Everything you wanted to know about Actor Headshots!

What are they and why do I need actor headshots?

Actor headshots are a vital part of your brand. It’s about marketing yourself within the industry and an essential part of getting noticed and remembered by agents and casting professionals. It’s the first step in getting that all-important audition!

  • It’s not a ‘selfie’ or a photograph of your recent holiday in France, and it’s not been taken on a mobile phone by a mate while pulling duck face pouts… It should represent you as your best self; natural and not overly posed.
  • A headshot should be a quality photograph taken by a professional who knows how to produce an industry-standard headshot that’s not going to end up in a casting director’s bin!

So, if you’re serious about acting, then you need to show the professionals you are too…

it’s time to go pro and get to that audition!

How often should I update my actor headshot?

Being current is important! You should look exactly like yourself. It’s not going to go down well with a casting professional if you turn up with a shaved head when you had an 80’s style mullet in your headshot – especially if that was what stood out for them in the first place! Obviously casting professionals are your ‘in’ to an audition, so you don’t really want to upset your relationship with them!

While not set in stone, you should be considering an updated headshot every year, but obviously, that depends on all sorts of factors. On some occasions, it could be a lot sooner, for example, new hairstyle, beard, clean-shave, weight loss/gain, tattoos, piercings. On others it could be a few years – The important thing to remember is…

Any change in appearance = you might want to update your actor headshots!

What’s the industry standard for actor headshots?

While there are some subtle differences internationally, an actor’s headshot is normally represented as an 8x10Inch photograph. They can be in both landscape or vertical/portrait orientation, (with the latter being more common); and a good photographer will cover both anyway.

Previously black and white used to be the preferred format and may still be requested, however more and more agents and directors will accept colour too. Again, an experienced photographer will be able to cover both versions. Giving you options if there is a preferred or specific requirement for your agent.

How should I look?

Remember this is your visual ‘CV’ and you are showing the “real you” and how you look in real life.

Your headshot is part of your ‘personal branding’ and ‘part’ of your portfolio, but it’s NOT a portfolio session. For example, you may want photographs where you’re in character, costume, or showing off a particular style or for a specific purpose; and while these are part of your ‘portfolio’ they are NOT the real you. That’s the difference. In essence, it’s about the natural you.

A few tips and considerations
  • Be clean, Brush your teeth, clip your nails (even if they’re not in the shot, it’s about the psychology of feeling fresh and comfortable)
  • Remove all piercings. Unless this is appropriate or specific for your casting genre (you go for particular types of roles)
  • Minimise accessories – Jewellery, hats, scarves, sunglasses. Anything that distracts from your face.
  • Glasses – Yes if wear them. It’s always an idea to have some with and some without to give you options.
  • Hair neat and tidy – Remember this is the real you. Keep it as if you were just going out with friends to a nice restaurant or a job interview. Again, many photographers have stylists that can be arranged to help with this. Don’t get a haircut just before the session… Just in case you have a ‘bad hair day’
  • Don’t go out clubbing or hit the booze the night before the shoot. You won’t be at your best.
  • Get some sleep and keep hydrated.
More on Makeup
  • Yes, to makeup – For both men and women. Keep it light and natural, it’s only there to cover minor imperfections (that spot that appears on the morning of the shoot!) as well as useful for reducing skin shine/reflections.
  • Don’t overdo it though! Try to hide anything permanent e.g. freckles, moles and scars. These are a part of you (and therefore your brand).
  • Speak to your photographer as they may be able to provide a makeup artist for you.
  • Remember some ‘features’ can be retouched/Airbrushed. But remember this is about the ‘real’ you and not meant to make you look like a plastic doll!

So, what should I wear?

The important thing to remember is to be comfortable. When you’re relaxed and comfortable then the session is going to go much better and allow the real you to shine through. So, while there are no absolutes about what you wear (I’d rather you be comfortable than not at all), there are a few things that you should consider that will raise your headshot to the next level.

Style.

The neckline of what you’re wearing can also affect how your persona/character comes across to the agent. Crewnecks (softer) and V-necks (stronger) are the most common and a good place to start when thinking about what to wear.

However, this could also depend on your body type or the casting genre you’re going for; so always a good idea to have a chat with your photographer before the session to help you decide what you need.

Having layers can add interest too. So bring a selection of jackets and tops that can be combined to complement and contrast each other for different looks, and with minimal changes of clothing.

Colour.
  • Avoid strong bright colours. Reds and oranges are close to skin times and can distract from your face.
  • Light will reflect off strong bright colours and this can lead to unwanted colour casts on the skin. Muted pastel and earthy tones work well to prevent this.
Go for plain/neutral.
  • Blacks and whites can be great. However, some agencies may advise avoiding black clothing on a black background because of the potential of a ‘floating head look’. However, it’s more about how skilled your photographer is at separating you from the background using light.
  • Neutral colours that compliment your skin tone
  • Bring a few changes of clothing to the session as this can add variety and range for you to select from.
Avoid wearing busy patterns, branding and logos.
  • Avoid Stripes, spots, plaids, vivid prints.
  • Logos of any kind and busy patterns
  • All tend to distract your eyes from a person’s face; Keep it simple. Think Smart casual or job interview.

What about airbrushing?

In the digital world nearly, all professional photographs are given some form of post-processing. However, didn’t we say earlier this is about the real you?

With that in mind you can’t end up looking like a plastic doll; retouched, reshaped and photoshopped to near perfection!

While there are occasions that I would do this, it would only be for specific purposes. Such as a commercial brief or part of a digital art project. The only retouching I would be doing on a headshot would be colour correction, stray hairs and the odd blemish – While a ‘spot’ may be ‘real’ on the day of the shoot it’s not permanent feature… it’s not the real you.

Where is the best place for my actor headshots?

In its simplest terms, you are looking at a studio or on-location; and either can work well.

Studio.
  • A studio session can be more controlled from a lighting perspective.
  • The photographer can set up their equipment that suits your needs.
  • It’s not affected by the weather.
  • Most good photographers would have discussed, what you need before the session and have a variety of backgrounds and options.
  • Somewhere to change.
  • Size Doesn’t matter – I’ve seen photographers tell clients about their large luxury studios that are perfect for headshots. Nonsense! You can do brilliant headshots in the corner of a room if you know what you’re doing with light and reflectors!
Location.
  • So, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your headshots on location there are going to be a few extra considerations.
  • Controlled lighting vs Natural light -Neither right nor wrong but make sure your photographer has the ability to work with both.
  • Weather – We live in the UK… Nuff said!
  • What’s important? The location or your headshots?
  • It may be great having your headshot in a park, but many actually have commercial photography license requirements; therefore, additional costs to the session
  • Shooting on grass – Believe it or not but this can throw a green colour cast on faces
What about both?

I have a very small studio that’s very close to public land (no need for permits) So how about have some in the studio and some outside for variety? Not many photographers with a studio have this option

Don’t be late!

Don’t worry, I’m not being a stickler for punctuality! Just remember to allow yourself plenty of time to arrive at the session. Not only will you be less flustered (less stress equals better headshots!) but you will be keeping your photographer on schedule! 

Paramount personality!

Look for and work with a photographer that gets you!

It’s important to find a common ground that will help you relax and bring out your personality. Don’t go to a shoot thinking “This is just something I have to do” It’s a proven fact in the modern world – People do business with people they like! The same goes for your headshots.

Have fun, let your personality shine through. A good photographer will spend a little time before you even start and give you some time to settle into the experience. If you’re nervous that’s fine too – A good photographer is going to know this and coach you.

Paramount personality!

Look for and work with a photographer that gets you!

It’s important to find a common ground that will help you relax and bring out your personality. Don’t go to a shoot thinking “This is just something I have to do” It’s a proven fact in the modern world – People do business with people they like! The same goes for your headshots.

Have fun, let your personality shine through. A good photographer will spend a little time before you even start and give you some time to settle into the experience. If you’re nervous that’s fine too – A good photographer is going to know this and coach you.

In Summary, your actor headshots need to be

  • Your head and shoulders
  • Professional
  • Current and true likeness
  • Clean minimal background
  • Minimal retouching
  • Facing the camera
  • Have some in Colour and Black and White and both Portrait and Landscape (Some agencies may require specific standards) 10x8Inch

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