Acting headshots are the key tool for actors. Getting a good set of headshots can make your career, since casting directors and talent agencies love actors who have acting headshots that stand out, or how they say, “that pop.”
So here’s what you need to know about getting a good set of actor headshots, and how to do this right.
1. What’s an Acting Headshot
It’s very likely you already know that acting headshots, or simply “headshot”, is a photograph of a person from the chest up, with the focus on their head. In the acting business, a headshot is usually known to be a quality photograph taken by a professional photographer, which is not the same as your usual snapshot.
Headshot is a number one actor’s marketing tool. The purpose of these photographs is actors’ branding and marketing around the industry. As previously established, headshot is the FIRST thing talent agents and casting directors will look at. Only if you fit the part based on your looks will they look at your resume.
Since there’s very little you can do about the way you look, the aim here is to have the most professional headshot possible. You would be surprised how easily experienced industry people spot cheap photographs and how quickly they are put off. Your aim here is to look as professional as possible, so take that chance.
2. What Does It Look Like
When it comes to actors’ photographs, it’s all very strict (especially when using color headshots). You and I might not understand every single photography-based technicality that makes headshots look great, but casting directors who see hundreds of them every day love photographs that speak to them.
This industry has its standards and we must follow them. In this case, US and UK markets are different in one regard, but they are slowly blending together (that is the UK industry is catching up with the modern standards of the US).
Normally, an actor’s headshot is an 8 by 10 (8×10) photograph. Sometimes photographers will also take a landscape/horizontal photograph which can also be acceptable, but is more rare. I would advise against landscape photographs, since they are more difficult to use in your online profiles that scale every photo you upload.
Just a few years ago, UK actors market was still dominated by black & white headshots. However, every year British casting directors and talent agents are more open to color headshots, which is why we see more of them on casting and personal websites.
Today in UK you can apply for a job with both black&white and color headshots, unless specified which one is required. In US, however, black&white acting headshots are completely unacceptable and are considered outdated.
Up to Date Headshots
Every actor has to make sure that his headshots are up to date, which means that the actor himself must look EXACTLY like the person in the photograph. Casting directors or talent agents don’t want to invite a person with long hair and see a shaven head in the audition.
Whenever you change your style, looks, type or haircut, your headshot must be updated to reflect your current look. It’s a standard practice and making a mistake of not following such rules might put you in casting director’s or agent’s blacklist.
The common practice in the US market that actors use is they staple their 8×10 vertical headshot to their A4 single page acting resume, back-to-back. It’s a smart way to ensure your headshot always travels alongside your resume and doesn’t get lost. It’s also easier to hand these over to industry people, instead of scrambling for both separately.
3. Maintain Accuracy
Whenever you’re being photographed for your headshot, always try to use the least amount of make-up, piercings, accessories, jewelry and other “look enhancements”. The point of the headshot is to portray your natural look, the way you look on a regular day, because that is what casting people are after.
The same goes for your haircuts. Both men and women should avoid haircuts that attract a lot of attention; you want all the focus to be on your face. Remember, this picture is not for a modeling competitions — this is a completely different kind of market. Most new actors have difficulty understanding that in the beginning.
That is not to say “be sloppy” and take pictures with cookie crumbs on your face. Just keep it simple, and maintain your hair, looks and regular hygiene for the day of the shoot and the day of audition.
Remember that unless you’ve chosen to do background/extra work, these photographs are absolutely necessary to book auditions, even when you’re just starting out. Make sure to budget for getting good headshots as soon as you can afford, because even your casting website profile won’t be active until you upload a professional photograph.