Seven Secrets to Fantastic Headshots

Your headshot is the ship of all ships. It’s your calling card. This 8×10 piece of paper speaks volumes for you before you ever enter a room. But not all headshots are created equally, folks and while you are on your journey towards stardom, your headshot has a heavy load to bear.

Most actors utilize a commercial headshot along with a theatrical headshot. Here’s the problem though; these photos usually feature a smiley-faced actor and a frowny-faced actor, neither speak to that actor’s unique castability. Until your resume stands alone, your headshot must clearly and specifically explain how you’re best cast. So, a handsome photo alone won’t cut it. Casting directors are busy people and in order to stand out, you must convey a clear, specific message. Make their job easy. They’re looking for the right actors for their projects and it’s your job to showcase how right you are. Your photos must be specific.

In an effort to be specific, many other actors own multiple photos featuring them in all kinds of get-ups like a lab coat, an argyle sweater and glasses, or even a police officer’s uniform. While these headshots are very specific, they don’t showcase your character, they only highlight a caricature. You must, must, must avoid this at all costs. Yeah, your shots must be specific, but they must also be authentic and believable. Casting directors may be busy, but they’re not stupid. They don’t need to see you wearing scrubs in order to call you in for an audition as a nurse. Don’t rely on costumes or gimmicks to convey your specific castability.

You don’t need a ton of specific photos with lots of specific costumes. You only need one to three key photos that speak to your castability in a drama, a comedy, and as a specific character such as a villain, a blue-collar guy, a welfare mom, or a sexy bombshell.

It is possible to have headshots that are both specific and authentic. Let me show you how.

Showcase the Real You
No matter what the role, you’re the one being hired for the job. Who you are as a human being affects each role you book, so you’ve got to know yourself, know how others perceive you, and be willing to showcase your specific and authentic self. Yup, that’s right. You get to be you, and the more you showcase your glorious self, the more easily success will meet you. Be your best self. Know who you are and embrace it. Do that, and you’ll easily capture a riveting dramatic photo, a charming comedic photo, and perhaps an honest character shot or two.

Create a Tag Line
Now that you’ve outlined the types of roles you are likely to book, it’s time to develop the character. Create some phrases this character would say and think the thoughts of that character during your shoot. Doing so will keep you focused on the core message of your castability so you can convey that energy through your eyes and your expression.

If you play commanding characters, you might think something like, “I’m in charge, here.” If you play quirky and fun-loving comedic types, your tagline could be, “You’re never going to believe this!” or “This is fun!” If you play dark brooding roles, your tagline might be, “I’ve got a secret,” or “trust me…really.”

Just develop the character enough to pinpoint possible taglines so you can convey the energy of your niche without the need for costumes, props, or gestures.

Communicate Clearly
Most actors show up to a photo shoot with just a pile of clothes and a dream. Communication with your photographer is imperative. If you can articulate the types of roles you want to book in a way they can understand, the pressure is off. Now you can do your thing feeling confident that your photographer will work his or her magic. Illustrate your character by drawing parallels to other people. If you book sexy roles, are you Angelina Jolie-sexy or Sarah Jessica Parker-sexy? Both women are sexy, but very different. Communicate clearly enough so you know you’re on the same page as your photographer. You’ll be glad you did.

Less is More
Don’t get too hung up on wardrobe. The perfect wardrobe is one that you don’t notice. That said; make purposeful, thoughtful choices about what you wear in your shoot. Subtle hints can help illustrate who you are without slapping someone in the face with a gimmick. Dress from the ground up. The shoes you wear, whether you are sitting or standing effect the energy in your face during the shoot.

Once you know the message you’re going for, ask yourself, “How can I convey this message in the most subtle way?”

Make the Connection
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who couldn’t quite make eye contact with you? While you attempt to connect with this person, they stare at your forehead, your chest, or the top of your head. Though you continue to speak, you quickly begin to feel self-conscious or distracted by the lack of eye contact.

When choosing your headshot, make sure you can make direct eye contact with the person on the page. Print the photo out and hold it out 2-3 feet in front of you. As you look at the photo, can you lock eyes with the person on the page? Eye contact is essential to create the connection you desire with casting directors, agents, and anyone else who happens to eye your headshot.

Let Go A Little
Prepare for your shoot, but then let it all go so you can actually enjoy the experience and allow your true self to shine through. You‘re gonna have lots and lots of headshots throughout your career. Some will work better than others, but none of them will really make or break you. You must relieve yourself (and your photographer) of the pressure around needing the perfect photo. Forget about the money you’ve spent. Forget about your nerves, your needs, and your time. Just enjoy the shoot. Part of an actor’s job is getting your photo taken, which if you ask me is a pretty cool gig.

And another thing…
Remember that the sole purpose of your headshots is to get your hired. They do that with a riveting photo that showcases the real you and speaks clearly to your castability. It doesn’t matter if you’re smiling or not. It doesn’t matter if your head is off-center, or the photo is cropped tight to your head. It doesn’t matter if the photo is horizontal or vertical. It doesn’t matter if it’s a close-up or shows a little body. What matters is that the photo captures people’s eye and showcases the real you.


2 Responses to “Seven Secrets to Fantastic Headshots”

  1. Hi Dallas!
    Keli Squires Taylor here. :D
    I am a professional photographer and
    have been shooting for the last six years.
    Before that I was a talent manager for seven years.
    Wanted to address the “specific categories” in this blog.
    As you say “get ups such as lab coat, argyle sweater and glasses
    and cop uniform”.
    See the thing is.. Some agents. There is one top
    commercial agent here in L.A. who like their clients to have this.
    The agent likes to submit specifically on the nuance.
    It saves the agents and casting time in the submission process.
    While it’s not for all agents, it does, I can tell you work quite well
    for their clients. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of clients with multi commercial bookings!!
    I have also suggested to these actors, that
    if they need to build credits such as co-star roles that , they use these pics for that purpose. After all when casting a co star role
    such as a cop, they really need an actor that looks like a cop and can do the job. In other words.. These types of pics can help in different ways. I had a client doing a comm. photo shoot for her agent ( a top comm. agent here in L.A.) and before our shoot day,
    she had two theatrical auditions for two small roles.
    One a nurse. One a security guard. She wore the wardrobe to the auditions ( since she had it anyway for the photo shoot) and booked both jobs!
    Casting directors aren’t stupid their busy!
    Now, I’m not saying this is the only way to shoot head shots.
    I believe that there is no wrong or right way. i.e. super specific,
    or more general. I shoot however the agent/client/manager would
    like for their taste and preference.
    It just depends on what marketing approach that agent or manager feels works for them. It’s their belief. In that belief..
    it works for them.
    This.. Sometimes can get confusing for actors.
    Another conversation altogether.
    Bright colored backgrounds, neutral, location, blurred etc.
    As you said. All that really doesn’t matter as long as..
    your head shot looks like you and captures your personality!
    Also having a tag line.. As you mentioned above in your blog can be a great help to any actor!

    -Keli Squires Taylor

  2. Just one more thought..
    Regarding the client I mentioned in my above reply
    who had the two theatrical auditions for a nurse
    role and security guard , who booked both jobs.
    I didn’t mean to imply that
    the wardrobe is why that client booked those jobs.
    This client is a talented actor who knows their business
    but it may have helped that casting could already “see”
    her in those roles along with a great audition.
    There are some folks who say “imply it,don’t buy it”.
    There is some validity there.
    Not everyone will feel comfortable dressing in character
    for auditions etc. however it works for some.
    Again.. It is.. Whatever approach works for you.
    And.. The agents who do like their clients to have very specific
    category shots, like the photos to be real, not over the top.
    No props and again the photos to look like that actor and have their
    personality coming through.
    Thanks again.
    Keli Squires Taylor

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