able to see the hair in motion, usually with a 360 view. I’m also able to see the hair in a different light while watching as well,” she mentions.

Be Realistic With the Reference Photos You Choose

Alex, Brittaney, and Whitney all want you to know that if you select reference photos that don’t match your hair type or face shape, you’re likely not going to be super pleased with the outcome. “If you bring in a reference photo that doesn’t match your hair type/texture/complexion/face shape/etc., it’s important to understand that your end result is going to look different—there’s no way around it,” says Brittaney. “That is why is it so important to bring photos that look similar to your natural hair texture and base color.”

Always Take Your Stylist’s Advice

This final bit of advice applies to not only reference photos, but your hair in general. If you have a certain style in mind, but your stylist knows it isn’t going to work for you, take their word for it.

“Clients would need to know realistically what can be done at that current hair appointment or what would be most suitable for their hair and overall lifestyle,” shares Alex. “As a hairstylist or colorist, it is our job to suggest and educate our clients on what they might need instead of what they want their hair to look like. Ultimately it’s our job to set them up with hair that is healthy and beautiful.”

Whitney makes a similar point, noting “I always recommend booking consultations to save a lot of the guesswork of the process. This way you make sure you and the stylist are a great match for each other and get confirmation that they can help you achieve the style that you’re hoping for.”

Need a little extra help communicating what you want to your stylist? HERE is our guide on doing just that!



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