Headshot Insight for Actors



How many times have you been excited for a new headshot session, only to be disappointed with the results? There is a lot of pressure to nail the right wardrobe, the right make-up, the right expression, are you channeling the right “lanes”, the right looks, and on and on and on. Just thinking about it, I feel like I need a walk for some fresh air.

I love acting.

I don’t even notice the camera when I am working. I wonder all the time why the feeling is SO different when having headshots taken. Each time I look directly into the camera I feel like a house with all of the windows and shutters slamming shut. Yes, I just compared myself to a house. You get what I mean though right?

I am fully aware that having great headshots are an essential asset for having a career as an actor. For that reason, I keep learning and empowering myself with as much information and experience on the subject as I can.

If you feel the same way as I do or if updating your headshots are on your “to-do” list for 2021, I asked a casting director and a personal manager for some headshot insight.

Here is what they shared:

  • What makes a headshot catch your eye?

  • CD – So because most headshots are digital we see them on jpeg form usually as small thumbnails. When actors submit, say to Actors Access, the population that hires is looking at a large gallery of thumbnails. The aren’t scrolling through 8 by 10’s. So make your YOUR (the actors) eyes pop and we have a clear sense of your look in the small thumbnail imprint that is usually being looked at very quickly.  Do a quality test. Put your 10 favorites in a folder that are thumbnail size and see where your eyes go. Your “best” picture may not be the one stands out in this regard. 

  • PM – When there’s interest. I enjoy when I look at someone’s headshot and it tells me a story or where they’ve been. Make sure there’s no distraction in your shots too. Meaning, the background is more prevalent and stands out more than the actor. You don’t want that. Headshots are your most valuable marketing tool. It is the first step into the door at the casting office.

  • How would you describe a great headshot?

  • CD – To be honest I don’t really have an answer for you other than, make sure it looks like you and isn’t some sort of drag or inflated glow up version of yourself. At the end of the day a headshot is never going to get you the speaking role. Your audition will. But – a quality headshot will help with your overall campaign.  

  • PM – To me, a great headshot has it all. Great lighting, it’s cropped correctly, and there’s color. I also look for something interesting on the subject. A smile, the actor’s hair, maybe some dimples, a birth mark etc. I like when something stands out for me. If you have dark hair, your background should be light, so there’s contrast. If you have lighter hair and features, then maybe your background should be a little more darker.

  • If you could tell actors anything about headshots (like do’s or don’ts, things to avoid) what would it be?

  • CD – Dont’s: dressing a part (doctor look, lawyer look, blue collar look). Get a neutral picture of yourself looking your best and let me the casting director use my imagination. Have ONE good picture printed out. Start with no more than 50 copies. Hard copies are rare but they still exist. and an actor should always have a picture with an updated resume when they interact with any population who hires (even if they don’t want it). having the physical evidence is key. esp if it sneaks in to reinforce your digital presence. Then have a digital gallery of several looks that you can keep things fresh for websites, future submissions, etc.  

  • PM – Please please look like your headshots!! I know that sounds silly, but it’s true. The last thing casting wants if they call you in, is you looking the complete opposite of your headshots. Changing your look is great, nothing wrong with that. But make sure your headshots look to scale of your new look.

Note: If you are nervous, anxious about headshots HAVE THAT CONVERSATION WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER. Learn from my mistakes. The right photographer will allow for plenty of time for your shoot and provide you with a comfortable , relaxed atmosphere to help you get that great shot.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Do your art and I hope you rock your next headshot session.

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