Casting Directors (CD’s) & Directors want to know who you are. Show them! Your headshots should look & feel like you. They should be unique (like you), bare your soul, and tell people more than you want them to know about you in a single glance. You’ll know you’ve got headshots that represent you well if your friends & family say: “OMG, that’s so You!”
2. Simplicty Wins
Your headshots should be simple. No elaborate backgrounds, poses, make-up, jewelry, costumes, facial expressions. They should simply demonstrate you being yourself at your best. Headshots are NOT glamour shots!
3. Variety is the Spice
There should be variety. You need variety in the poses, the facial expressions (smiling, serious, in-between, etc.), the outfits, the lighting options (studio & natural), your hair (styles & colors if you wear wigs), your makeup, and your eye color (if you wear colored contacts). The more variety you have in your shots, the more you have to pick from later, to perfectly suit that audition you’re dying to be called in for.
4. Experience, Experience, Experience
Make sure you pick a great photographer with lots of experience in taking good headshots. Don’t go to a place that pumps out pictures as fast as McDonalds – this is a headshot factory and chances are your shots will look just like everyone else who’s gotten them done there. DON’T get your headshots taken by an amateur, a friend, or use a selfie – they won’t be good & you won’t be able to compete with the other actors who have fabulous professional headshots. The money you save won’t be worth the money you lose in bookings. And get to know the photographer a little ahead of time, evaluate their work and make sure you like it.
5. Spend Good Money, Not Great Money
Good headshots cost good money. Sure you can pay $100 for 10 different poses, but chances are, you’ll be lucky to get one great picture in the mix. So spend good money to get quality headshots. Don’t spend too much money though. Here in Pittsburgh, you should be spending around $100-$125 per pose, roughly about $500-$650 for a session with 5 different poses, 3-4 headshots and an editorial shot or two. One pose should include: having an on-set stylist do your hair, makeup, and help you pick an outfit, with photos taken in multiple poses, locations, and/or lighting set-ups. Then you should move on to the next pose, which will include a different hairstyle, makeup, outfit, and so on… If you’re spending more than this, you’re probably overpaying.
6. Reproduction Rules
Make sure that whatever hair and makeup choices you make with the stylist are ones that you can easily reproduce yourself later. When you show up to an audition, you need to look just like the picture that got you there.
7. The Eyes Have It
Windows to the soul? Absolutely! It’s a saying for a reason. Your eyes need to be expressive, bright, and always visible. While the whole picture is important, it’s your eyes that will tell the majority of the story of who you are. Make sure you use them and highlight them in the best ways possible. If someone looks at your headshots and your eyes immediately draw them in, you’ve got their attention! This is what you want to aim for.
8. Rest & Prepare
Pick out your outfit options in advance, know what colors are best for you, and have a plan for your hair and makeup that you can discuss with the stylist. Most importantly get a good night’s rest! Beauty sleep is a necessity if you want to look amazing in your pictures!
9. Don’t Retouch Too Much
Remember authenticity and simplicity. You want to look like your best, most natural self (with the aide of makeup and fabulous hair, of course). If you do a lot of retouching, it will show when you walk in the door not looking like your pictures. Don’t airbrush your nose, structure your cheeks, or remove all your wrinkles. Retouching should only be used in small doses if at all. Woke up with a huge pimple? Didn’t get your beauty sleep? Reschedule your session if possible. If not, retouch to remove the pimple, dark circles, or extra crow’s feet around your eyes – And That’s It! Any retouching should still look like you on an average day. DON’T even think about using Instagram, Pixlr-o-matic, or Flickr to add filters or effects to your headshots!
10. Own Your Rights
The cost of your headshots should include all session fees and poses, and the rights to all of the pictures taken in the session. They are photos of you and you should own them. That way you can pick and choose new ones, retouch, and/or reproduce them at any time. Added bonus: you can post them to the web with no worries – You Own Them! Not all photographers provide this option, but they should. Some photographers charge you an additional fee for every picture that you want to use/own – often $25 or more per picture. Shame on them – I say! If you’re choosing between photographers and one gives you the option of paying an extra $100 upfront to own the rights to all of your pictures, while the other is $100 cheaper, but charges $25 or more per picture to own the rights – all things being equal, always choose to pay the $100 more upfront. Trust me – you’ll be soooo glad you did!
11. Keep It Fresh
You need to get new headshots every couple of years as you age. And if you change anything – hairstyle, hair length, you have cosmetic surgery, whiten your teeth, gain or lose weight, etc. – you need to get new pictures. If you aren’t booking jobs and you don’t understand why – you may need new pictures – ask your agent, friends, and family if your pictures are up to snuff.
12. An Ounce of Preparation
Be sure to plan your wardrobe well. Solid colors only, NO stripes, patterns, or logos of any kind! Pick outfits that demonstrate your type. Pick colors that suit you best – look at your eyes, hair, and skin for clues. If you don’t know what colors are best for you, ask a friend who excels in fashion, hire a colorist or stylist to help you find your best color schemes, or talk to your photographer about meeting with their stylist ahead of time to help you decide. Your clothes should enhance your appearance not detract or distract from it. Make sure your clothing is ironed and ready to wear – one simple wrinkle can suggest that you are unprofessional and sloppy. One wrong color can turn your smile into a sickly grin. And DON’T wear trendy clothing – it can immediately date your photos. Those jeggings or UGG boots were all the rage when you had your pictures taken, but this year? They may be SO LAST YEAR!
13. Negative Space, Asymmetry, & Angles are Good
Negative space, asymmetry, and angles can add interest to your pictures and draw people towards you. If done incorrectly, they can cause your pictures to look awkward, confuse people, or draw them away from you. If using these tools in a headshot composition, make sure that you do it in a way that is advantageous.
14. Color Your World
Your headshots need to be in color. NO Black & White. NO Sepia. COLOR! Period.
15. Turn Them On
Your pictures should invoke excitement in the people who view them. They should encourage CD’s to take a second look, to want to meet you, to get to know you. If you’re pictures tell a story that screams, “I’m interesting,” “I’m mysterious,” I’m strange,” or “I’m different,” you’ve just greatly increased your chances of getting called in for an audition.
16. Think Type
Know your type before getting your headshots done. Everything in your photo should suggest your type to potential employers – your hair, makeup, wardrobe, expressions. If you play mom roles, wear khakis, a sweater set, and a warm, welcoming smile. For strong, silent executive types, wear a tailored suit, cross your arms, and look like you mean business. And for an undercover agent, wear something that lets you blend in while standing out, and an expression that suggests you have a few secrets to hide. Just don’t take it too far. The key here is to “suggest” your type. NO COSTUMES! NO PROPS! For an editorial shot to round out your portfolio, you can do basic costumes and props – i.e. scrubs and lab coat.
17. Close, but Not Too Close
There are 3 basic poses you should have in your portfolio – full body, ¾ length, and close-up. While your main headshot – the close-up – should focus on your head (or rather your face), that doesn’t mean it should just be your head. Make sure that at the very least your shoulders appear in this type of shot. No one wants to look at a picture of your floating head – it’s just creepy!
18. Brand It Twice
The first brand is the headshot itself – YOU! The second brand is your name – when you have your headshots reproduced, make sure your name appears on the front of them somewhere. It should be big and clear enough to read, yet inconspicuous enough that all eyes are on you, not your name. One way to do this is to add a border to your photo and place your name in the border.
19. Have Fun
Don’t be a Stiff at your headshot session. Take a friend with you. Make a day of it. Have fun with the photographer. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself feel comfortable and at ease. If you’re not relaxed, your pictures will come out looking stilted and awkward. And you will have spent all that good money for nothing. A great photographer will figure out a way to put you at ease and get a natural, easygoing look that photographs fantastically. Don’t rely solely on this though – your demeanor and attitude is up to you, so make it a great one!
20. Break the Rules
Now that you know all the rules to follow, break a few of them. Just make sure that breaking the rules will get you noticed – in a GOOD WAY! Your headshots should set you apart from the crowd, so if breaking a few of the rules helps to do that, then Dare to be Different! It’s what many Casting Directors are looking for!
Click HERE to see some of my headshots & editorial photos.
My photographer is Eric Mull in Cleveland. If you decide to use him, tell him I sent you.
Next Week: Are You a "Real" Actor?