Who Decides What the Style of an Actor’s Headshot Should Be?

What I mean by this question is ‘the general style’ of the headshot. Should the headshot be simply a head and shoulders, should it be cropped tightly, can we crop-off the top of the head, should we pull out to include more of the torso like headshots in the USA, should it have strong shadows so we can only see half of the face, should it be heavily retouched to give almost unrealistic skin tones as some photographers like?

As an actors headshot photographer in London I have to comply with the requests of my clients – the actors, I also have to understand the what the market wants – the agents, casting directors etc. and I also have to fulfill my own creativity within these boundaries.

Am I right to discourage a UK actor from wanting an American style headshot? Sometimes my clients arrive with ideas from websites or magazines and want a headshot similar to them because they like the feel of the shot and want to look like the actor in this shot. Equally so, some actors have seen shots that are badly cropped-in very close so that the face fills the frame and like this style. There has also been a growing trend to ‘crop-off’ the top of the head in recent times – I often wonder why?

I think my main duty is to my client and to give them what they want in a headshot. However saying this I photograph many actors who are new to the business and have very little knowledge of how the industry works, – I consider it incredibly important to advise these clients and offer my knowledge and experience on what is suitable, what works best for them and ultimately what is going to get them noticed by the right people. On a slightly different note; it amazes me how poorly prepared most actors are when graduating from schools, colleges and universities in this side of the business. They may well have good stage skills or be well versed in different acting methods but are often under prepared in the business side of acting.

Duty Or Creativity?

I consider it my duty or part of my service because I believe it’s an essential part of my job and also partly for purely business reasons. I can’t deny I want repeat bookings and hope my clients will recommend me to their friends and colleagues but I also believe passing on my knowledge in a good way is beneficial to my clients understanding of how the industry works.

Another option is to go wild with creative abandon but to what end? Is it to satisfy my own ego or to try and blaze a new style in headshots? I think this is the wrong attitude to have. If I have a need to be more creative than I am with headshots then I should shoot in a different style, perhaps fashion headshots or editorial style shots. This is not to say that – and this is important – shooting actors headshots is not creative or that it does not satisfy the creativity of headshot photographers – this is not what I’m saying at all.

There are plenty of general photographers who dabble in headshots as a way of making more money without fully understanding the niche, or the possible negative effects that a poor headshot can have on an actors career. My creative buzz comes from the absolute pleasure in getting a great headshot for an actor that I know is going to help them in their career. Especially those actors who are uncomfortable sitting in front of the stills camera. Drawing out of an actor something from deep within them to make their headshot sparkle, to give it the wow factor. For without the wow factor it’s just another headshot in the crowd.

Acting Headshot Basics

If you are reading this article chances are you already know what an acting headshot is so most of this info might not be for ya, however if you are brand new to the biz or perhaps you are in highschool and are considering a career as an actor, then this article is for you.

A headshot is an 8 x 10 picture of yourself, think of it as an actor’s business cards, which makes it really awkward cuz you do have to have one near you at all times, so it is not rare to see a messy car filled with headshots in los angeles.

What is the purpose of an acting headshot you might ask?

Well it is one of the most important aspects of an actor’s career. You see, when a casting director is casting commercials, TV, and or films, Casting Directors will go through hundreds of actor’s headshots to determined which actors they will bring in to audition.

Whether or not you get the part is a completely different story, that is up to many other factors that include your talent, chemistry with your co-star, how you look in camera, and even a casting director’s mood that day….yup it is what it is.

Now, i wish I can show you how fast casting directors actually look at headshots, it’s only a second or two because they are flipping through a lot of acting headshots until BAM! they come to a headshot that matches the character they are casting and that they can feel a connection with, hence the importance of a professional, eye-grabbing acting headshot. Your talent amounts to nothing if you don’t even have the opportunity to prove it in an audition right?

When casting directors are casting commercials is much worse, they don’t even have physical 8×10’s in on their desk to flip through, they go through electronic submissions, so they are looking at their computer monitor screen with a bunch of headshots on it, so you’re headshot is a little square on a small screen, and if they catch the eye of the casting director they’ll enlarge it, if not you’re gone.

I am telling this because there is a big debate of whether you should have your headshot, waist up, full body or just your face, for the reasons explained above I think you get the idea of what my preference and recommendation is, but to settle the debate even further it is called a “head-shot”?

Here is a tip, the audience really connects with an actor on screen through their close-ups, and guess what a headshot is a close up!

Now to wrap up this introduction to acting headshots I am going to close with this.

There are many tips and guidelines to shoot a successful headshot session but the two most important aspect of a killer eye-grabbing acting headshot are:

1. The headshot must look like YOU!

Many people make the mistake of over glamorizing themselves to take shots, this ain’t a beauty contest, sure you have to look good, but most importantly it has to look like you, because there are many roles to cast on Tv, commercials and Film, not just ridiculously-good-looking people (if you saw the movie Zoolander you got that one)

Moving on. Time and time again it happens that a casting director sees a headshot, brings the actor in and they go where is the person from the headshot, in which case you are out the door, and they will remember it and probably not call you for other stuff. This happens a lot to women who are entering a different age group, the touch ups and make up makes them look 10 years younger and that just isn’t you anymore, get an accurate portrait of who you are and you’ll book more, because you will be going out for roles that are tailored for you.

2. They have to look professional, this is not a place to sacrifice quality for price, sure you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars like some do, or like some photographers would have you believe, but a picture taken by your buddy with a good camera won’t make the cut, a 6.5 megapixel may look like a fancy crisp shot to you, but remember that casting directors look at hundreds of headshots each and every week, so they can tell right away which are professional shots, and which are not, and by association which are the professional actors and who are the amateurs.

If you are labeled as an amateur the chances of getting called in to audition for good projects are very slim, and what’s worse Casting Directors will remember you as an amateur, so not only will you blow your audition you’ll blow your chances for anything that Casting Director is working or will work on, and that is not good, not good at all.

Can’t stress this enough, headshots are one of the most important tools for an actor.

With so many good photographers that take great headshots in los angeles, or any other major entertainment city, there is just no excuse to have a crappy acting headshot, deliver pizzas for a month if you have to.

Hope this helps in any way.