by Tony Taafe

Renowned New York City Casting Director and Acting Coach Matt Newton, said "The headshot, is the one most important marketing tool for an actor, and it’s amazing how many get it wrong, just to cut a few corners".

So how many actors are cutting corners and getting their headshot wrong?

I'd agree there's a lot getting it wrong, but I'm not sure it's because they're cutting corners.  Not intentionally, anyway.

Actors work hard, very hard. Most of the time they're working very hard at a craft that isn't actually their main source of income. The potential rewards are huge, but I've yet to meet an actor or actress who is only in it for the potential rewards.  Actors generally love doing what they do.  So it doesn't make sense to me that they would intentionally cut corners on the very thing that will either open the doors of opportunity, or slam them shut.

The photography equivalent would be me spending years of training, and thousands of dollars on equipment, to then display all of my images on my website in low resolution, to save a couple of hundred dollars, just because that's "good enough". That's not going to attract the type of clients I want through the door at my Scottsdale studio.

Nobody wants to settle for good enough, why would anybody who is serious about their career, settle for that?

Actor's are not cutting corners, I just don't think it's obvious what makes a great actor's headshot. I think one of the issues is that there are many variables to consider when it comes to acting headshots. 

Which style do you prefer?

Which parts are you going for?

Do you have an agent? Who is it? Do they know what makes a good headshot? 

(If you don't have an agent, you need one. The very next step after getting your headshots should be to submit them to a reputable agent).

Do you have any training background?

What age ranges do you want to audition for?

Have you ever had headshots before? If so, what did you like, and dislike about them?

If you've never had headshots before, that's completely fine, but you still need to have the conversation about most of the above.

The list goes on, and I don't think there's enough people asking, or answering these questions.  There's no industry standard as such, but there is definitely understanding what a casting director needs to see, and not understanding. 

Insist on a consultation with your potential headshot photographer prior to your shoot. Either by telephone or in person. If the photographer doesn't touch on at least some of the subjects/questions above, then that's not a great sign. 

The cost of a headshot varies from $50 to thousands, depending on where you live. Do you get what you pay for? Most of the time, but not always. My only advice on what to pay would be to set your budget and get the best headshot photographer who fits in your budget. Your headshots are very important, don't go cheap if you don't have to, you'll only end up getting them done again sooner than you'd like to. Take your time and do some research to figure out who is the best photographer who fits in your budget. 

To help, I've compiled a short list of some of the basic tips for a successful acting headshot.

These tips are based on my experience, and also training with world renowned headshot photographer Peter Hurley.

The information also comes from spending time with casting directors over the years, who see headshots day in day out and are the very people you're trying to market to.

1, Use a Headshot Specialist.

If you want to present yourself as a professional, use professional photographer. I'd go one further and say don't use just any professional photographer, use a Headshot Specialist. 

Headshots are a speciality.

Learning how the human face will react in certain situations is not something that comes natural, even to professional photographers, unless they've studied and practiced it over and over.

Unless you're a seasoned and very experienced film or TV actor who knows how to work a lens, having a camera pointed at you 5 feet from your face is not naturally very comfortable. That's completely fine, but you should use a headshot photographer who doesn't expect you to do all of the work.

It's the photographer's job to make you look, and feel good in front of the camera, not yours.  Your only job is to nail that audition, it's the photographers job to get you a headshot which gets you through that door and in front of the Casting Director. 

If you want to find a Headshot Specialist on your area, click the Headshot Crew it's a great place to start your search.

2, Expression, Expression, Expression.

For me, this is probably the number one culprit with poor headshots. 

If a Casting Director is looking at your headshot, they will most probably have seen it while scrolling through scores of others, all tiny JPEGs on a computer screen. It is so, so, important that your headshot stands out for its expression, its personality.

You need to make the Casting Director stop and notice. If you can't show personality in a headshot, a casting director is going to have zero confidence in you showing personality while the cameras are rolling, when time is money.

You also need to have a range of expressions in your headshots. 

Whether you're going for the clean cut commercial headshot, or the badass character in an action, there's two fundamental aspects every headshot needs to have.

It needs to have confidence, and approachability.

That's right, even the tough guy you're playing needs to have a bit of approachability about him or her. It adds depth to your headshot, and will intrigue the Casting Director looking for somebody who stands out from the crowd. Furrow your brow and don't smile? Anybody could do that. Give them something with more emotional depth, badass yet human? Now we're talking. Getting that perfect mix of confidence and approachability in your headshot is a process, but it's a fun process. 

Casting Directors want to give you a chance, they want to discover your talent, don't give them a reason to skip by your headshot without a second thought.

If you look at your headshot right now, and think it has a blank expression, wide eyes, or awkward mouth, you should seriously think about whether it's doing you more harm than good.

3, Outside or Studio Headshots?

In short, there's no right or wrong answer to this. I personally prefer to shoot headshots at my studio. But done right, outside environmental headshots can look great too.

The main component to consider when choosing your preferred background for your headshots, is whether there is any distractions that will catch the eye, and take it away from the star of the show, you! I shoot on a plain background in the studio, so there's zero chance of background distractions. This becomes a little more tricky when you're shooting outside, but a really good headshot photographer will have you covered. 

4, The Crop

I plan to write another post going into a little more detail about the crop of a modern headshot. There's many different opinions on this. But in short, I always say just keep the crop to your head and shoulders. Any more than that is unnecessary. As we spoke about earlier, the Casting Director is scrolling through your headshot, along with many others, on tiny JPGs. You need to be as prominent in the frame as possible without it being weird. A crop beneath chest will put more of your chest, and less of your face in the frame, lessening the impact of that cool expression we've been working on!

5, Retouching

Retouching is last, but certainly not least on this list. It's up there with expression as the biggest headshot fail I see. I know the retouching isn't really in your hands, but I want you to look out for it when you book your headshot photographer. 

Blemish removal, skin tone, and color correction, some hair tidy up, should really be the only things happening to your actor's headshot after your session. There's nothing more frustrating for a Casting Director than somebody walking into an audition who looks nothing like their headshot. There's a very good chance that Director will never call you in again. 

If you find the right photographer, his or her lighting skills will take care of most skin imperfections anyway. So they won't need to blast the skin in retouching which takes skin texture out, and makes you look like a different person. 

There are small tell tale signs for you to look out for with over retouching.

One is the whites of the eyes. Nobody's eyes are perfectly white. When a headshot has those perfect whites in the eyes, it's obvious that the retouching has gone too far. It makes you wonder, what else have they over retouched here? Not only does it look unrealistic, it flattens the eyes out. Our eyes are spherical, so there should be brighter and darker parts in the whites. 

I hope this helps anybody who wasn't sure what they needed in an actor's headshot.

It really is very important that you guys get it right.

A clean overall look, natural expression with something extra going on, and killer lighting which accentuates your best features, is a great recipe for getting in front of those Casting Directors.

The following link might help if you'd like some suggestions for best makeup practices for headshots. Click for 6 Natural Makeup Tips For Headshots

Thanks for reading the post, guys. I really appreciate your time. 

If you'd like to find out more about me or my headshot sessions, click here.

It'd be great to chat and see how I can help you up your headshot game!



Tony taafe