Top 5 Tips for a Great Headshot

There is no greater calling card for the actor than the headshot. Even with all of the perks afforded by the digital age, CD’s still require a hardcopy 8X10 for their production files. Given that, smart actors would do well to adhere to these Top 5 Tips for a Great Headshot.

You Get What You Pay For

The old saying You Get What You Pay For rings as true with headshots as it does in life. Your friend’s photography skills with an iPhone may be second to none, but when you compare the final product with that of a professional photographer the differences are striking. Most headshot photographers are highly-specialized and will only shoot actors and models. They also have the added benefit of knowing what Casting Directors are looking for and, more importantly, how to get it out of you! Yes, their prices are significantly higher than your average studio photographer but how much is your career worth? I don’t know one actor who would trade a callback or casting for a cheaper, less professional headshot. A great photographer doesn’t just create a composition, they facilitate a conversation. Don’t risk it, always hire a pro.

The Eyes Have It 

When I was working as the Casting Director for the San Diego Repertory Theatre, my office received countless headshot submissions on a weekly basis. Regardless of whether we were casting or not, my mailbox was consistently gorged. Part of my job was to screen these unsolicited headshots and save the ones which I thought might warrant revisiting in the future. The unlucky majority were simply discarded.

How did I manage to evaluate so many so quickly? The eyes. If they caught my attention, I would take a look at their attached resume. I specifically looked for eyes that told a story – a good emotional one that conveyed true meaning and depth. Now they might be the worst actor I’ve ever seen, but with a headshot like that, I would be happy to give them enough rope to hang or climb.

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Have you ever wondered why acting teachers ask their students to deliver a particular line as, say, an inanimate object? The reason for this is to disengage the actor’s internal narrative by engaging an imaginary – if not somewhat absurd – circumstance in order to elicit a new response. Regardless of your feelings either for or against this exercise, it does prove useful in changing the manner in how the actor thinks and, as a result, performs. In a photo shoot, good actors use their thoughts to communicate through the lens. Great headshot photographers assist in this by prompting the actor and engaging their imagination much like a director. But if your photographer falls short here, it is essential that you prepare yourself beforehand by memorizing a short scene or two which you can play out in your mind.

Keep it Real

Retouched or photoshopped headshots are easily discernable to the trained eye of the casting director. Erasing a blemish off of your shirt is one thing, but avoid making any dramatic changes which you cannot replicate in person. I can’t tell you how many times I received a headshot from an actor which looked nothing like them. A general rule of thumb is to get new headshots following significant weight loss/gain and anytime you change your look – voluntary or otherwise. Keeping yourself as close as possible to the image on your headshot is professional and avoids wasted time in the Casting Office. YouTube Vid

Wear it Well

When it comes to clothing, what should you choose? While there is some room for flexibility in your clothing choices, be aware of the altruisms that exist and follow them closely:

  1. Never wear something that detracts from your face.
  2. Avoid clothing with logos, bling or busy patterns. Think simple and classic.
  3. Ladies: avoid revealing too much of the bust with low necklines, it detracts from your face and communicates the work of an amateur.
  4. Men: Trim your beards or go freshly shorn, no in-betweens.
  5. Jewelry: I always tell actors to remove all jewelry as it distracts from your face. Wedding bands are okay but avoid the masonic pinky rings.

Once the shoot is finished, your photographer will send you a proof sheet of the shots. Now, you need to pick one or two and pass them along to friends, colleagues, and professional contacts to get their opinions (avoid giving them to your family – rarely are they objective). Once you’ve settled on one, get it printed in bulk and, like American Express, don’t leave home without them.

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