What is a Headshot?

A headshot is an 8 X 10 (usually black and white, but sometimes color) close-up photograph of a model or actor. The photograph usually covers the actor from his or her head to their shoulders. On the back of the headshot, actors attach their acting résumé (similar to a traditional business résumé) that contains details about the actor’s training and experience. Actors use the headshots and résumé to obtain acting jobs by submitting them to casting directors or by having their agents do it for them.

A good headshot should:
-Closely resemble what the actor looks like in real life. The headshot should accurately depict the actor’s current weight and hairstyle, for example. That way, there are no surprises. When a casting director sees the actor’s headshot, they know that that is what the actor will look like in person.
-Depict the actor as warm, friendly and interesting.
-Fit the actor’s type. For example, if an actor is the stereotypical, All-American woman, the actor’s headshot should accentuate that look. This is important for casting purposes, because an actor can get more auditions if they fit a certain “type” or category.
-Depict the actor in a basic appearance. The actor should not wear excessive makeup or jewelry, or dress in a costume of any sort.

What Are the Different Options For Headshots?

After an actor has completed a photo session, they can complete the important task of reproducing the headshots. These headshots can be produced with different finishes: glossy, semi-gloss or matte. They also come with various styles and looks, such as color, black-and-white, with borders and without borders.

Glossy Finish Headshot

A glossy finish headshot is one where the front surface of the photograph is shiny. The headshot appears polished and clean and has a modest glow to it.

Matte Finish Headshot

A matte finish is a type of finish on a headshot photograph that is not sharp and shiny like that of a glossy finish. Whereas a glossy finish may stand out more, a matte finish is more subdued and flatter. A matte finish may also cost less than a glossy finish.

Semi-Gloss Finish

While a glossy finish is shiny and stands out and a matte finish is flat, a semi-gloss finish is one that is moderately flat and glossy. A semi-gloss finish is a cross between a glossy finish and a matte finish headshot.
Borders

Actors may want to have their headshots reprinted with white borders on them. That is, their headshots will be in the center of an 8×10 photograph, surrounded by white borders. This style of headshot is usually the more popular version.

A Bleed
Often times, actors may want to have no borders around the photograph, allowing the actor’s face to cover the entire 8×10 space. When the image covers the entire space, it is said to “bleed” across the page.

Color
Most actors choose to have their headshots done in black-and-white. This is the standard way headshots are done. It is also economical, saving the actor more money than color prints. However, many actors choose to have their headshots done in color, believing that color may help the actor stand out from the crowd and give a more accurate representation of the actor’s appearance.

Because headshots are essential to an actor’s success, actors should make every effort to have their headshots done well. That’s why, it’s always best to seek advice from a talent agent before investing any money into a headshot.

Headshots For Actors – Tips on What Actors Must Look For In Their Headshots

What are your current headshots saying about you?

Has your acting career stalled a little bit recently? If so you are not alone. Unfortunately due to the economy jobs for actors have become harder and harder to get. Additionally, many actors make the mistake of using the same headshot year after year.

The truth is that headshots for actors are essential to their careers. However, these headshots get seen by the same casting directors audition after audition. This can be a good thing sometimes, but more often than not you run into a bit of trouble with this.

One of the biggest issues with headshots for actors is that their headshot looks substantially different than they do in real life. You do not want your headshot to look like a glamour shot that you cannot live up to. Instead, you want it to be an accurate representation of who you are today. If you make a big change in your appearance like a new hairdo or hair color you need to have new headshots.

You have to be instantly recognizable with your headshots, and if you have a look that is very different than your picture you need to be sure that you update your shots.

Additionally, headshots for actors should be timely.This means two different things. You want to be sure that your headshots are living up to the standards and trends of the current audition market. Unfortunately, if you still have black and white headshots you are seriously out of date. Headshots for actors today should be in full color, and if you are not sporting those than you need to seriously think about having yours redone. Additionally, you want to take a look at the trends in poses and looks to make sure that you do not look out of date and cheesy in your current shots. Headshots for actors should also be age appropriate. Unfortunately many actors are hesitant to invest in having new pictures taken. However, if yours are more than a few years old you really need to think about having them taken again.

Headshots for actors also need to be current in their hair, clothing, and makeup selections. Of course when you are first taking your headshots you want to try to keep to timeless and classic looks. Unfortunately many actors find themselves getting sucked in to wearing the latest trends and styles in their photograph. If you fall into this category you need to look into having yours redone.

Having some new headshots taken can help to revitalize a stalled career. It gives the casting directors an opportunity to see an updated version of you. It may also be just what they need to see you in a different light. As your performance career grows and changes you may want to alter the image that you present at your auditions. Headshots for actors can be a great tool to accomplish this with.

Spend some time thinking about how you want to present yourself so that you can ensure that image appears in your photographs.

How to Get Great Headshots – The Inside Story

Q. What are Actor’s Headshots and how are they used?

A. Actor’s headshots are images of actors which are used as an aid in casting by Casting Directors, Agents, Managers, Directors, Producers and anyone involved in auditioning talent for the various markets in the entertainment industry. From the earliest Hollywood “Pub Shots” i.e. Publicity Shots to current Electronic Submission Digital Images, headshots have been the currency that circulates through the industry representing actors in an effort to be seen for a role. An effective headshot is a mix of aesthetic value (it is pleasing to look at and makes the actor look good) and casting viability and clarity (it defines the elements of the actor’s type that are important in defining the logical characters that actor can play).

Headshots are one of the most effective elements of an actor’s arsenal in terms of “being seen for a role”. A strong headshot can be an effective entrée into the offices of the people who hold the reigns of power in the entertainment industry. A great headshot can not tell someone how talented you are, but it can define your qualities as an actor that in turn define the types of roles you should be playing. We have all heard stories of actors whose headshots have “gotten them in the door” of a big shot agent and launched a successful career.

Headshots are used in two primary forms, the reliable 8X10 reproduction and the rapidly growing Electronic Submission. The 8X10 reproduction is exactly what it sounds like, a print of the actor’s headshot reproduced on 8X10 inch paper and usually printed in large quantities. Reproduction Houses that specialize in making copies dot the landscape in most large cities that are centers for actors. Actors submit a “Master Image” either in the form of a Master Print or Master Digital File and the Reproduction House makes carefully controlled copies of that shot. These copies come in two basic forms, Photo Reproductions which use continuous tone photo paper and produce copies which are indistinguishable from the original, or Lithographs which are lower cost and lower quality reproductions of the image using a fine dot matrix process, much like the images in a newspaper. Budget and personal style determine which process an actor goes with and there is an ongoing debate concerning the best choice. Typically actors who use expensive photographers looking for high photographic quality will want to maintain the elements of that quality in their reproductions. Reproduction Houses have price points throughout the spectrum with Photo Reproduction Houses charging around $115 for 100 Photo Reproductions to Lithographic Houses charging $50 for 500 lithographs.

Electronic submissions involve emailing a low resolution JPEG to the appropriate party. It’s important for every actor to learn how to resize their digital headshot file so that it will sail swiftly through cyberspace and land gently in the queue of the target’s email. Currently there are no established standards for image size but most offices prefer that the image be sized under 1 Megabyte and be converted to 72 dpi. If that sounds like gibberish to you, you can learn to resize your photos fairly easily through many of the photo software programs out there. Typically the programs that are packages with your digital camera will explain the process and allow you to resize your image “for the web”.

Headshots are submitted to industry people who are involved in the casting process. Depending on the level of professionalism, this could mean sending them to an agent as a means of making contact or sending them as a response to an ad for a Student Film Casting in a local actor’s newsletter or giving them to an uncle who knows someone who knows Steven Spielberg. They carry the hopes and dreams of many actors in getting discovered.

Q. What makes a great headshot?

A. A great headshot is the perfect balance of quality, individuality, and effectiveness. A great headshot works on two levels, first esthetically – it looks good to the eye, even upside down. It grabs the attention of the viewer and pulls him/her in. Agents receive thousands of headshots a month. Your headshot has to stand out from the group and grab that agent by the lapels and say, “Look at me!” Secondly, it has to place the actor within a context that makes it easy for the industry professional to mentally cast that actor. They should be able to picture the actor in specific types of roles. This actor would make a great Romantic Lead, that one would make a great Villain. The headshot should be specific enough to define elements of a “type” but not so specific that it limits the actor to only one note. No one headshot can represent all of the possible roles that a talented actor could play, but an effective headshot can represent qualities that logically give a perspective for casting that actor.

Q. How do I go about getting a great headshot?

A. The search begins by sifting through the maze of avenues available to get a photograph that can represent you as an actor. Yes, it’s possible that your Uncle Charlie who works at the DMV could take your picture and it will be in focus and will look like you to a certain extent but in the competitive world of Acting, better headshots present the actor as a professional who takes pride in his/her presentation and understands that the first line of offense is “penetration “. A Casting Agent receives a headshot (with a resume attached to or printed on the back) and decides whether that actor is worth a look or whether that headshot goes into the circular file (we all know what that is). Take a look through the dumpster behind a Casting Agent’s office and cry for the lost opportunities tossed in there.

If you decide that the best approach is find a professional photographer (obviously my choice) and not to rely on a lucky accident by a friend, then you are faced with the prospect of figuring out what your budget will be and who is the best qualified photographer you can find for that budget. Professional Headshot Photographers come at all price points from the $99 special to the $1500 Hot Shot. Is more expensive better? Can you get a great headshot for $99? The bottom line is that as in real life – quality usually costs something. It comes down to this: A professional who has pride in his/her work, makes a living doing that work, and has tons of experience is invested in the result that they create, and has a sense of the market and current styles. Lower prices depend on volume for profit and must then cut back on personal attention and care. Yes, it’s theoretically possible to get a great shot for $99, but it’s also theoretically possible to pay $99 seven times to come up with something that could have come the first time from a trained qualified professional who knows the value of their work and depends on positive word of mouth to stay in business.

It’s a cutthroat world out there for Actors. There are a myriad of businesses specifically designed to separate an aspiring actor from their money. Modeling schools that make empty promises for hefty sums, Casting Agents who charge for meetings, Agents who receive kickbacks from unscrupulous photographers, Acting Teachers who put the moves on students or take advantage of naivety. You’ve definitely got to listen to your gut, but forewarned is for-armed and it’s certainly a buyer beware situation. But all is not lost and actors do get their money’s worth by finding the photographers who deliver great results for reasonable prices.

The first step is to put your ear to the ground. Find a network of actors who are happy with their headshots and the rate they were charged. I mention the rate they were charged because the trick is not to break the bank, but to pay a reasonable rate to get a satisfying product. What is the going rate? What is enough to spend? Logic dictates that people who do something well get compensated for it. That goes for Doctors, Lawyers and Headshot Photographers. So, if the $99 deal seems too good to be true, yes, it probably is. Most New York Headshot Photographers fall within a range from $350 to $850. Does paying $850 guarantee a great shot? No. And beware of the “flavor-of-the-month” photographer who makes a big splash but can’t deliver consistent results over time. New York City is the land of hype and Lemmings form a line at every cliff face along the Hudson River. Most photographers in the range from $350 to $850 would probably do a fairly competent job, but the best shots come from a collaboration between a great professional that you connect with personally and feel comfortable with, and an actor who accepts some responsibility in the process.

Q. What then is the actor’s responsibility in the headshot process?

A. An actor should be clear on the markets he/she wants to work in first of all. Do you want to get TV commercials? Well, you need shots that target those markets and present your type in a strong clear way. Are you a Business Person, a Mom, a Dad, an All-American Boy/Girl Next Door, A Pop-Culture GAP/MTV Kid? That’s what should be evident in your commercial shot, and you might be more than one type. You need to cover all of your types. You might have an 8X10 of your strongest type and then a postcard with a shot of you as a different type on it. How about Film or TV or Theater? That’s called a Legit Shot. A Legit shot defines the qualities that an actor projects and that fall into broad categories in the acting world. Are you more on the intense, edgy side or the loose, light, comic side? Are you going to be hired as the love interest or the best friend? Are you strongest as a more specific type like a thug or a general type like a romantic lead? And within those categories, where do you fall. Are you Ross or Joey or Chandler? Are you Monica, Phoebe or Rachel? Actors need to define themselves so that others can see it. A great photographer has the perspective to help you project your type so that Casting People are goosed in the right direction for casting you. If they understand the roles you would be good for, and your shot accurately and powerfully defines those elements, you’ll get called in for parts that you are right for, a big important step in getting a role.

Q. When I look at most Headshot Photographer’s work, it all looks the same to me. What differentiates a great Headshot Photographer from a good one?

A. It’s difficult if you don’t know much about photography to differentiate levels of quality in photography. This is where in this interview I have to speak personally, based on my experience and what I do to make my work stand out. One aspect of portfolios that is fairly evident is whether the photographer has a limited formula, which is stamped out on each client. It’s not too difficult over time to master the technical elements in portrait photography. With enough experimentation any photographer can hit on a combination of lighting and lens that makes a pretty picture. What separates the greats from the rest is a photographer who generates the style of the headshot from the style of the client, who has a deep bag of tricks and has mastered many forms of lighting and shooting so that the headshot tells about the actor and not what photographer took the photo. Many agents pride themselves on being able to pick out the photographer who took your headshot, and while there are just a limited amount of photographers out there, the goal should be to sell you, not the photographer and their style. It’s helpful to look through magazines that profile actors. The best photographers in the world shoot the actors for those magazines and you can learn a lot about quality photography, taking in those images.

On the most basic human level a great headshot makes a connection with the viewer. The actor and the photographer work together to make that happen. You need to look through the lens and see the person behind the glass. Bring it to them; create an emotion, intensity, and a statement that is defined in your mind. I encourage my clients to feed me emotions or intent. Some have an easier time with that than others. For those that find it difficult, we play games to loosen the flow. I don’t commit to shooting until something is happening. I look for the moments when I feel the connection and BANG – there is a headshot!

The sitter is creating the role and the photographer is directing the action, choosing angles, and lighting, backgrounds that enhance the overall statement of the headshot. There is powerful magic in a great headshot. It commands attention and makes the viewer want to meet that person. As human beings we are drawn to truth and beauty, and those are the elements that make an outstanding headshot. A great photographer is excited by the search for those elements in all of his/her clients.

©Joe Henson 2009, All Rights Reserved