Actor Headshot Guide
Headshots 101: An Overview
A headshot is a distinct type of photographic portrait designed specifically to promote the person who is the subject of the headshot. Unlike a standard portrait that is designed to flatter the subject for aesthetic reason, the headshot is a commercial portrait carefully designed for self-promotion as a means of getting work. If you are an entertainer, business person, executive, or author you will find that a quality headshot is a vital part of your business.
There is this misconception that because of the headshot’s simple form, essentially a head and shoulders shot, it is a simple image, nothing could be farther form reality. Each specific headshot has its precise demands. The performer needs several images, both commercial and theatrical, that first convey the accurate appearance of the subject, emphasizing the best aspects but not presenting an image that flatters only. The headshot is a promotional device that is created to express specific qualities about entertainers that do not change from role to role. Its intent is to generate the call for the parts the actor is actually suited for. The actor should be portrayed at there best but still represent the actor as they would appear naturally. Casting professionals emphasize that they want the image of the person to look like the one that shows up for the audition. The viewer of the actor’s headshot must feel an immediate connection with the talent and see reliability and professional.
Never rush to pick just any photographer or choose a photographer on cost alone. Stop to consider the overall cost and choose wisely. If the cost of printing reproduction and the time spent preparing and distributing your headshot are considered it makes little sense to waste all the time and effort on sending out a poor image of yourself, missing the chance at getting the part you are after or having your new agent send you out for new headshots. This will only cause you wasted effort while incurring all the additional expense because the one you have doesn’t work for you.
Also think about the personality of the photographer you are considering working with. Talk to them and sense if you feel at ease with them and if they are eager about working with you. Are they professional, fun to work with and encouraging or are they more interested in rushing you through the process just to get to your credit card. A shoot should be exciting and fun. Working with someone you feel comfortable with allows you to be able to convey your true emotions. It is that feeling, those emotions conveyed to the camera that makes the difference between a headshot that says something and moves the viewer or falls flat as just another mug shot. Take time to view the photographer’s website and as you are looking at the headshots of other actors observe if you feel a connection with the person pictured and if you feel something special as though they are speaking out to you through there photograph. Then chose the headshot specialist that is able to motivate the actor being photographed to emote and deliver an outstand performance.
When is it time for a new headshot?
The purpose of a headshot is to provide the casting team with an accurate image of yourself, at your best. Time and time again I hear from casting directors that the biggest turn off is to have someone show up and not look anything like their headshot. It goes without saying that everyone wants to look their best. However if your headshot is overly retouched or your makeup and hair is styled in such a way to influence the image to the point that you don’t look like you when you arrive at the audition then the headshot, regardless of how fine you look in it, is a failure.
You need to keep your headshot fresh and current. How often you need to update your headshot should be determined by how much your appearance changes. Hair that has been cut, colored or significantly changed requires a new shoot. If you have gained or lost enough weight that your face has changed considerably then a new headshot is in order. Two to five pounds might not show but if you have lost or add ten or more pounds it will show in your face and the difference between your old headshot and your present appearance could result in not getting the job.
Time is the great determining factor. Wardrobes, trends and styles easily date an image and above all you what your image fresh. Headshots just like radio spots, TV commercials and all other promotional material become stale and ineffective over time. The old tired “Seen It!” image just doesn’t get the consideration you deserve as a dedicated professional. No matter how good the headshot is, it will loose its impact after it has circulated for a while. You always want fresh new images out there to keep the casting directors interested in you as an artist.
When it comes to younger actors most agents insist that anyone under 16 years old change their headshot every six to eight month. An adult’s appearance changes more slowly however a young person’s appearance change very rapidly and only a few months can make a drastic difference. Check with the photographers you are considering and see if they offer a re-shoot package for children. Many studios, specializing in actor headshot in the Los Angeles area, will agree to shoot the first session for the normal rate and offer a discount for re-shoots completed within a half a year after the original shoot.
Finally make your wardrobe selections with the understanding that fashion trends change and can date an image. Choose outfits that tend towards the classic and simple and this will increase the longevity of you headshot. Resist the tendency to wear the hottest new fashion and opt in for timelessness and simplicity. You should be the focus of your headshot not your clothing.
Commercial vs Theatrical Headshot
Now that you have decided its time to get into action lets look at some consideration. Is it really necessary to have both a commercial and a theatrical headshot? It may be easier to understand if you consider that you are targeting two separate markets, each one with a different goal. In the industry there are two basic categories, one commercial and the other theatrical. It is not unusual for an actor to have two separate agents each targeted at its specific industry. An actor wanting to reach the largest body of work needs two different types of headshots ready at all times.
The commercial agent’s focus is on acquiring work in commercials. National commercials generate the highest pay and are the most sought after, however local spots can give your career the experience and exposure you are looking for, as well as being beneficial finically. Many commercial agents will try to place you in print work also adding to more exposure and additional revenues. The typical standard for choosing commercial talent is generally based upon the actor’s appearance being able to sell the specific product by fitting into the feel of the campaign. The commercial headshot should communicate a sense of being friendly, comfortable, warm, trustworthy, sort of middle of the road normal everyday person. The commercial casting agent expects to see a headshot that is up beat and cheery with a bright smile. Even though you may play a character part and you may have seen gangsters and ditzy grandmothers in commercials it is the smiley up beat headshot that gets the work even if the character of the commercial maybe moody, zany or off beat.
When choosing your wardrobe for the commercial shoot consider neutral colors to bright colors that reflect the up beat nature of the shot. The viewer of your headshot should feel warmth from your photo that compels them to want to know more about you. Talk to your photographer about background color or location and rely upon there experience in making the choices. Regardless of wardrobe, background or location spent some time doing both a commercial pose and a theatrical pose. You never know when the magic will happen so use every opportunity to get that special shot.
We will talk about the theatrical headshot next.
In the last post we focused on the commercial headshot now lets turn our attention to the theatrical headshot. The purpose of your theatrical headshot is to provide your agent with an image of you that will be submitted for television, film and stage work. Although the commercial headshot tends to convey a lighthearted and fun feel the nature of the theatrical market require a more subtle and responsible approach. For the most part theatrical parts have much more at stake. A great deal of money, time and effort go into these productions and those casting for these parts want people they can rely upon to be professionals. The theatrical headshot should convey a feel of responsibility, reliability and dependability. Even a casual viewing of the image should communicate feelings of professionalism and trust. It seems that the media loves to show the out of control star, the prima donna or addict but in the real world only a very few actors who have become stars can afford this flaky behavior. The casting team wants to be assured that if you are called in and given the part that you can be trusted and will deliver as a professional.
Every aspect of the image should be planed to convey this message. As far as wardrobe is concerned try to focus on a casual look that stills says “I am a trained professional”. Attire that is too formal says model or prom queen. Pick colors that highlight you best features and compliment you skin tone. Pick styles that will give the casting team the feel that you can be trusted to deliver. You want to create a headshot that says “I am confident”, “I can be trusted to deliver” and “I am really really good at it.” You are an actor, a thespian, as it were, a performer and the casting team is looking for and expects to find confident and qualified talent certain of their abilities. Bring you best performance to the shoot and when the shutter clicks for the last time you will know your headshot is ready for a standing ovation. Bravo!
What to look for in choosing a Photographer
Now that we have discussed the fundamentals of actor’s headshots it is time to turn our attention to the brick and mortar, so to speak, of building a headshot that gets you cast for your dream parts. First let’s focus on picking the right photographer. There are two basic considerations. One factor being the technical proficiency of the photographer and other being their ability to make you feel comfortable. Cost is a consideration but it is a far second to the first two. A low cost headshot that is poorly executed technically and photographed by someone one with the personality of a door knob is money wasted. It is far more cost effective to wait until you can afford a quality photographer that can make you look great.
Take time to do your homework and study the work of photographers in your area that specialize in headshots. Choose those whose work you like. The internet is a great place to start your research. Visit as many photographers’ websites as you need to in order to get a sense of what is good and what you like. Also talk to fellow actors, agents and study trade publications. Look at the sample images and see if you feel a connection with the person featured. Do you feel the person you are looking at is interesting and that there face tells a story? Do you find yourself looking at the photograph because the person seems fascinating and that there is just something about them that makes you want to know more about them. Then chances are those viewing your headshot from this photographer will have the same reaction. Your next move should be to talk with the photographer. Do you feel comfortable and at easy with them? Do they seem enthusiastic and engaged, making you want to give a great performance?
There are some photographers that are great communicators but fall short technically. A great headshot requires both. There are some photographers that are brilliant conversationalists but lack the experience and technical skill it takes to deliver an excellent finish image. You must spend the time both looking at their work and talking with them to understand what their abilities are. A photographer with poor technical skills will produce images that are off color, washed out, poorly composed and amateurish looking, with a snapshot appearance. Headshots like these are immediately dismissed by the casting director. Anyone can claim to be a headshot photographer but as my old grandma use to say: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” or in other words as Cuba Gooding Jr. said to Tom Cruise in the 1996 American comedy-drama film Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!”