3 Misinformed Pieces of Advice for Actor Headshots

 No more smiles in headshots! That’s so last year!

No more smiles in headshots! That’s so last year!

I had a great conversation with an actor client recently about some of the crazy things they were told in regards to acting headshots. Everyone’s an expert as they say! He hadn’t updated his headshots in about 2 years and of course some things in the industry have changed since then. According to his actor friend, he should wear black and look serious since that’s what popular for theatre at the moment. Interesting, because I didn’t get the memo. Having worked as a headshot photographer for almost 8 years now, I’ve seen trends come and go and heard quite a few inaccurate statements on headshots. I’ve put together this short little list of some of the worst pieces of advice to help you get the most from your session and maximize your look as an actor. Don’t let your session turn out poorly because you’re listening to a dozen different resources of misinformation. Fake news! Let’s begin.

1. Your Headshot Should Be Straight On

 
 Two actors. Turned to the side. I love side poses since they accentuate the eyes.

Two actors. Turned to the side. I love side poses since they accentuate the eyes.

 Side profiles can also be somewhat heroic looking. Think Marvel superhero film!

Side profiles can also be somewhat heroic looking. Think Marvel superhero film!

 

Admittedly when I heard this one, I was quite taken aback. How can one simply determine the the best angle to take a headshot from, is with the actor facing straight forward into the camera? I mean, really? For every actor? While I love this approach, with the sheer variety of face types, body types, etc. it’s quite foolish to instruct every person to be positioned the same way. After working with hundreds of people over the years, I find the best approach is to pick the angle that flatters the person/character type best. Maybe you look best turned to the side or if you’re playing a dark edgy character type, a slight turn will give you that air of mystery appropriate for the character. Find the pose and angle that works best for you and nail those expressions. In the end, you want a headshot that not only reflects your type, but also is flattering to your features.

2. Indoor Headshots Are Better Than Outdoors (And Vice Versa)

 
 Same actress two different looks. Studio look has a classic theater vibe.

Same actress two different looks. Studio look has a classic theater vibe.

 The outdoor headshot look has a more film/tv vibe. It’s not a hard rule but something I noticed in these two images. Results may vary!

The outdoor headshot look has a more film/tv vibe. It’s not a hard rule but something I noticed in these two images. Results may vary!

 

Sometimes when an actor books me, they’ll mention that their rep or maybe a friend told them to do their headshots indoors or outdoors. They’ll followup by saying that that person informed them one type is better than the other. Nonsense. Both options are great choices and should definitely be utilized. A studio headshot is great, especially when the weather doesn’t permit, but so is an outdoor headshot. Outdoor headshots are a worthy option since they place you in the real world and often read as more organic than their studio headshot counterpart. However, a great studio headshot is valid too because it puts even greater focus on you since it’s devoid of distracting background elements. I often preach “variety, variety, variety” to my actor clients and doing your headshots both indoors and outdoors will help you get maximum versatility from your session. Both are great to have and one isn’t “better” than the other. I suggest you do both!

3. You Shouldn’t Smile In Your Headshot

 
 Smile’s are great for commercial headshots plus friendly character types (e.g. lead in a romantic comedy)

Smile’s are great for commercial headshots plus friendly character types (e.g. lead in a romantic comedy)

 Guys should smile to!

Guys should smile to!

 

This one’s a doozy. I don’t know what person came up with this one, but that’s the biggest crock of marshmallow puffs I’ve ever heard. You shouldn’t smile in a headshot? C’mon! If you’re playing the down on their luck protagonist with a heart of gold in a romantic comedy, um, you’re probably going to be smiling. Want to read as charismatic and funny? Smile. How about the reliable best friend who helps the main character during a time of crisis? Smile. Young mom/dad? Smile. Elderly guru? Smile. Friendly medical professional? Smile. There’s no single expression that’s appropriate for a headshot. Simply strive for a range of expressions and dial in on what you think reflects you as well as your character type(s) the best. If you’re not smiling, then what expression are you replacing all the other images with? Serious? The entire time? Yeah, I’ll say that’s the worst advice someone can follow before a session.

These are three of the big ones I’ve heard and I’m sure there are more. I’ll close with saying that there’s no one rule for headshots. And there is no one size fits all approach to having them done effectively. As you grow as an actor and define/refine your type, you’ll undoubtedly bring those changes into your headshot session. Even as you grow as a person, that will reflect in your photos. We all go through phases where we may dress a certain way or be more introverted/extroverted. That will show in your photos during a certain period in your life. I’ve worked with some actors when they were 18 years old and have photographed them year after year. One is currently 23 and she’s completely different than the girl she was freshman year of college. What shows in her headshot now is a woman who’s more confident in her choices and knows specifically what characters she’s best for and wants to pursue. Her images range from big smiles to anger, hurt, and even love.

If someone’s giving you advice for your headshots and they’re preaching standards this and standards that, listen. But take it all with a pinch of salt. There’s no one rule and the last thing you need is to get in your head before your big shoot.

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