Oh, the dreaded headshot! I don’t know about other actors, but just the word “headshot” makes my stomach churn. I hear “headshot” but I see dollar signs and my crooked teeth. Headshots are many things to an actor- a tool, a representation, a business card in a sense. They are also expensive, annoying, and often misunderstood. Having just had my headshots redone, the frustration is fresh in my mind. While I was fortunate enough to find a professional, affordable photographer with experience in actor headshots, I was still reminded of how delicate the process is.
So when it’s time to get new portraits done, what are the important things to think about? What do you say to your photographer? How do you explain what you need out of your shots?
Having worked on both sides of the casting process, I’m convinced there are roles I’ve been called back for and roles I have lost simply because of the quality of my headshots. So, I’ve put together a list of things I believe your headshot should say to potential directors about you. Hopefully, this list will guide you down the path of quality portraits so that you don’t miss out on roles simply because of your pictures.
You are direct-able.
Photographers are a lot like directors. They have a vision. You enable them to bring that vision to life. But if you are a diva and refuse to be directed, that will show in your shots. Pick a photographer that you trust and then allow them to do their thing. A good headshot will say to directors that you can be molded.
I love to make silly faces in photos. I would love to have a crazy, stupid face in my headshots (I feel it’s my best look). But I also know that’s ridiculous. And when I walk into a photographer’s studio, I’m not in charge. He/She will make the decisions and direct. A potential director should pick up your headshot and see a unique pose on a subject who is relaxed and saying, this is my look. This will tell them that you are easy to work with and can be directed.
You have personality.
Lots of different professions require headshots- realtors, writers, business men and women… But an actor’s headshot is something completely different. In addition to showing directors what you look like, it must also give them a sense of your onstage persona. Know your niche in the acting world. Are you the dramatic ingenue or the comedic sidekick? Are you a tiny dancer or an Aretha belter? What is your presence like on stage? That should be your presence in your photos.
This goes hand-in-hand with your direct-ability, because a pose that you think shows your personality may communicate something entirely different on camera. I might think twisting my hair and smiling looks sexy. But my photographer might say it makes me look tense and nervous. Again, choose a photographer you trust and then listen to them. They will help you communicate your message.
You know people.
Now, hear me out on this one. In smaller acting communities, there are generally one or two photographers who get the majority of the headshot business. Typically, that’s because they are awesome at what they do. By using a photographer that is known to the theater community in your area, it may give you points at your audition. Not officially. It certainly won’t get you the role. But what it says to a director is that you can network. You talk to people, you do your “research” within the community. You didn’t just hire the first name from your google search. If you’re new to a smaller theater area, consider getting your headshots done by someone in the community for the sole purpose of networking with the photographer. He or she will undoubtedly know where the best theaters to work at are and who to contact there. Some may even be actors themselves who can advise you on the level of competition. Again, this one isn’t as important, but may be something to think about if you’re coming into a new area.
You’re serious about getting hired.
There is something to be said about investing in your headshots. And it is not, “Look at me! I have money!” It says, “Hey, I take this seriously. I’m not here to waste your time.” A quality set of professional headshots shows that you are serious about getting the part and don’t cut corners. I am all about saving money where you can (trust me!). But over the years, I have learned there are some things that are just worth the extra money. Your wedding dress. The better brand of toilet paper. And add to that list, actor headshots. These things are gifts to yourself that keep on giving! So save up, buckle down, and pay the extra money for a photographer who is professional, has experience in actor headshots, and will deliver a quality product. It will show that acting is not just your hobby, but something you are willing to invest your time and money in.
You look the part.
I was fortunate enough to receive several poses in my most recent set of headshots in which I appear to look younger than I really am. This was definitely nothing I did, but a result of very clever photography! She happened to catch me in a very youthful light. Now, if ever I am after a part that requires a younger woman, I will certainly choose that shot over the more mature, serious shots.
You should have an array of portraits that you can choose from based on the part you’re after. One standard pose might be fine for the realtors and businessmen, but an actor must tailor their shots to the hundreds of potential roles they want to get. That may seem overwhelming, but a good photographer will be able to capture many different looks that you can use in different situations depending on the director and the show. Take several outfits with you to your photo shoot. Take a shirt with a collar, a tank top, and something with a unique neckline. Bring jackets to mix and match with. The more you give your photographer to work with, the better he or she can serve you.
What would you add to this list? What else should be communicated through an actor’s headshot?
Photo: Dan Wright Photography