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How to Take a Good Headshot for Aspiring Actors

Updated on October 25, 2012
Business Look
Business Look

Headshots 101

Headshots are the tool that gives casting agents a good impression of your particular look, castability, and acts as a reminder of your audition if you had one. It is very important that you have a good headshot as an actor. You also need a few different looks depending on where you are submitting the headshot. Film, commercial, or theatre for example. There are many different trends in the market today from full bleed photos, borders, horizontal, and more. It really depends on the market you are in so I would do some research before ordering the hard copy of your headshots.

Proper actor’s headshots are an investment for your future career so this is the one area I would not skimp on. Photos taken by mom are not going to cut it. Again do some research and find some recommended photographers that are EXPERIENCED IN ACTORS HEADSHOTS. I must stress this, because this is common mistake that people make. Do not go to a photographer and tell them you want actor’s headshots only to find they have never done them before, and then they come out looking like senior photos. Senior photos and headshots are not the same thing period. Actor’s headshots need to be a clear representation of what you actually look like.

That being said you need to find a photographer that is experienced in actor’s headshot. Once you do that you can discuss package deals, costs, etc. What I would suggest is that you find a photographer that will give you a cd of all of the images should you ever choose to need a different one. Not all photographers do this so I would discuss it with the photographer before-hand. After all they are working for your money not the other way around. Also see if they do any styling for you in terms of hair and makeup, because they can sometimes include this in the package. For instance when I was in Pittsburgh, PA I had Thurner Photography do my headshots. She did all of my styling of hair and makeup, I got 3 outfit changes, CD of all of my images, and it was around $375.00.

Now I did a lot of research for most places headshots were 400.00 and up for the same package. Thurner Photography also said they would give me a discount should I return to them for updated headshots. These are the type of things that you want to look for. Now if you see headshots advertised for $100.00 to $250.00 I would run, because these are going to come out like DIY photos and will not be a good investment in your future. If you are totally at a loss then call local college theatre departments and ask them for a recommendation. Or you could call a well-known agency and ask for some input. It does not hurt to ask.

HOLY AIRBRUSHING BATMAN! Now we know she is not going to walk into a casting looking like this.
HOLY AIRBRUSHING BATMAN! Now we know she is not going to walk into a casting looking like this.

What You Do Not Want

Overly airbrushed

It must be a true representation of what you look like. You must look like your picture when you come in for a casting. You cannot change your hair style or hair color, because they will not take you. If they call you in it is a big slap in the face to them if you do not look the way you are representing yourself.

Distracting Clothing

Your clothing must be neutral and not distracting. You are not selling your shirt, but instead you are selling yourself as an actor. Nothing flashy around your face. Solid colors or very small prints if you must.

Distracting Jewelry

Same idea as the clothing, you do not want anything distracting around your face.

Heavy Makeup

Let the photographer or if you have to hire a stylist I would say go for it. You do not want to look odd in your photos that are an investment. Treat yourself like a business.

Black and White Photos

We are in 2012 and black and white is not the trend anymore. Black and white was only the trend when color photos were ridiculously expensive. Color photos give them the sense of what you look like right away. Hair, eye, and skin tone.

Gloss Photos

You do not want to go with a gloss finish on your photos. While this may seem great in theory, in reality this leaves major finger prints behind. Casting agents pass around your photos and they may make notes of them. Why would you want fingerprints and smudged writing to be your impression with they look at your photos later. Go with a matte finish instead.

Horizontal Photos

Now this one is just an opinion that I have backed up with comments from other people online. To each his own, but I would not go with a horizontal photo. Your 8 x 10 resume should be connected to the back of your photo. Casting agents go through hundreds of headshots a day and they may not feel like turning your horizontal headshot to look at the back of your vertical resume. It may sound ridiculous, but my acting teacher was a casting agent and said it is annoying. So there you go, you make the final call, but I would avoid horizontal if it were me.

Natural and Good Lighting.
Natural and Good Lighting.

What You Do Want

Solid and Flattering Non-Distracting Apparel

Choose clothing that shows off your best features, but is a solid color that compliments your skin tone and hair color. For example I am fair skinned and have dark brown hair. I chose a dark green to go with my eyes, pink for one look, and a suit for my business/theatre headshot.

Know Your Markets

Think of who is going to see these photos. Theatre headshots should be more business like apparel, film is more casual with nice jeans and nice top, and commercial is also more casual but in the young mom or dad sort of way. Know what you are portraying and what markets you will be submitting yourself to when you are getting your headshots.

Natural Makeup/Look

For women you need a natural look that you can replicate when you go in for a casting. For men make sure you can also style your hair in a natural way. No Mohawks unless If you plan to only be cast as a punk rocker/motorcyclist type character in the future.Also you can go with a more glam headshot if you are submitting yourself for a role in soaps. For men I would also suggest asking for a headshot with a beard or mustache and then shave and take one without. Just gives you some more options.

CD of Your Images

Check with your photographer, but I would ask for this or a link to an online gallery to select new photos should you ever want a change.

Area to Put Your Name

After you choose your headshot, you need to put your name on the photo in a nice professional font. This advertises you, but look at the photo as an example. Don't confuse area with wasted space. You want no wasted space in your photos.


These are just a few of the suggestions. You need to do research like you would with any business situation. Most actors do not think of themselves as a business, but instead artists. While art may be a part of it, you also need to think marketing and business to succeed. Make yourself a website, YouTube channel, or Facebook Page. Keep it professional and market your acting happenings only. I will have a hub on actor’s websites shortly as well. Best of luck in your headshot endeavor.

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    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      I'd love to know your thoughts on types of backgrounds in the photos (studio or natural). Thank you for the tips! Even though I'm not an actor, I teach (freelance). Even then, headshots are useful to differentiate your CV and application at schools - they can see who you are.

    • everythingdazzles profile image
      Author

      Janelle 4 years ago from Houston

      You're welcome, best of luck!

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 4 years ago from Cardiff

      Helpful tips! My hubby has started taking headshots for some local actors. they are being used on casting sites and IMDB now too. We are always looking for tips to help tailor our photography. So thank you!

    • everythingdazzles profile image
      Author

      Janelle 4 years ago from Houston

      Thanks for reading!

    • carolinemd21 profile image

      Caroline Marie 4 years ago from Close to Heaven

      Great article!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Helpful I thought!