Professional Headshots for Actors: 7 Steps to an Eye-Grabbing 8 by 10

Yes, professional headshots. If you want to work as actor, you gotta have a good one. But what's good? And what's bad? Let's talk about that...

What Makes a Professional Headshot?

It looks like you. Put yourself in the shoes of any casting director: You see an actor's headshot sitting on your desk and you think: "He looks just right. I'll call him in for a reading."

Then, when he shows up, he looks nothing like his photo. You're embarrassed in front of your client (the producer). You think: "I'll never call that actor again!"

It's more than just a shot of your head. We've seen headshots that are way too close-up. We're talking eyes, nose, and mouth. No hairline, chin, or neck. Not even eyebrows.

Professional Headshots

Casting directors need more info than that.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Don't get any closer to the camera than the guy in the photos to the right.

Go portrait, not landscape. Some actors may disagree, but your photo should always be a portrait. Take a photo in landscape, and you're wasting valuable page real estate.

It's in color, not black and white. Right up until 10 years ago, headshots were done in black and white. But thanks to the wonders of the modern age, we now print them in color.

If you turn in a glossy 8x10 in black and white, it shows that you're behind the times. And you won't get hired.

Stay away from angles. Cheesy angles and poses smack of dishonesty. (Remember, people do business with those that they trust.)

It features your eyes. Your eyes are the most important part of your headshot. So look at the camera.

Just Be Honest

So what do all those headshot tips add up to? Honesty. The key ingredient to a good headshot is honesty.

What do actors do? They behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances. An honest headshot is a good first step in that endeavor.

Have Two of Them

Now that you know what to shoot for, let's talk about how many to shoot for...

You should have at least two headshots in your repertoire: A commercial shot, and a theatrical shot.

Your commercial shot: Smile your biggest, cheesiest smile. Show 'em that you can sell toothpaste with ease. Use this headshot for commercial and musical theatre auditions.

Your theatrical shot: Get serious and intense. Show 'em that you can brood and pout better than Susan Lucci. Use this headshot for anything dramatic: The soaps, theatre, film, etc.

7 Steps to Your Professional Headshots

  • 1. Ask around. Choosing a headshot photographer can be overwhelming. There are so many to pick from. How do you know who's who?

    Once again, networking comes in handy. Ask your friends. Who did they use? Was it a pleasant and comfortable experience? Did they get their money's worth?

  • 2. Do your research. Based on those recommendations, find that photographer's website. (Psst... if they don't have a website, don't bother.)

    Examine their portfolio. Does it meet the criteria that I listed above? Are they good headshots?

  • 3. Take a meeting. If so, set up a meeting with this photographer. Are they pleasant, trustworthy, and focused on their work?

    At this time, you'll want to agree on a date for the photo shoot. And more than likely, your photographer will ask for a small deposit, which goes toward his fee.

  • 4. Shoot the photos. You want to make sure that you're well rested, hydrated, and ready to work.

    Bring several outfits to change into throughout the day. (But don't wear white.)

  • 5. Pick your favorites. When the proofs are ready, sit down and pick your two favorites: a commercial shot and a theatrical shot. Make sure they meet the criteria I listed above.

  • 6. Retouch. Maybe you had a pimple that day, or a stray hair, or your collar was out of place. Mishaps are going to happen. When you go to have your photos printed, first sit down with someone who knows their way around Photoshop.

  • 7. Print. After you've approved the finished product (with your name somewhere on the page), it goes to print. Viola! You now have professional headshots!

The Pricetag

Sure, professional headshots are expensive, but think of it as an investment. An investment in your acting career. You land one national commercial and you've paid for those headshots a hundred times over.

Next to acting training, it's the wisest investment you'll ever make.

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