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How To Get A Great Headshot

By Veronika Mironova

A great headshot is an actor’s number one marketing tool, a pathway to auditions and a business card in a way. It’s the first thing a casting director sees; the first impression you make. When done correctly, it represents who you are, and is therefore one of the most important things to get right if you decide to pursue acting as a career. Your headshots are the first step to getting your foot in the door! We cannot stress enough how crucial it is to do it properly from the get go!

Just ask yourself one simple question… Do you want to be a professional actor? If yes, then get yourself a shiny set of effective headshots done professionally by an experienced HEADSHOT photographer. Not a wedding photographer, not a lifestyle, landscape or even portrait photographer, and certainly not your uncle Joe (he might be good at snapping awesome shots, but he will not get you what you’re after). A headshot photographer is a director and a storyteller, who can bring out your personality and capture you beautifully – and guide you through a wide range of expressions! You should trust your headshot photographer the way you trust your agent, manager, or a director. You should ‘get’ each other and be on the same page… that is the only way to get the results that will work in your favour.

Just like everything in this industry, the process of obtaining headshots is (SHOULD BE) a collaborative one!

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before your next headshot session.

Don’t Cut Corners

You are investing in yourself and your business. Don’t you want the casting directors and clients to look at your headshots and think “this actor means business – let’s get them in!”? The only way to achieve that reaction is by investing your time and money.

Do your research! Don’t go with the first pay-per-click ad that pops up in your Google search (those are usually irrelevant anyway). Dive right into the world wide web and look look look until you find the one!

Examine the photographer’s body of work – in this day and age everything is available online and a few keyboard clicks away.

If you’re lucky enough to know an actor who worked with this particular headshot photographer before, ask them about their experience and if the shots achieved results. You can contact the photographer directly as well and ask any burning questions you may have. Go straight to the source and find out for yourself if you gel or not. Be thorough!

Headshots cost money – it’s an inevitable investment in your business (you!) and there is no way to avoid it. Considering you’ve done your research and found your soulmate photographer, go ahead and invest a pretty penny without any hesitation. Great headshots will make a return on your investment. Instead of trying to cut corners and get ineffective shots that you will have to redo anyway – do it right straight away. Don’t waste your time, and most importantly don’t waste your precious money! As an emerging actor you simply cannot afford that.

What Makes a Headshot Stand Out?

There are four variables that make up the technical composition of a headshot:

  1. Background
  2. Clothing
  3. Lighting
  4. YOU

This dance of four must be a harmonious one! The focus must be on you, therefore the purpose of the other three elements is to serve you and bring out the best of you. Your headshot should represent you on your best day!

The background must be simple and blurred out – it will make you stand out. Black, white and earthy coloured backdrops should be your photographer’s obvious choices as they are subtle and go well with most skin tones. Greenery and urban landscapes are also absolutely fine, however they have to be blurred out enough to not pull focus away from YOU.

Clothing must also be simple! Forget about any distracting patterns, logos, stripes etc. You don’t want your clothing to steal your thunder. You are the product you are trying to market, not your top of the line floral GUCCI top. Solid colours are great! Yet again, black, white, earthy, charcoal grey and navy blue colours look great on almost everyone. If you usually go for bright colours – no worries, they are great as well, as long as they are not overpowering. My advice would be to pack a large suitcase full of potentially suitable clothes and bring it to your session. Your photographer should know what looks good on camera and what would work best for YOU. It makes things so much easier when there are plenty of clothing options to choose from. Also, don’t rush out and buy anything new – especially if you are not used to wearing it. It may end up making you feel awkward during the session.

Oh, and it may sound obvious, but make sure the clothes aren’t dirty, stained, or wrinkled… yep, sometimes that happens! (Face palm emoji?)

Getting the lighting on point is very important. You don’t want any harsh shadows – instead you want soft lighting that illuminates all your beautiful and unique features in a natural way. That’s why a lot of headshot photographers prefer to shoot using natural light, as studio lights can often wash you out or make the composition look too glamorous and unnatural. You’re not trying to be the next top model, you’re an actor. Both natural and studio lighting can work magically for you as long as your photographer knows what they’re doing.

While we are on this topic, it would be appropriate to mention makeup for the ladies! It’s a tool that can either make it or break it for you. Remember that your headshots must be a truthful representation of you and your brand. If a full face of makeup is what you do on a daily basis then go ahead, don’t let us stop you. Otherwise keep it natural. Highlighters and bronzers are great for adding some definition to your complexion and make your features pop a bit – there is nothing wrong with that. However, hiring a makeup artist for your headshot session is not necessary as you probably will not be able to recreate that makeup for every single audition you go to.

Every actor gets invited to auditions based on their headshots and clients/casting directors expect the same person to walk through the door. Makeup can alter your look dramatically, that’s why I would advise you to do it yourself the way you’d normally do it! If you have absolutely no idea how to apply it, learn some basic skills, as the camera is sometimes unforgiving (especially now we have HD) and you should be wearing at least a little neutral makeup to every audition to help you pop – unless they have requested a 100% fresh face or you naturally have luminous skin as soft as a baby’s bottom (lucky you).

(Fun fact: any minor imperfections like pimples are easy enough to fix in post-production.)

The most important element that makes a headshot stand out is YOU, of course. Your personality and character have to come through. Casting directors must see who you are just by glancing at your headshot for a split second, and you have to ‘pop’ enough to grab their attention as they’re scrolling through hundreds, if not thousands, of options.  Headshot photography is all about the eyes! The main difference between an actor’s headshot and a passport photo is the intention behind the eyes and the lack of it.

You’re an actor – ACT with your eyes; connect, engage and captivate. You have the control of it. Headshots should look like you are ‘acting within a still frame’.

A good headshot photographer will give plenty of direction and help bring your deep inner thoughts to the surface. However, this industry is all about collaboration so don’t rely on your photographer to solely do this for you, if you can help it. You know who you are and what your brand is – use it! With each outfit think about who your character is, project the emotions and connect with the camera lens. Don’t ever zone out during the session. Be present and deliver a wide spectrum of the incredibly talented YOU.

KEEP THEM CURRENT!

If you no longer look like your headshots (i.e age, hair style or colour, weight loss or gain etc.) inform your agent ASAP and get them updated. You’re selected for auditions based on the assumption that you look exactly like your headshots. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to keep them up to date. Let’s say you did a big NO-NO – you dyed your hair purple, didn’t tell anyone, got an audition using your old headshots, STILL didn’t tell anyone and showed up to the audition with your brand new purple hair… not a good look. You’re now completely wrong for the part and you wasted everybody’s time. Another equally deserving actor could have got that now wasted audition slot. You acted unprofessionally and it’s a giant mess. Auditions are GOLD, don’t blow it! Be on top of your game always, and invest in fresh headshots when it’s time! If you can’t afford to do that, be diligent with maintaining your appearance.

(Fun fact: A decent agent will tell you when the headshots aren’t working – take their expert advice and get them re-done asap! There is no time to waste in this industry, and there’s no point flogging a dead horse.)

With all that in mind, our creative industry is very unpredictable and fickle! Sometimes you tick all the boxes with your killer headshots and your impressive list of screen, theatre and training credits and things STILL might not be happening for you.

It’s normal! It’s the reality of this trade. However, your success is in your hands. If some things aren’t working, you have to mix things up! You might score your dream job with your very first set of headshots or with your tenth. Every actor has their own timeline, successful actors MUST possess patience and tenacity. Realistically, it can sometimes take 10-20 years to really crack the biz and be ‘in demand’ as an actor. Keep hustling and keep trying if you know in your heart that there is absolutely nothing else in the world that can fulfil you in a way acting does. Focus on your big dream, take daily action towards your goals, be grateful for the mini victories and just enjoy the process. It’s a journey – if you’re always praying to land at the destination, you are going to be pretty miserable most of the time.

To sum it all up, remember that a GREAT headshot is a CURRENT shot that truly captures the essence of your personality/brand and actually looks like YOU. Great headshots leave great impressions! Leave them thinking ‘WOW!’ when they see it.

Published in cooperation with Fourth Wall – Actors & Talent Agency

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Also by Veronika:

Acting: Self-Taping Like A Pro

Acting: Advice For Those Getting Started

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