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My (not so) secret recipe for the Perfect Headshot

I believe everyone should have the best possible chance at creating a winning headshot, which is why I coach my clients from the moment we book, right through to the end of their session. The whole process starts with one simple statement that I ask everyone to answer before we start to plan our session.

“I would hire (me), if I were looking for (…)”

Unless you know the answer to that statement, how can you be sure it’s what you will project in your headshots? This is where my whole process starts and once you know what ‘type’ you are we add my recipe for a successful session.

1. Add a good helping of Honesty

Your expression should be real, so we start by finding your neutral point and do small variations around that. Expression should be effortless, trying too hard can come across fake, or overzealous neither are qualities of a professional actor that has the skills and experience to deliver a believable performance.

I like to keep backgrounds simple this is to reduce the look of it being too much like a photo shoot. This, together with how I use light during a session produces a look like a still taken whilst on set.

Finally retouching is light, removing anything temporary like spots, a nik from shaving or something that would be removed with make up whilst on set.

2. Fold your ingredients Effortlessly

Once you have a grasp of your natural expression we find a rhythm and make small changes, by the end of the session you’re doing this without thinking.

We try to capture your image as if you are on set (a production still). These shots are invariably captured whilst you are working and you don’t really think too much about it at the time. In these images you’re not trying too hard in front of the camera and so it looks natural and effortless.

It’s plausible that the image wasn’t taken from an actual headshot session. This is what we hope to achieve during the session.

3. Finish with a Personal touch

It’s very important that you bring something into the shot, something of you that we can identify with, this will be different for everyone.

Perhaps its your charm or wit, your fragility, gravitas or warmth.

There’s no room for bland, safe, neutral headshots in this industry. They should be something that makes you stand out, competitive and should always relate to my initial question – ‘I would hire (me) if I were looking for a (…)’.

An Actors Life

You are a creative, on a wonderful journey. The life of an actor sounds like a wonderfully romantic and glamorous one but perhaps it’s often misunderstood.

My personal journey as a creative (in my case a photographer) has been one of ups and downs. And although I am wiser, more skillful and  greater experience, I am still learning. The way my friends, family and peers think what I do can be vastly different to reality but there have been times that I’ve come see what I do based on their opinion. I’ve fallen into the trap of believing ‘them’ that I’m an amazing photographer, that I take wonderful photographs however despite being in a great place creatively now, that has not always been the case.

I have found it invaluable to surround myself with like minded people, to ground me. Having conversations, sharing experiences and learning with people who are doing or have done ‘it’ has been enlightening and has truly helped me to grow as an artist.

So what is this actors life like that everyone refers too? Is it just a flippant way of giving explaining why sometimes things go wrong or an all encompassing phrase that allows us to communicate a shared understanding of the many different elements that define what it is to be an actor?

It’s not easy, effortless or glamourous, it’s hard work

When you tell someone that you are an actor you often get greeted with “wow that’s awesome, have you met anyone famous?” or “it must be great to do something you love and not have to answer to anybody at work!”

While either of those scenarios are attractive propositions the reality is that you’ve probably done plenty of work but nothing that your friends or family can relate to. It takes a lot of hard work to get that kind of recognition, long days, often working a full time job supporting you while you meeting agents, go to open castings and call backs. You are always learning too, going to coaching sessions, training, keeping fit at the gym and of course watching as many shows or films as humanly possible.  At some point you’ll find time to grab some lunch.

The reality is that you’ve probably done plenty of work but nothing that your friends or family can relate to.

There are a lot more opportunities out there than we collectively realise

The perception that we are a billion people competition for a handful of jobs – this perception is totally false. It’s important to understand that not everyone is trying to do the same thing, consider how many photographers there are just in Yorkshire alone. Thousands! In most cases those 1000+ will specialise, there will be wedding photographers, portrait photographers, pet photographers and of course, headshot photographers. Yes, there are a lot of people trying to do what you do but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

When you increase the number of actors you inherently increase the diversity of talent available. The range of theatrical, television and film production is significantly better than that of 20 years ago, this is largely due to the size and diversity of the creatives working on it.

We look to a few famous people and set them as a standard of success

Don’t get hung up on the idea of making it. It can be something you try and run after but never get to. It’s not realistic and its not healthy to idolise people. The path to success is so varied and what that looks like when you get there vastly different that to try and copy it will only lead to the inevitable.

Equally, don’t look at other people and think you have failed. It’s easy to look at someone else and think that they are so lucky to have the role dropped on their lap and at such an early point in their career but the reality is that person has the same fears and anxieties as you. They’ve had to train and work just as hard as anyone else.

The saying that when opportunity knocks you should be ready to answer couldn’t be more true. We don’t know when it will happen so instead of wishing it to happen, you should work towards making it happen.

If you haven’t done so already, set goals. Understand what success means to you but break it down into smaller wins

Think about making it every day a success, not a desitination but rather a process you do every day.

It may have been several months or even years since you last worked, perhaps you are coming back to your career after having a family. You’re worried that you aren’t as successful as you hoped but whether you are starting out or trying to get back to where you left off, it’s like standing at the foot of a mountain and not knowing how tall it is, an impossible mission to get to the top. It’s better to put one foot in front of the other and each day celebrate getting a little bit higher.

If you haven’t done so already, set goals. Understand what success means to you but break it down into smaller wins. Once you have your goals, you’ll be able to decide on what it is you need to do to get there. If like me, it can be difficult to focus or get started, check out my article : 5 TIPS ON GETTING ORGANISED

Join a community of fellow actors

Right at the top of this article I talked about how I ensured I had the right support to help me on my creative journey. Being part of a community, one that allows you to vent your frustrations in a safe environment or to pass on what you have learnt to others is incredibly inportant.

I started ActorsLife which is a Facebook group with a small difference. Although members often share opportunities, it’s also a great place to share your experiences and ask for support. The group is 600+ strong at the time of this article and is moderated and free from adertisers. So what are you waiting for?

Everything you need to know about Actors Headshots

You’re just starting out or perhaps you’re revisiting your career as an actor, everything’s new and there seems to be a hundred things to do and a dozen ways to do it. Getting your headshots being one of those crucial things but where do you start? I’ve put together everything you need to know about actors headshots into one useful guide with a hope that it helps you make the right choices when it comes to your headshots.

So exactly what is a headshot? It’s a lot of things, including but not limited to your look, acting type, playing age range and much more besides. Getting all of this info crammed into one single image can seem daunting, it can be but understanding what it is can make what is one of the most important photos of yourself, relatively easy to achieve.

What’s the reward? Getting your headshot right can literally open doors and it works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I’ve no doubt raised several questions so before we muddy the water any further, let’s break it down and figure out exactly what goes into a winning actors headshot.

A headshot is often the first thing that is considered when submitting yourself to agents or for castings.

What do I need a headshot for?

Your headshot isn’t just there to accompany your CV, it has so many uses. Perhaps you have a website or business cards, you most certainly will use it for your online casting profiles, Twitter, Facebook and any other social media profiles you have. And of course you’ll submit it to agents in the hope for representation. Your headshot is one of the most valuable tools in your actors tool belt. You face is literally your brand and your headshot illustrates that for all the world to see.

What do I mean when I say ‘brand’? A brand is something that people find immediately recognisable, your headshot represents what’s on offer, like a poster advertising a product, when someone meets you for the first time, they should already have an understanding of what to expect. Your headshot will help you do this. So like many big brands it’s useful to use your headshot in as many places as possible, connecting your online profiles to your social media and so on.

A headshot is often the first thing that is considered when submitting yourself to agents or for castings.

What does a casting director want from a headshot?

Similar to a passport photo, a headshot should look like you. When a casting director looks at your headshot they want to see that it actually looks like you but more than that, they want to get a sense of how you might fit the role they are casting for. They will go through hundreds of submissions making it incredibly important that you headshot stands out, that if you had met them previously, they will immediately recognise you. 

Casting directors will have something very specific in mind so its incredibly important, especially early on in your career, to establish the type of roles you want to go for. Your headshot will, at least in part, represent that. Paired to the right casting, this increases your chances of being picked out from the crowd.

What else should you consider? A casting director should get an idea of your age range from your headshot, your socioeconomic background (working class, upper class etc), an idea of your looks (attractiveness), what role(s) you would be best suited to (educated professional, someone in a position of authority, blue collar worker) and of course some indication of your personality.

When a casting director looks at your headshot they want to see that it actually looks like you but more than that, they want to get a sense of how you might fit the role they are casting for.

What makes a good headshot?

A good headshot should give us an idea of who you are as an actor and potentially which roles you are best suited to. You are unique and your headshot should show that.

Your headshot should look like you but on a good day. They say that you should never judge a book by it’s cover, that’s true however in this case the cover should look the best it possible can but does that mean having a full make over and the resulting images be retouched almost beyond recognition, no and we’ll talk about that a little later on.

We can’t deny that the physical aspects of a headshot will be considered but there is a great deal of importance in what lies underneath, a good headshot will give us an opportunity to see that too. If you’re not sure what that means or unsure as to who you, the actor, are then it’s probably time you sat down and write it down.  A great exercise is to sit down and write down you best qualities as an actor, your parts of your personality that you want to associate with what you do and then ask your friends to do the same for you. This is your list of things you need from your headshot.

As an absolute minimum your headshot should look like you if you were to walk in to an audition you should be easily recognisable – have I mentioned this before? – most likely, it’s incredibly important! Avoid getting your haircut the day before, keep make up natural or wear none at all. Glamour has no place in your portfolio unless you have a seperate modeling portfolio.

What makes a bad headshot?

Think about the absolute worst scenario, you submit your headshot to a casting, get accepted, travel all the way down to London only to be turned away because you look nothing like your headshot. That is pretty much the main thing that makes a headshot ‘bad’.

It can go horribly wrong elsewhere too, logos, crazy fabrics, plunging necklines, distracting jewelry, backgrounds that take over the photo (like trees growing out of the back of your head) and far too much make-up.

The last thing you want a casting director or prospective agent to be thinking is, “what is this person wearing?” or “who on earth took this photo?”. If they are thinking that, they aren’t thinking of casting you or putting you on your books.

Be prepared – what to know before getting your headshots taken.

You’ve invested both time and money into getting your headshots done, it’s important that you should be clear on what you want to get from your headshot session.

Preparing for your headshots isn’t just about getting a haircut and getting plenty of sleep, it also requires a great deal of thought as well. What will you use your headshots for? Which type will you play? What do you aspire to? 

You should be able to answer all of these questions already, take inspiration from the styles of shows you’ve seen on Netflix. If you seem to be drawn to one particular style you should ensure that your headshots fit that tone.

You should also be thinking about the types of roles you wish to play also. The clothing choices you make should compliment the look and feel of those roles you aspire to.

Preparing for your headshots isn’t just about getting a haircut and getting plenty of sleep, it also requires a great deal of thought as well.

What should I wear to my headshot session?

Keep it simple, non-distracting and comfortable.

The focus of your headshot should be you, not your clothes. So avoid crazy patterns and large, distracting jewelry. Bright primary colours are best: reds, blues, greens, yellows – any solid colour. Look at your own wardrobe, what looks best on you, compliements your skin tone etc. Long gone are the days of mono headshots, avoid white (which can make you look washed out) and black which just absorbs too much light.

Think about the types of characters you wnt to play, what would they wear. It’s useful to have outfits with multiple layers to give you a great range of options on the day. Finally avoid anything thats too revealing, some flesh is acceptable but nothing that will distract and take us away from looking at your face.

What questions should I ask a headshot photographer?

These are the best questions to ask a headshot photographer:

Do you have a portfolio of your past work?
What are your rates?
What is included in your rate?
Do you shoot indoor or outdoor?
How many looks does your session include?
How long is a session?
Do you recommend anyone for makeup, hair, retouching?

What can I expect from a headshot photoshoot?

Headshot photoshoots last at least one hour and can go up to three hours.

You should bring all your wardrobe changes with you, and keep makeup and a small mirror handy for touch-ups (unless you have a makeup artist on hand). If you’re shooting outdoors, wear comfortable shoes, especially if you will be walking to different locations—your feet won’t show up in the shot. Your photographer will shoot you from various different angles.

You should expect your photographer to sit you down and go through what you’ve discussed pior to the shoot. This should help keep things fresh and help you relax before the shooting begins!

How can I relax during my headshot session?

This is where having a great rapport with your photographer is really important.

Being able to engage easily with the person taking your photograph will help you relax. Some photographers will even direct you.

It can be overwwhelming having built up how important getting this headshot right is, but that shouldn’t make you feel nervous. The key to a great headshot is being relaxed, have fun! Let your personality shine through.

The key to a great headshot is being relaxed, have fun! Let your personality shine through.

How often should I get new headshots taken?

You should get new headshots taken every one or two years, every 6 months to one year for children.

Any time you change your look, you need new headshots. If you get a considerable hair cut, dye it a different color, or if you gain/lose a significant amount of weight, you should also get new headshots.

Are your current headshots benefiting or hurting your career. Are you getting positive feedback on them. Or are you getting called in less because your headshot doesn’t look like you?

How do I pick the right headshot?

To pick the right headshot, ask your family, friends and other actors, for advice.

Your photographer should send you a link to an online gallery of your images from your shoot. Ask people to take a look through the gallery and pick their favorites. Ask them to give you feedback on the styles or roles you come across as in them, how does this compare to that list you thought of prior to your shoot?

It can be a difficult thing, looking at row upon row of images of yourself but keep a clear mind and focus on the importance of this headshot and what it will do for you over the coming months. 

5 Ways to save money as an Actor

Becoming successful in any industry has always relied on the ability of the individual.  Raw talent, skills and a little luck will help you get the role you desire, however with growing competition for a limited number of places, those things might not get you all the way alone.

There is pressure from the industry and from peers to invest money in both developing skills as well as promoting work.  So attending workshops, masterclasses, recording voice reels, show reels and updating your actors headshots are necessary in order to keep yourself current. So we’ve put together our top 5 ways to save money as an actor, if you have any other suggestions, leave them in the comments section below the article!

Immerse yourself in culture without spending a fortune

Going to see every single performance your friends are in, or see the latest production or film out by your favourite director can become incredibly expensive.  This will seem like common sense but check to see if there is a reduced rate for matinee performances or an offer on certain days of the week at the cinema.  It might not save you mega bucks but over the space of a year the savings will add up.

Use your student status

Something else that theatres and cinemas will likely accept is your student ID or Union card.  A valid Student ID card can save you a considerable amount of money on the high street but also ask industry related businesses if they have an offers or discounts available to full time students. For example, I currently offer 20% off the standard price of our actors headshot packages to full time students.

Know your tax exemptions

When it’s time to submit your self assessment, understanding what you can claim tax back is really important.  A great deal of what you do during your day will be working towards full time employment, honing skills, working out, networking the list goes on. There is an extensive list of things you can claim back on such as, clothing (performance wear or costume), play texts, books, travel to and from auditions/acting work, computer, laptop, headshots. If you are unsure about any tax issues or deductible percentages then speak to your tax accountant, HM Revenue & Customs self assessment department, Spotlight or Equity.

Kill two birds with one stone

As you start your journey in the industry you’ll need to update your headshots, put a voicereel and a showreel together.  This can be an expensive exercise with individuals spending on average £700-£1,000

Try looking for someone who can provide those combined services and who offers good value for your money but without risking quality.  If in doubt always look for people who specialise, for example if you need to record your showreel, look for someone who supplies material, recording and editing services. However if you already have your material for your showreel, you could employ the services of someone who offers showreel and headshot packages.

I also offer a combined option with all of our headshot packages to include the editing of your pre-recorded material for your showreel.

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