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11 things you need to know about Actors Headshots

11 things you need to know about Actors Headshots

Anthony Farrimond

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.

1. 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 actor’s 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.

2. 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 your 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 it’s 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.

3. 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 its cover, that’s true however in this case the cover should look the best it possibly can but does that mean having a full makeover 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 your 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 into 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 separate modelling portfolio.

4. 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 jewellery, 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.

5. 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.

6. 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. To avoid crazy patterns and large, distracting jewellery. Bright primary colours are best: reds, blues, greens, yellows – any solid colour. Look at your own wardrobe, what looks best on you, compliments 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 want 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 that’s too revealing, some flesh is acceptable but nothing that will distract and take us away from looking at your face.

7. 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?

8. 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 prior to the shoot. This should help keep things fresh and help you relax before the shooting begins!

9. 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 overwhelming 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.

10. 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 colour, 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?

11. 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 favourites. 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.

Anthony is best known as a leading headshot and portrait photographer, working primarily with actors & businesses across the UK.

He’s a blogger, speaker, coach and advisor

Want some quick advice?

I regularly schedule calls to answer your questions, it all starts with a quick message from you.

What sets Anthony apart is that he really takes the time to understand exactly who you are as a performer, both by having a discussion before the shoot and constantly during the session.

Lucy Ivison

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