As an actor, your headshot is your best marketing tool. It communicates a lot to film industry professionals within a second’s glance. A great headshot will not book you a role (that’s up to your talent), but a bad one can prevent you from being seen.
Here is a countdown of the 5 qualities of appealing actor headshots, including some of the less talked about, difficult-to-define qualities that get actors work. Use these tips to find a photographer who will get you the best actor headshots.
5. An Industry Standard Headshot.
You will often hear people use the term “industry standard”. While no one has etched the “Film Industry Headshot Rules” in a stone tablet, AND the standards have a tendency to evolve, there are some general rules your headshot needs to follow.
Your headshot needs to be in colour. The background needs to be plain, either heavily blurred out or very simple and not distracting. It should be taken by a professional photographer and have high image quality. It also needs to be printed in 8X10 format, have your name written on it and have your resume stapled on the back.
If your headshot doesn’t follow these rules it will look like you are either very new to the industry, or not planning to stick around for very long.
4. A competitive thumbnail.
The first thing a casting director sees when they receive your headshot, is the thumbnail. A competitive headshot will grab attention in that small format.
I once had a casting director show me hundreds of thumbnail submissions of actors that looked remarkably the same. He pointed out that the ones he wanted to click on were colourful. The eye is naturally drawn to colour. Google “actor headshots” then close your eyes, and open them once they’ve loaded. Where does your eye go? Use it to your advantage and wear something bright (not neon).
Jewel tones are flattering and attractive on many types of skin tones, and something you should consider when picking your outfit. Does your headshot draw you in when it’s a tiny thumbnail, or would you skip over it?
3. A photo that conveys a certain mood.
Are you wanting to be considered for dramatic roles but your headshot makes you look like you are selling toothpaste? Some headshot photographers make you look very commercial, others make you look corporate, some make you look like a CW star and others make you look like you belong in film.
Lighting, location, wardrobe and poses all affect the mood of your headshot. Together with your photographer you are telling a story and it influences what roles casting directors think you are good for.
Pick a photographer whose portfolio you connect with. Know who you are and what mood you want to convey and communicate it to your photographer before your shooting day.
2. A photo that looks like you.
Many actors and photographers make the mistake of creating headshots that are too blown out or glamorous. But you need to remember that a headshot is a tool that not only tells a casting director who you are and what you look like, it helps directors remember who you are after your audition.
I once heard a story from a producer who was shocked when a director tossed away a headshot of the actress whose audition impressed him. The producer said “don’t you remember, you loved her audition?” But the headshot looked nothing like her and he couldn’t remember what she did, so he moved on.
If someone comments on your headshot and says “You look so different!!”, take that as a cue to use a different headshot. Don’t ask the photographer to remove all your wrinkles and don’t get glamorous hair and makeup. Look the way you would the day you audition, the best natural version of yourself.
1. A photo that focuses on your personality.
Actors are meant to show depth, personality, and have life behind their eyes. That is, after all, what you are selling. Model-y poses, distracting outfits, heavy makeup, giant glasses, trendy over-styled hair and excessive jewellery, all scream for attention and distract from the important part of the photo, your personality.
Once you have picked a great photographer, and are styled properly, the work is really for you to connect and open up. Arrive awake, engaged and alive. Perhaps do some exercise earlier in the day, or spend time with friends that make you feel good about yourself before your shoot. As an actor you need to bring intention and presence.
You don’t have the luxury of hiding behind glamorous hair, makeup, wardobe and posing the way models do. The reason for all these headshots rules is to strip the image down so that the film industry people can see what YOU, the actor, bring to the table. So go out and show them!
Antosia Fiedur is a Canadian photographer and is available for actor headshot photoshoot sessions in Toronto and Winnipeg.