Your Good Headshots Aren’t Good Enough

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5 Ways to Capitalize on Your 8’ by 10’

Having a killer headshot is one of your key marketing materials to getting seen in this industry. But these days, working with a professional headshots photographer, having good lighting, hair and makeup and taking a glamor shot is not going to cut it.

Good HeadshotsBefore you dive into your next headshot session, you need to think about what your unique attributes are that you can bring to the industry, hone in on your brand, and identify who your target sellers are.

Sounds a lot like sales right? Welcome to show business!

You are the product, and the more you hone in on your product’s unique “castability,” the more agents, managers and casting will know where to place you. Read along, learn how to hone in on your own specificity in order to turn your PASSION into PROFIT… or as we like to call it, GET RICH in your NICHE.

Here are some of our top headshots tips:

1. Create a Money-Making Brand

It is important that all of your materials are in alignment with your brand, so you’ll be honing in on your specific traits. Every single piece of marketing material you have, from your headshots, to your website, post cards, business cards, etc. should all tell the same story, and all be geared toward your specific brand.

Many actors who first come to us say they have a large range and don’t want to type-cast themselves.  Unfortunately, not honing in on this specificity out of fear of being pigeon-holed does exactly what you are trying to avoid- puts you in the category that we call the SEA OF SAMENESS.

The worst thing you want to be in this industry is forgotten, so wouldn’t you rather be auditioning and going out for roles that would help build your credits and momentum (but might be in a specific category) than be lost in the shuffle of all those other “girl-next-door” or “guy-next-doors”? Specificity opens doors!

2. Narrowing Markets = Expanding Wallets

Who makes more money… a general practitioner doctor or a heart surgeon?  Same applies to you! Theatrical and commercial headshots will oftentimes differ from one another, as they play to two completely different markets…which means your headshots need to pop and cater to these markets individually.

Good HeadshotsFor example, if you are looking to do commercials, study what actors are being cast in commercials, what they are wearing, how they are doing their hair and makeup, etc. Let’s just say from your studies, you find that you are similar to the ones who are booking the Target employee roles.  Take note of the colors of polos these employees are wearing, go into your headshot session with a red polo, hair styled with a similar style to what you saw in the commercial.  This can be your service/retail commercial headshot that helps you get into auditions for not only Target, but also Office Max, Best Buy, and many others.  The more you identify with the brand and fit in the commercial world, the easier and faster the casting directors, producers and agencies will be able to place you and cast you.

Try this for your theatrical headshots as well. Study the specific characters you would play in television shows and films. Study what energy they are bringing to each those roles. Make a list of those characters and what each character would wear. Then…what is their essence?

3. “DO YOU BOO” …but really.

As Oscar Wilde would say, “Be You, everyone else is taken”

As I mentioned, one of the worst things you can be in this industry is generic, so honing in on your top 1-3 characters you place in commercials,  TV and film will be essential. Besides putting together the outfits, you also want to think of the essence of each of these characters. For example, one client who came to me had headshots with her in a leather jack and a bright smile on her face with doe eyes. She was trying to play the “badass type.” Nothing about her read badass except for the leather jacket! Now is the time to use those acting skills. Think of what type of essence this character would have, think of their mantra. If you do assimilate with the badass types of roles, maybe your mantra is “Don’t mess with me.”

Some of our actors pick out songs ahead of time that align with each other their characters. So much of these headshots is all about the eyes and face, and what message you are giving to the viewer. The outfit alone will not be enough, you have to tell a story through your face. I have worked with actors who have even written their own monologues or stories to solidify their characters… use whatever is going to help you embrace what you are trying to convey.  Ideally your headshot could almost be a movie of TV still, capturing a moment in time of this person. 

Nowadays, especially in commercials, breakdowns will say “REAL FACES” or “MUST BE REAL LOOKING.” You have a real face, you are real looking… HOORAY! But what does this mean? It means, it is good to establish your characters, but not get too “charactery.” 

For example… if they are looking to cast the tough cop role on a procedural, that doesn’t mean take a photo in a cop uniform. A lot of times overdoing it will actually read as “green” or new to the industry. But it does mean, carry the essence and something that suggests authoritative.  Maybe that means you wear a darker v-neck and while using more hard lighting to create some subtle shadows in the shot.   

4. Ignorance Is NOT Bliss

Being Truthful with Yourself and What You Play Will Mean More Auditions & Bookings coming your way!

HeadshotsHere is where it is incredibly hard to be objective with assessing your own brand. It is hard to be honest with what we are as actors because we are essentially the product, and the industry tells us what kind of product we are. This is where we strongly encourage actors who come to us to work with our branding expert, because most of the time the idea of who you think you are ends up varying with what essence and types of characters you ACTUALLY would be cast in.  You might think you are perfect for the 30 something reporter role one day, and then convince your manager to pitch you for the 17 year old goody-two-shoes another day. You most likely are not both of those characters, and working with someone ahead of time on what you honestly portray is going to be essential.

It is important that you do not send conflicting messages in your headshots as well. For example, for a NIKE commercial, you might have a photo that is a ¾ length athletic shot so we can see your body.  Perfect! But then you have your hair all done up and have a full face of make up on. This no-longer reads Nike now and therefore presents conflicting messages. See how important it is to study your audience, the product, the advertisers and the characters you play?

5. Expect the UNEXPECTED:

Set expectations BEFORE you take your headshots

In our branding and marketing materials intensive we share the top 10 questions of what to ask a photographer before going into a session. Remember, just because one photographer produced great photos for one of your friends, doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to be right for you. You want to make sure you are aware of how the photographer works ahead of time so you aren’t blind sighted. For instance, most photographers charge by the “look,” but what defines a look? Does that mean changing clothes? Does that mean putting on a jacket? What comes in your package? Do you have to pay more for high-resolution files, to receive the files on a CD, how many photos are included in editing? How much extra is editing?

Most actors end up spending way more money than they imagined on headshots because they just didn’t ask these important questions ahead of time.

I hope these tips were helpful for you in establishing a stronger foundation and idea for what to do in your next headshot session. Remember… it’s not all about that glamour look to post as your profile photo on Facebook It’s all about creating and depicting the REAL you that will BOOK work!

“It takes 10 years to become an actor” is what most people hear.  That is because 9 of those years is generally spent learning about YOURSELF. 

To learn more about your unique attributes, how to market them in order to book more work, how to stand out in the sea of sameness and how to turn your PASSION into PROFIT, check our free live upcoming seminar at

Jona Xiao is a working actress and CEO of Career ACTivate.  You’ll see her in the upcoming studio films Keeping up with the Jones with Jon Hamm and Gifted with Chris Evans.

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