It might seem blindingly obvious to all of you seasoned thesps out there, but I’ve had four clients over the past two months who’ve come to me with no clue as to what an actor’s headshot needs to be. It made me think about when I was in my second year at drama school and was told to return with some headshots after the Easter holidays. This was when the internet was fairly basic, we couldn’t search through photographers portfolios and compare different styles. All you had to rely on was the dust copy of Contacts stuffed away in the stage management office with some photographers advertisements and word of mouth from the actors in the year above. I knew plenty of photographers at the time but they were all fashion photographers, none of whom were sure of what an actor’s headshot needed to be but they were all fairly certain it had to be in a specific style.
I didn’t think much about it until a week before I was due back at college, at which time the handful of photographers whose details I had taken were all fully booked but one did recommend another photographer to me, an up and coming guy whose portfolio he assured me was incredible. Calling him up he seemed supremely confident, he didn’t normally do actors headshots, normally only editorial portraits but was happy to book me in. When I turned up at his studio, I couldn’t help but notice the full on glamour shoot he was conducting. Five scantily clad girls were draped over a variety of items that nobody has any need to drape over, never mind in a state of undress. He actually turned out to be an incredibly nice guy and not a bad photographer but fitting me in during a glamour shoot was perhaps not the best idea as I never really relaxed and his uncertainty as to what an actor’s headshot should be didn’t really help. I’ll spare you from posting the results up here, but they weren’t great!
So I thought I’d put a quick post together to cover the basics of what an actor’s headshot should be.
1. It needs to be a professional photograph! Your uncle or cousin who has a fancy camera or that photo of you on holiday that you absolutely love isn’t going to cut it unfortunately. Your headshot is your calling card, your first one on one with a casting director or agent – if you want to be taken seriously then it has to be a professional photo taken by a professional photographer; we do more than just press a button!
2. Back in the day, all headshots had to be black & white, sized to 10×8 and in portrait. Things have relaxed a lot now. Colour headshots are fairly standard and it doesn’t matter if they are landscape or portrait. However, you’ll still need a portrait 10×8 in black & white for Spotlight.
3. It has to look like you! Forget a heavily airbrushed shot that so many portrait photographers favour. Retouching is ok, but it has to look natural and like you! The prettiest photo of you will not get you cast, but the one that shows off the most of your personality will.
4. From a completely technical aspect, your headshot needs to be a head and shoulders shot with nothing distracting in the background, well lit and well framed. Your choice of lighting is really a personal preference. I offer both studio and natural lighting in my headshot sessions as I think they give a better range of flexibility for my clients. Here’s an example, shot on the same day with the same wonderful actress – one natural light, one studio light.
Ultimately, your headshot is your business card. If you give someone a crumpled piece of paper with your number hastily scrawled on it, it doesn’t exactly exude professionalism – it’s exactly the same with your headshot. It’s your first point of contact, your foot in the door and you can’t afford for it to let you down.