The Ultimate Guide To Actor Headshots
You’ve got dreams of being on the screen or simply acting in a play. But it all starts with getting yourself out there with actor headshots.
Fortunately, we’ve photographed our fair share of actor headshots and have interviewed the decision makers to see what they really want to see in your actor headshot.
Read through this guide to get all the details you need for a great actor headshot in 2023. Whether you’re doing this for an audition or just setting up your professional presence, this guide is for you.
Planning your actor headshots in advance
As an actor, you likely know that your actor headshot is the first impression that people have of you and it can make or break your opportunity to get work.
Casting directors may have something very specific that they are looking for, and if you don’t fit the bill that’s one thing, but if you’re in the running you want to be able to show that you can also capture the feelings they want you to emulate in your role.
Taking the time in advance to plan your actor headshots before you ever step in front of a camera will go a long way to saving you time, money and helping you to get the roles you’ve been dreaming of.
What exactly is an actor headshot?
If you’re brand new to acting and this is your very first actor headshot, you may be wondering what the big deal is. What are these actor headshots used for? Actor headshots are an amazing asset for you in the business of getting roles you want.
Your actor headshots can be used to physically hand as a print to casting directors looking for a set of headshots, or they can be used to submit online in a digital form. You can use your acting headshots for your social media profiles and even on a website that helps to market you as your own personal brand.
All in all, if you don’t already know the casting directors or have a shot at the job just by knowing the right people, you need a great actor heashot. So let’s make sure you have the best!
Getting amazing acting headshots
Amazing acting headshots are headshots that look like you. Like the best version of you, in the best lighting. Casting directors want to see what you really look like. You should have acting headshots that also show a little bit of the personality that matches the role you’re trying to get.
the parameters you need to know
There are certain parameters that you need to consider as you’re creating your actor headshots. Casting directors don’t want you to show up with a selfie, or an outdated image that you used 12 years ago to get jobs. These images need to be professional, be shot in professional lighting, and look like you look right now.
If you’ve gained weight, aged, or grown out your hair since your last actor headshots it is likely time for a new one. You don’t want to submit images for roles, get chosen by the casting directors, and then show up looking like someone else. So always aim to look like you, just the best version of you. There is a lot in this guide that will help you to make that a reality. So keep reading.
consider the roles you’re going for
Before you ever start looking for outfits or trying to find the right photographer, I want you to make a list. Make a list of all the roles that you’re wanting to go for, and write down the feeling associated with those roles. This will help you to understand the vibe that you’re trying to capture in your actor headshots.
If you know that you’re wanting to go for the “Girl next door,” then you may make your outfit choices based on those parameters. You’re going to be more likely to get the roles when you smile in your pictures rather than aiming for a broody look.
So take the time first to think about look and what feelings you’d like to portray in your actor headshots so that all of your decisions can be run against what you decide here. This will make it more likely that your casting directors will see the role in your headshots.
Who are you?
Now that you’ve determined what roles you’re going for, we also need to make sure that you feel really authentic using your actor headshots. How do you do that? You stay true to who you are. This means that you don’t have to go out and get a blow out from the salon and have your makeup done professionally unless it’s authentic to who you are.
The worst thing that can happen after getting your headshots done, is if you feel embarassed handing the pictures to someone because you don’t feel like they actually represent you. So keep in mind that you don’t have to try to look like someone else, you just need to show the emotions for the role behind your eyes.
Planning out the details
what to wear for Actor headshots
Choosing what to wear for your acting headshots can be one of the hardest parts of all, but there are some really great guidelines to keep in mind. First, the clothes are meant to be forgotten. What that means is that the clothing you wear for your photoshoot should never be what draws the casting director’s eyes. You want them to connect with your eyes and your smile, not your clothing.
The best outfits for acting headshots are neutral and forgettable colors, unless you have eyes that are enhanced by your clothing. Do you have bright brown eyes that would look even brighter if you wore a brown shirt? Great, that means the casting directors will connect with your eyes even more.
The goal is always to bring more attention to your eyes and smile in your acting headshots. We will continue to bring it back to this point as we go through the remainder of this guide.
Hair for Actor Headshots
As you choose how to do your hair for your role, simplicity is best. You don’t need to do an updo. In fact, if you have longer hair, it’s best to wear it down. Headshots by nature are taken from the front of your face, which means that your hair won’t be visible if you have it up in a ponytail or pulled back. It’s best to show the casting directors what your hair looks like by keeping it visible.
Makeup for Actor Headshots
Your headshot photographer will likely have some recommendations for what looks best, but if you’re stepping in front of my lens, my recommendation is to wear makeup, but keep it very natural. If you’re not into makeup and you don’t know what to do here, feel free to simply focus on your mascara. Mascara is another tool to help keep the focus and attention on your eyes.
If you are looking for a professional makeup artist, one of the best ways to search is for a makeup artist that has experience with brides and weddings. These are the makeup artists that understand the more natural looks and can do your makeup without making it look plastered on.
Always make sure that your makeup artist has people with your skin tone in their portfolio. You are more likely to have a color match with a makeup artist that has shown they can work with your skin. You don’t want to show up to a headshot session with a face that doesn’t match your neck.
Another little tip is to bring your own lipstick to the makeup artist or buy the one that they use so that you’re able to reapply as needed through your shoot.
Jewelry and actor headshots do not mix. This is not the time to wear big bright or bold earrings or necklaces because those details will pull the attention away from your eyes and make it less likely that your casting director will immediately connect with you. These little details seem really trivial, but all the little details add up.
Posing for your actor headshots is a lot easier than you might think. Fortunately, based on the parameters of an actor headshot, you are really only capturing the upper body up to your head. This means that you don’t need to know how to pose your body. Your headshot photographer will get you into the right position, then it’s all about your eyes and smile.
The best thing to do is to take a deep breath, and envision the role that you’re going for. You have likely done this many times as actors. If you’re working with a headshot photographer that is posing quickly, feel free to ask them if you can have a moment. Recenter yourself and your thoughts so that you can really capture the look you want.
Getting comfortable at your headshot session
There are times during your headshot session where you may need to get more comfortable. As we’ve already mentioned, having a camera in your face doesn’t always feel natural, but there are some tricks that you can use to get more comfortable.
Tips to look natural in your actor headshots
The first tip to help you look more natural and feel more comfortable in your photos sounds really silly. It’s to shake it out. Yep, we have a tendency to get really in our heads when we are doing an actor headshot session. So feeling your body, and getting more grounded is the fastest way to look more natural and authentic in your images.
So shake it like you mean it. Seriously. Literally dance or jump up and down for a second (another reason why you should choose a headshot photographer that you feel comfortable with).
If you are smiling in your images, your smiles will start to fade in just seconds. One of the best ways to get better smiles is to completely relax your face, and then bring your smile back for your headshot photographer. This is because your smile is best at the very beginning of your smile. So relax, then smile again.
To smile or not to smile
You may be wondering if you need to smile in your headshot. I like to give my clients both options, but sometimes it comes down to the role you’re going for. If you’re going only for the more serious roles, it’s ok to skip on the smile. Otherwise, it has been shown that people are more drawn to other people with smiles, so you can use it to your advantage.
Finding the right photographer to work with is important. Not only can the right person make you feel comfortable during the process, but they can pose you and light you in the most flattering way. So what should you be looking for as you’re choosing the right headshot photographer? You should be looking in their portfolio for a consistent mix of natural and authentic poses and expressions.
If your headshot photographer does not have natural and authentic expressions in their portfolio, it is likely that they won’t be able to capture the look you’re going for. So take a look through their portfolio.
Your headshot photographer will be your guide here, so don’t sweat this part too much, but as you’re planning your headshot session, you want to make sure that your photographer is capturing you in the very best lighting possible. Lighting is the thing that has the power to make you look incredible, make the images look professional, and take away any undereye bags or wrinkles when done correctly, without making you look like someone else.
The right location for your actor headshots can be determined partially by the roles that you’re going for, but ultimately, you want the background to be completely forgettable just like your clothing. You don’t want the casting director to spend even a second trying to figure out what’s behind you, when they should be looking into your eyes. So aim for a very simple background that’s either blurred away by the photographer’s lens or just very basic and understated.
Lighting can be more important than the background that you choose, but if you stand against something like a textured wall or a plain wall, this can look great in the images. If you are not able to shoot in a studio, going to a park or doing images downtown can look great in your images as long as your photographer has the right lens that can blur out the background.
You do have the opportunity to enhance the look of your images by choosing colors for your background. As we’ve mentioned the colors that you choose should never be the start of the headshots, but they should enhance the look of your skin and your eyes by serving as a compliment. To do this, you should look at the colors in your eyes and your skin tones to choose colors that make them pop.
A white background will always serve you well, but if you know there are colors that look amazing next to you, you should use them to your advantage. A great example of doing this is that if you have red hair, green looks great on you because it helps to bring out the red. So choosing an understated green for the background of your image, makes you stand out even more.
Your photographer will have their own processes in place, but something that you want to ensure is that you don’t get overly airbrushed or end up looking too retouched in your actor headshot. You want this to look like you, and you don’t want to show up after you’ve been asked to audition for a role only for them to realize that you don’t look like the headshots you presented.
So don’t ask for too much retouching, and make sure that you still have texture in your skin. A little retouching is fine, but it needs to be tastefully done.
Using your images
As you choose your photographers, look for someone that is going to give you the rights to use and print your images. If they control the printing rights and you need to get images printed for casting calls, it could end up being quite a headache. So aim for digital files from your photographers.
Once you’ve gotten your actor headshots back from your photographer, it’s time to get them printed. If you’re planning on doing a lot auditions and casting calls, you should go ahead and print your images in bulk. I would aim to get 50-100 prints done at a time.
When you get your prints done, the sizing that is expected for your actor headshots is the 8×10 size. It’s best to go through a professional printer like Mike’s Camera because they calibrate their printers.
If you go somewhere like Walmart or Walgreens for prints, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll end up with green or pink toned prints because they don’t take the time to calibrate their images. You likely just put a ton of effort into getting these images done, and you’ve already spent money on your photographer. Paying a little more for your prints makes sense, so don’t short shift yourself here.
Using your actor headshots online
Now that you have your actor headshots, it a great time to start treating your career like a business. You are in the business of getting yourself out there through social media marketing. That sounds really intimidating, but it’s what we do without thinking about it anytime we post on our profiles. So make sure you update your images and your profiles across all social channels. This will ensure that all first impressions of you are positive and that you’re taken seriously.
Using your actor headshot on your website
If you do end up with a set of acting headshots, it’s a good idea to host them on a website that serves as a place for people to find you. The best ways to use your headshots on your website are to use them on your landing page, your About Me page, and your contact me page.
Here are a few examples of a great acting headshot.
An interview with Casting Director Ian Henson
What does the casting process look like on your end once you get to the headshots?
It really depends on what your function is in the casting process, casting directors are literally just pulling people that match the description, a producer or a director are drilling down further and probably diving into things like education and special talents. You want to know whether the actor is going to be able to speak the director’s language, did the person study method or Meisner, can the person ride a horse, drive a car, do they know how to handle a weapon, speak any other languages especially. One thing that I think a lot of actors do is submit themselves for everything and I can’t say whether this is a good idea or not, if you’re casting for a 50-55 year old African American male with grey hair who is about 6’4″ there isn’t much I can do with a teenage girl who also sends in her headshot. It’s not necessarily an annoyance, but it is wasted time and effort on behalf of the submitter and of the person on the other end having to skip through you. You also desensitize the casting director to you.
What are you looking for when you look at a headshot?
Does this person physically match the character description? That’s the number one thing, if it’s someone that can change their hair and still look normal they may get a recommend for the next level as well, at the second level is when there is a culling and separation for experience and education. When I say education I’m not insinuating that everyone has to go to Yale Drama, you want to know that this person is trained, that you’re not going to have to spend a lot of time on set worrying about whether or not they are off-book or know what a mark is, can they have the energy necessary to go when it is go time.
What is going through your head as you look at each image?
Photoshop! How much of this is photoshop, is this person actually curly-haired and they just straightened it, how will he or she look in the costuming. Is there anything that makes this person extra interesting, scars, physical characteristics that an audience will be drawn to. Basically, anything that would get photoshopped out is what a lot of directors are looking for, flaws make people beautiful and interesting. If someone is interesting to me in a photo they’re going to be interesting to an audience that needs to be engaged by them. The more human the better.
How quickly can you tell from looking at a picture if someone is right for the job?
That’s the whole point of casting, you bring in the people that physically meet the description and see how they take direction.
Are there common mistakes you see people making with their headshots? What are they?
Swimsuits… There’s no reason for this and I see it on casting sites mostly, I understand the necessity for a body/frame picture in a modeling portfolio, but you can show your body while still wearing clothing. There is no reason for you to have to take your clothes off for a headshot. The quirky headshot is another one… I know that you can make a funny face, but what is your face going to look like 99% of the time that it is on screen.
What are your headshot turn offs? What makes you cringe?
The quirky photo… Or the selfie has become another one. I think that the rule somewhere was established that an actor needs to have a comedic headshot and a dramatic headshot or a smile and a serious. I’m all for anything that gets you to the recommend pile or that gets your headshot spun around for them to take a look at your resume. One thing that I always appreciate is when someone has drastically changed their hair and they include a candid photo of themselves with their short/blonde/red/whatever hair.
Is there anything specific that can set an image apart from the rest?
The less Photoshop the more I am going to retain that person. In a world of digital editing you can do pretty much anything with a photo, everyone can understand you getting a blemish spotted out, but if your eyes are enhanced, your teeth are fixed and your nose is slimmed/fattened/whatever then I have no idea what’s going to show up on casting day.
Do you ever deal with really outdated headshots? If you have, what does that feel/look like on your end? Do you have any examples?
Yes, there are definite trends and people that you can tell by what they’re wearing or how their hair is styled that you’re dealing with a headshot that is from a previous era. However, that doesn’t really bother me for whatever reason. I check the resume, if they’re currently working then chances are they probably look a lot like they did ten years ago and have been so busy that they haven’t had a chance or need to update their headshot.
How important do you think it is to hire a professional photographer, and why?
Paramount, get someone you trust, you’re hiring an employee basically. You need pictures all of the time, your headshot is for auditions, but what about when you get the part and the producers want a photo for the press kit or the media release. You always need pictures and you can’t wait until a producer is asking for a headshot/bio to have your picture taken professionally. God forbid someone can tell that you just grabbed something off of your Instagram.
Is there anything else you want people to know about what makes a great headshot?
Your eyes are the most important, casting directors are going to knock you out for anything. They are putting their credibility on the line too, don’t give them a reason to pass on you just because of your headshot. Get it done by someone that you trust.
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