Acting Headshots – Why We Need Them and How to Get the Best

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Acting headshots are kind of your business card when it comes to first impressions in the performance world. Since many casting directors see dozens, maybe hundreds of acting headshots every single day, you want to make yours say “Hire me, you won’t regret it.” If yours is so common and unimpressive that it gets lost in the pile of almost identical headshots, you might be waiting for that phone to ring for a while. We hope we’ve already convinced you that you need to pay a lot of attention to how your acting headshots look.

picture of a woman exemplifying truly gorgeous acting headshots

If we haven’t, maybe you would be interested in knowing what today’s guide is all about. If you are in the acting business and you’re trying to make a name for yourself, stick around. We are going to talk about why you need a nice set of headshots, how they should look, and the main tips and tricks you should remember when it comes to getting them. Let’s begin!

What Exactly Is an Acting Headshot?

Putting it simply, a headshot is an up close and personal picture of your face. It is a professional photo of an actor or actress, usually taken from the chest up, but with a clear focus on their face. The most important thing about an acting headshot is that is has to be taken by a professional, since it is not the same as any other picture of yourself from the chest up. After all, we are talking about something that will recommend you for a job, which is why it has to be professional and show that you did your best to get it. Don’t think you can trick casting directors. They can tell when a set of acting headshots was taken at your local Sears, or when it was taken at a professional photography studio.

Why Do I Need Amazing Acting Headshots?

Because this is the first thing a casting director sees when they look at your resume, and it will also be the last if they don’t like what they see. It may sound harsh or superficial, but usually, people looking for someone to fit the role they have in mind already know what not to linger on. Acting headshots is how you become a brand, how you market yourself, if you wish, to casting directors looking for their next shining star. Precisely because of that, you cannot afford to save money and go for a cheaper option or, even worse, try to take the pictures yourself.

How Does a Great Headshot Have to Look?

It’s not enough to go to a professional photographer for a set of acting headshots, you also have to find one that specializes in this type of photographs. Not any kind of professional photograph will work, since the acting industry has some rules that you have to follow when it comes to headshots.

The first thing you should remember is that the headshot has to be an 8 by 10 and in color. Even though some casting directors also accept a landscape type photograph, we advise you to stick to the basics if you want to make sure everybody is satisfied with the end result. In what concerns black and white headshots, a while ago, they were still acceptable. However, nowadays, they are regarded as outdated, so we suggest you avoid them, unless specifically asked for.

Finally, make sure that your headshots are up to date. That means, don’t use the same headshots your entire career. Whenever a casting director calls you in for an audition, you should look exactly like the person in the photograph, not 10 years older. Also, don’t change major things about yourself and then use headshots where the change is not visible. If you decide to shave your head, for instance, make sure to go get another set of acting headshots taken.

Tips and Tricks for Getting the Best Acting Headshots

1. Use a Professional Photographer

We cannot stress this enough: you should use a professional photographer every time you want a great set of acting headshots. Even if it costs more, it is an investment worth doing, since your career is on the line here. A professional photographer who specializes in this type of headshots will know how to best highlight your fortes and minimize the effect of anything you are not particularly proud of when it comes to your appearance. Typically, a great set of headshots should cost around $400 and $1,200, depending on the studio you go to. If you go for anything cheaper than that, it might cost you a job.

2. Make Sure They Accurately Represent You

That means, first of all, to avoid using tons of makeup, jewelry, and so on. You should look as natural as possible, and as much as yourself on a regular day that you can possibly be in a professional headshot. Since the picture should focus on your face, try not to distract attention from that with something else, such as an elaborate hairdo.

woman looking in the mirror while applying a lot of harsh makeupIt is not about looking like you belong on a runaway, it is about managing to allow yourself and your personality to shine through the photograph. No airbrushing and wrinkle removing, just who you are in real life.

3. Make Sure the Focus Is On Your Eyes

A great look should be able to show in a professional headshot. That is to say, you have to be able to make people feel something when they look at your picture, you have to draw their attention with your eyes. That is why your eyes should be focused on the camera and should transmit energy, positivity, and liveliness. Try piercing through the camera, or maybe even squint your eyes a little bit. You might not realize it, but this makes all the difference in the world when it comes to acting headshots. The casting directors looking at your picture should be able to feel intrigued at the sight of it, imagining what your backstory is, and wanting to know more about you.

4. Don’t Focus Too Much On Your Face

That may sound like we’re contradicting ourselves, but bear with us for a moment. Some actors and actresses tend to take the whole headshot concept a bit too far. What we mean by that is that they give out acting headshots that only capture their mouth, eyes, and nose. That is definitely not the way to go. Casting directors don’t need to see your entire body in the picture, but they also don’t want to see you without eyebrows. Make sure the person taking your picture is well aware of that (and they should be, if you took our previous advice to go pro).

5. Don’t Try to Pose

Another rather common mistake people make when they have their acting headshots taken is trying to pose. As we’ve already established, the pictures have to be as natural as possible, and as close to how you are in real life as they can be. And we’re quite sure you don’t usually pose in real life. So why are you trying to do it now? Casting directors want to see honesty. Allow them to imagine how they can work with you, instead of already imposing a certain image of yourself on them.

When I got my headshots done, there was this woman screaming at me to blow my lips out. She kept saying, ‘You want to be like Scarlett Johansson, don’t you?’ In the shot, my eyes are popping out; I look terrified. I realised I’d rather not get a job than go through pain to be something I’m not. – Jessie Cave

man looking at the camera, posing as tough

6. Get Two Types of Acting Headshots Taken

Because actors don’t normally go for specific roles, it is always a good idea to have two types of acting headshots at hand. Then, according to the role you want to apply for, add the corresponding picture to your resume and keep your fingers crossed. What we recommend is having one picture where you are smiling in the most natural way you can. You can use this one for roles in comedies, sitcoms, or even commercials (especially if it’s a toothpaste commercial). Then, take one where you look really serious, so that you can show potential casting directors that you would fit perfectly in a drama or thriller.

Everything Summed up

If you’ve been in the world of acting for two seconds, then you are well aware that a great set of headshots can go a long way in getting you the part you want. If you were not yet aware of this, we hope our comprehensive guide made you realize how important it is to be well represented by your acting headshots. Just remember to be ready to invest in them and to try to be yourself as much as possible, and you will definitely impress casting directors with your honesty and authenticity.

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