Essential Guide to Performing Artists & Actor Headshots
Actor headshots (for performing artists and actors alike) 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 while mobile phone camera technology has come a long way it not something to 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 recent head and shoulders portrait that reflects how you look, preferably 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!
- It’s your Casting Agency profile image and/or your Spotlight profile image and is considered an essential part of your portfolio.
- It should be part of your professional website and consistent across all of your social media accounts.
- Ready to go for sending to casting directors or agents or promotions for example part of your EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for example.
So, if you’re serious about acting, then you need to show the industry professionals and casting agents you are too… it’s time to get in front of your profile and get to that audition!
360 Interactive Gallery - Performing Artists & Actor Headshots
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!
Casting professionals are your route to an audition, so you don’t want to upset your relationship with them!
While not set in stone, you should be considering an updated headshot every couple of years; or at the very least and more likely once a year. However, this also depends on other factors.
On some occasions, it could be a lot sooner, for example, you have a new hairstyle, grown a beard, clean-shaven, weight loss/gain, new tattoos, or piercings. From experience with some production companies will ask agencies, to ensure that performing artists being put forward all have a recent headshot.
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 traditionally represented as an 8x10Inch photograph. and would be accepted by most of the major agencies and platforms (Spotlight, for example) They’re generally in a portrait orientation however a good headshot photographer will cover both, as many performing artists will have portfolios and showreels on their websites and social media accounts too.
Generally, UK Casting directors prefer a closely cropped head and shoulder shot whereas in the US there is a tendency to see slightly more of the body.So it’s about having a selection and using what’s appropriate for the role.
Previously black and white used to be the preferred format and may still be requested, however, the majority of agents, production companies and casting directors will require colour photographs. Again, an experienced photographer will be able to cover both versions. Giving you options for your portfolio as well as if there’s a specific requirement to provide.
How should I look?
Remember this is your visual ‘CV’ and you are showing the “real you” and how you look in real life. This isn’t about a basic portrait, you need a headshot that’s going to show your personality and stand out in a sea of other actors
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 REAL natural looking you.
Something else to consider is the lighting. A good photographer should know their trade and be able to capture you in the best possible light. Be that using studio lighting or natural lighting.
Remember you want to be seen in the best possible light. Ask the photographer to keep the light soft and show your face clearly – Overly dramatic harsh lighting may not be the best thing for your casting headshot but it could have an impact on your portfolio – You may want to consider this as it may affect the length of time you need to book.
A few tips and considerations.
- Be clean, Brush your teeth, and clip your nails (even if they’re not in the shot, it’s about the psychology of feeling fresh and comfortable)
- Your eyes are your key feature make sure your well rested and fresh – Nobody wants to dry, tired and dark eyes.
- Remove all piercings. Unless this is appropriate or specific for your casting genre (where you go for particular types of roles)
- Minimise accessories – Jewellery, no hats, scarves, or 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 should be neat-&-tidy – Remember this is the real you and it’s about making a great impression (You only get one chance to make that first good impression!). Many photographers have stylists that can be arranged to help with this.
- From experience, I recommend not getting a haircut on the same day as the photo shoot though… Unless a hairstylist is on hand during the shoot it’s far better to give your hair time to settle naturally.
- 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.
A bit about makeup.
It makes no difference for men or women, the consideration here is for you to keep your makeup light and natural. You’re not going to a glam party remember! This is about you looking natural on a good day.
- Yes to cover a few temporary imperfections (that spot that appears on the morning of the shoot!) as well as useful for reducing skin shine/reflections.
- Don’t 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 temporary ‘features’ can be retouched by the photographer however, remember this is about the ‘real’ you and not meant to make you look like a plastic doll.
What should I wear?
If you’re booking a headshot session with me I have a guide to help you with this. The most important thing to remember though is to be comfortable. When you’re relaxed and comfortable then the session is going to be more enjoyable and allow your personality 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.
The neckline of what you’re wearing can 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.
- Avoid strong bright colours. Reds and oranges are close to skin times and can distract from your face.
- Light will reflect off strong bright neon colours and this can lead to unwanted colour casts on the skin. Muted pastel and earthy tones work well to prevent this.
- 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. Black on lighter backgrounds can also make a person look “blocky”
- Think 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.
- You may even want to work with a colour stylist! Even I’ve had my colours done!
- Avoid Stripes, spots, plaids, vivid prints. – They are going to draw interest away from your face and eyes. They can also cause a moiré effect (distracting & unwanted interference pattern usually made up of lines)
- Logos of any kind and busy patterns – Tighter patterns can also cause the Moire effect
- 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.
You certainly (and I wouldn’t anyway) want photoshop manipulation of face shape or removal of permanent features. E.g. wrinkles, Tattoos, birthmarks, scars, etc.
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, but there are considerations.
- 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.
- Being able to change outfits in privacy
- Size Doesn’t matter – I’ve seen photographers tell clients about their large luxury studios that are perfect for actor headshots. Nonsense! You can do brilliant headshots in the corner of a room if you know what you’re doing with light and reflectors!
- So, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your actor 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 can work with both.
- Harsh bright sunshine at midday with no cover is not a good time!
- 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 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 a split photoshoot (both on-location and in a studio)
I’m fortunate to have a headshot studio that’s very close to publicly accessible common land (no need for additional permits) So how about having a variety of photographs, some in the studio and some outside for variety? Not many photographers with a studio have this option. But it’s always worth asking if this is an option.
Oh, and 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!
How much are actor headshots?
Photography is not a regulated industry so there’s going to be a wide range of pricing options from low to very high. And while there is no guarantee that the more expensive sessions will mean higher quality, like with many things you get what you pay for.
This has to be thought of as an investment rather than a cost. Remember it’s likely to be the first visual contact that a casting director is going to have with you – You need it to be correct and you need it to stand out. How much is that going to be worth to you?
Focus on the right photographer for you first. Research and research some more, and where possible always try to have a conversation with them before making a decision. I have another article about searching for a brand photographer that you may also find useful as much of that applies to this too.
Linked to the previous point, you should always ensure you carry out some due diligence on the photographer. It saddens me to say there are fake photographers out there that are looking to take advantage of you and your hard-earned cash – Have a read of my article on typical photography scams and what to look out for.
Once you’ve narrowed a selection down make sure you talk to them before deciding who to choose. Ask them questions and make sure they have contracts and model releases too (Never work with a photographer without a contract and model release)
Search, research 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, and 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 through the experience to get the best out of the session.
In Summary, your actor headshots need to be:
- The authentic you should shine through.
- Your head and shoulders.
- Professional – This is not the time for your holiday snaps!
- Current and true likeness.
- Have a variety. Keep it simple for example different hair-style indoors & Outdoors – You don’t need hundreds with lots of different expressions though. You just don’t want them all the same.
- Clean minimal background.
- Minimal retouching – It’s not the place for Instagram filters!
- They should be well-lit, Facing the camera & see your eyes.
- Keep them updated regularly and remove old outdated images from profiles too.
- Have some in Colour and Black and White and both Portrait and Landscape (Some agencies may require specific standards) 10x8Inch.
Is it time to update your performing artist headshots?
Hopefully, this guide has given you a starting point. Whether you work as a performing artist, supporting artiste (extra), professional model or an actor, imagine what it would mean to you if a new headshot helps you get that next audition and part you’ve been waiting for. Want to learn more about updating your performing artist headshot with me?
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