Actor Headshot Tips: How To Take A Great Headshot

Actor Headshot in NYC - Bridget

I know the title of this post is a bit simplistic, but sometimes simple is the most effective way to communicate! Okay, so how does one take a great actor headshot? And what IS a great actor headshot?

I’ll define a great actor headshot as one that pulls the viewer in and reflects either your personality or the role you wish to play. It gets a casting director interested it in you. People comment on how they can see you being a perfect fit for *insert character type*. It’s a headshot you use over and over again because it’s just so darn good.

An average headshot, on the other hand, might look nice, even beautiful, but it doesn’t quite have the energy that pulls someone in. It say anything about the type of roles you’re going for or even reflect a part of your personality. It’s just pretty. A great headshot must communicate something beyond that.

So how do we do that?

1. Know your type.

Alexander being the "best friend with all the good dating advice" in a romantic comedy.

Alexander being the "best friend with all the good dating advice" in a romantic comedy.

First, know your type. If you’re just starting out this can be challenging. You may not know your type yet or haven’t done enough auditions/classes to gain feedback on what you’re best suited for. But even if you’re just getting started, consider the type of characters you’d like to play. It’s good to have some sort of a basis to work from instead of “Geee, I don’t know.” Think of the character types that have inspired you to be an actor or roles you’d love to experiment with. Having some sort of character type to focus on will help in your posing, expressions, and wardrobe selection. The greater sense of direction you have, the better your headshots will turn out.

If you’re a seasoned actor, you probably already know your type. If so, great! Plan your shoot around capturing that character to the best of your ability. Are they funny? Aggressive? Mischievous? Once you determine their personality, get a bit of practice in. You are an actor after all! Practice your expressions in the mirror. Self-tape it if you have to. This way when you’re getting your headshots done, you can channel that inner bad boy/girl or quirky best friend.

2. It’s all in the eyes.

Heather being dramatic channeling her inner "horror movie lead character". 

Heather being dramatic channeling her inner "horror movie lead character". 

It’s almost cliche at this point but a great headshot IS, in fact, all in the eyes. The eyes have it as they say. Your eyes must have energy, thought, and emotion behind them that captivates the person looking at your headshot. “What” they say depends on the part your auditioning for. For example, if you’re an action hero type they may read as “I’ve got this.” with lots of confidence and strength behind them. If you're a seductive, femme fatale they may read as "Hey there handsome."

You are an actor, so when you’re having your headshots done, you should be acting! Get into that character type and put on a performance. You don’t have to be speaking lines, but have some sort of inner monologue in your head that you pull from for inspiration in your headshots. If it helps, feel free to perform your monologue out loud. I’d be glad to bounce a few lines back at you if necessary. ;-)

3. Proper planning.

As my dad says, “Son, you have to always remember the 6 P’s. Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” Maybe not the most eloquent advice, but it rings true time and time again in many aspects of life. Headshots are no exception. What does planning for a headshot session entail?

  • Select and prepping your wardrobe.

    Pick wardrobe that is not only flattering to your body type, but also relevant to your character type. Don’t just grab random clothing and show up for your shoot. Select your wardrobe with a sense of purpose and direction.

    Additionally, your clothing should be pressed and wrinkle free. This is very important. Don’t just stuff your shirts into a duffel bag and come to the shoot. Fold them neatly or put them on hangers so when you arrive for the shoot, your clothing looks presentable. Think of it as an important job interview. You wouldn't show up to that looking all disheveled right? Right? I wish I didn’t have to say this, but you’d be surprised how many people show up to shoot with clothing that is either ridiculously wrinkled or full of stains. If you need to buy new clothes for your shoot,do so. But make sure your clothing is clean and pressed.
  • Get plenty of rest.

This one’s very simple. Get some rest. New York is the city that never sleeps so I totally get it if you’re out partying with friends or having a few drinks with that hot Tinder date. But try to do those things well in advance of your session. You want to get plenty of rest the nights leading up to your shoot. Your eyes will look rested and your skin will have that beautiful glow. Easy right?

  • Double check everything the night before.

Think of your session as if you’re going on an important trip. You’d probably double check your luggage to make sure you have socks or your phone charger? So do the same the night before your headshot shoot. Are all your clothes prepped? You remember where the studio is? Will there be any train delays? Go over all the necessary things the night before so the day of your shoot is stress free.

  • Give it your all.

Any sort of photo shoot involving portraits of people is a give and take process. The photographer has to direct a little while the subject must respond to that direction to the best of their ability. If the subject isn’t willing to give anything, the photographer can’t do much about it. If the photographer fails to direct, the subject may stand there like a deer in headlights. It takes two to tango as they say. Come to think of it, who is “they”? That’s another topic for another post. I digress.

For my part, I promise to give my all as your headshot photographer. I'll direct, be upbeat, even crawl on the ground if it means I get great shots of you. But make sure you’re prepared to give it YOUR all as well. Be enthusiastic, collaborative, up for anything in order to get a great shot. And most importantly, have fun! The more fun you have, the better your shots will turn out. Even if you’re a novice when it comes to being in front of a camera, a positive attitude can take you a long way when being photographed.

5. Presentation is everything.

8 x 10 Headshot Print Example

8 x 10 Headshot Print Example

Lastly, how you present your headshot is also important. Probably just as important as all the previous tips I've outlined.

So you've got your headshots done and you’re ready to go out on auditions? It’s time to get them printed. I’ll just state it plainly, don’t be cheap. Spend the extra money and go to a quality printer. If you’re in NYC, hit up Reproductions. You’ve spent all this money on an awesome photo shoot, just to skimp out on the printing? No, no, no. Your print should have great color, your image nice and sharp, and match the same quality as the original file.

Additionally, don’t over retouch your headshot. I (and the industry for the most part) prefers retouching that is natural and not overdone. While I handle all of my own retouching, I do occasionally see clients try their hand at retouching their own headshots by using filters and whatnot. This often results in a super blurry photo with no skin detail, overly white, bright eyes, and doesn’t resemble the real them at all. With retouching, you want to look like YOU, not a cartoon version of yourself. Get quality retouching done, even if you have to spend a little extra for it.

You shouldn't look perfect in your headshot. This isn't an image meant to flatter you in your personal life like a selfie. It's meant for the specific purpose of helping you get work as an actor. You want to put your best foot forward so quality, professional retouching is important. You wouldn't use Comic Sans font for your resume because you think it's cute right? Right? So don't go overdoing the blur on your headshot. Be a pro and get it done correctly.

And that's it. If you follow the tips outlined in this post I am certain you’ll get great headshots. Time and time again.

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