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The Ultimate Guide to Headshots For Actors

If you are an actor, then chances are you’ve heard of taking headshots.


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Charles Tumiotto Jackson

a year ago | 6 min read

You’ve done it! You’ve booked your first in-person audition after a year of acting on Zoom!

Are you ready?

Like you, actors everywhere are brushing up their Shakespeare, rehearsing their best monologues, and preparing to get lost in their latest role, but the one thing they should all be thinking about is refreshing their professional headshots. When was the last time you had yours taken? A fresh headshot might be what separates you from the competition as we all return to the stage or the set after so much time away.

If it has been a while since you’ve had acting headshots taken, or if you’re pursuing acting for the first time, this is the perfect opportunity to catch up on all you need to know to stand out from your competition with some incredible, organic headshots.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Actors headshots to learn why you need headshots, how to choose your photographer, and how to prep for your session.

Do All Actors Need Headshots?

Think of a headshot as a first impression. Do you want the first impression that a casting director has to be of a smartphone selfie taken in your bedroom?

The best headshots are portraits taken by professionals that look like you and show you in your best light. But why are they so important?

The truth is, your headshot is often the thing that gets you called to audition in the first place. Even the most versatile performers have a ‘type,’ and a headshot that shows that off is likely to get you noticed. A good headshot is your first audition for any role, so taking them seriously an important step toward booking roles on stage or screen.

Just about every legitimate, paying call will request both a headshot and a resume, so casting offices see hundreds of them every day. Often they will spend just a few seconds with each photo before deciding whether or not to offer a performer an audition. A high-quality headshot that is tailored to the kind of roles you tend to play might be the difference between an exciting phone call and the reject pile.

Once you land that audition, your headshot becomes your calling card. It is the image that you leave behind while casting decisions are being made. Your headshot should be flattering, but still look like you, so that when casting directors look at it, they don’t wonder “Who was that guy again?”

You’ve worked hard. You’re talented. Don’t let a bad headshot get in the way of booking roles and making moves!

How To Choose Your Photographer

The first step toward taking your career to the next level with awesome headshots is to do your research. What do you want your headshots to look like? Have you looked into the latest headshot trends in your market?

Before you decide on the photographer that is a good fit for you, there are a few things to consider that can help you make sure that your photographer offers a package that matches what you’re expecting.

How Many Looks and Edited Images Are Included?

How many headshots do you need?

If you sometimes play the femme fatale and sometimes play the quirky secretary, you will probably want at least two images so that you can send off the right photo for the right role. You might want a shot with glasses and a shot without, a shot in a suit and a shot showing off your muscles, or different headshots for comedy and drama. Ultimately, the number of photos you keep on file is up to you.

For a beginner, a high school or college performer, or someone who is going to be working in a smaller market, one really good edited shot might be enough.

Knowing how many looks to prepare and how many shots you might need is key to selecting a package, so give it some thought.

Do They Provide Hair and Makeup Artists?

Some headshot photographers provide professional hair and makeup artists for your shoot. Often, this is an optional add-on that you can choose to forego if you want to try to do your own hair and makeup. Other times, no styling is provided, and you’re expected to show up ‘photo-ready.’

While some actors are perfectly happy to show up at the shoot straight from the dry bar, others may be nervous and want a professional to handle it. Doing your research can ensure that you are getting exactly what you expect when you show up for your session.

How Long Is The Shoot?

It’s natural that some individuals, even actors, take longer to get comfortable in front of a camera than others. If you tend to be camera shy, or are working with a new photographer for the first time, the length of the shoot might be a consideration that makes a huge difference in the quality of your headshots.

The truth is, comfort is incredibly important. If you want organic headshots that really look like you, you want to feel your best. A good rapport with the photographer can mean the difference between incredible headshots and a mediocre Sears portrait.

If you tend to make friends everywhere you go, a drop-in shoot or 30-minute session might be enough. If you think you need some time to settle in, chit-chat, get comfortable, and practice in front of the camera, a longer, private shoot might be a better choice.

How To Get Ready For Your Session

So you’ve chosen a photographer who offers the package that is going to make you look your best. Fantastic!

As when preparing for an audition, you shouldn’t slack when preparing for your headshot session. What will you wear? What are the dos and don’ts? Thinking about these things beforehand will ensure that your session is stress-free and seamless and, most importantly, that you get the headshots you want.

What Do I Wear?

If you have chosen a package that allows for more than one look, it’s best to bring along a few options on the day of your shoot. You will want to make sure that everything is clean and wrinkle-free before you arrive.

There’s nothing wrong with going simple, and depending on your background options, a black or white top or tee is a great, neutral choice for your basic headshot. Black and white headshots are out of fashion, however, so it’s important to make sure that you also bring some colorful options. Jewel tones (jade green, mustard yellow, ruby red, etc) tend to look good on just about everyone, so a few tops in those colors are always a safe bet.

For ladies, thinking about your neckline is a great way to choose what to wear. How much do you want to show off, and what styles might suggest the roles that you see yourself playing? Someone who goes for historical or ‘girl next door’ roles might look great in a Peter Pan collar, while someone looking to play the alluring temptress may select a dress with a nice plunge.

You can also bring layers with you for your shoot. Cardigans, blazers, jackets, vests, and other outerwear add interest without taking away from your face.

How Should I Do My Hair and Makeup?

As discussed, many photographers work with hair and makeup artists who are experienced in styling actors headshots. If you are going the DIY route, however, having an idea of what you want from your stylist can be key.

Remember, the goal of your headshots should be to get an image that looks like you on your best day. It’s best to avoid over-the-top makeup, fake eyelashes (unless you wear them every day), and complicated hairstyles. If you have straight hair and your headshots show you with a perm, there is definitely a casting director who will be disappointed when you walk into the room!

If you have long hair, consider wearing it down but neat. You can play with your part to add some interest. Wearing your hair up can be a mistake, as buns and ponytails have the tendency to ‘get lost in photos, making you look strange.

How Should I Pose?

The key here is to trust your photographer! If you’ve done your research, you know what their headshots look like and selected them for a reason! Most photographers who regularly take actors headshots know what looks good, and will coach you during the shoot.

At the same time, if you have ideas, tell your photographer! They can help you achieve what you want — it’s their job! The more comfortable you are with your photographer, the more organic and natural your poses will come across.

You’re Ready For Your Headshots!

Now you are prepared to choose a photographer and get the headshots of your dreams! If you follow these tips, you’ll be booking roles in no time!

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Charles Tumiotto Jackson

Content Marketer, willing to put the “social” back in Social Media. Forget about “Hacks” and obscure secrets to grow on social media → http://bit.ly/2v7Ks6q


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