How To Take The Perfect Actor Headshot for Actors
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
So the day has come and you are finally ready to take your acting career to the next level!
The first thing that needs to be on the agenda for any serious actor is getting a professional headshot taken by a professional headshot photographer.
I, myself, am an nyc based photographer (who travels to Los Angeles a lot) and you can see my headshot photography rates here.
Your actor headshots are possibly your most valuable piece of arsenal in your acting bag because it is often times the first thing that people (particularly film and tv directors, theatrical directors, casting directors, acting agents, acting managers, and other film industry decision makers) get to see from you.
A casting director may see hundreds of faces for just one role and your headshot can literally make or break your chance of getting it in just a split second as they'll often times only give you a glance for consideration.
So the process of getting your professional headshots done should not to be taken lightly.
So what does that process entail and what things do you need to know to execute getting the perfect actor headshot for you?
Listen up and read on!
Finding the right headshot photographer
The first task is finding the right headshot photographer to hire to do your photo shoot for you.
Needless to say, this step is crucial.
There are ultimately three factors that need to be considered when looking for someone to shoot your headshot photos.
You need to find someone that does photography work at the quality level that you want it stylistically appealing to you.
You need to find someone that you vibe well with.
You need to find someone someone that you can afford.
Find quality professional Headshot photographer
It cannot be overstated how important it is to use a headshots professional who can execute a high quality actor headshot for you. Many people think that they can take a selfie of themselves at home or ask a friend to shoot them who doesn't have experience shooting headshots.
But your actor headshot is your calling card into your future as an actor so you should take seriously who you have take your headshots.
Do a search and find photographers who have work that you admire. I don't recommend using websites like Bark.com or Thumbtack.com. Instead, go to the websites of individual photographers who are near you and find ones who have style that you think fits you best.
Make sure that they have shot other actors well with your same body type, skin complexion, and overall look. Some photographers may not do a good job with one type of person so be sure that they have the versatility to shoot someone like you.
Find a Headshot photographer that fits your vibe
Even the best headshot photographer can have a bad shoot day. And that sometimes can be attributed to the vibes just being off.
The second part isn't so easy since it's not particularly easy to know the vibe of someone if you meet them online. But if you do find photography talent online that you like, see if you can give the photographer a call to speak to them to feel them out.
Or you can gauge the energy of the people in the photos on their website.
Do the people seem stiff?
Do them appear uncomfortable?
Use whatever clues you can to get a gauge the vibe of the photographer and whether it will gel well with yours.
I'm a headshot photographer myself and I shoot tons and tons of headshots in New York City and Los Angeles specifically. You can see some acting headshot examples on my website here.
Find a Headshot photographer you can afford
The third thing is to find someone you can afford. Be mindful that this is an investment into your future so don't sell yourself short.
Make the appropriate investment without breaking the bank.
A headshots professional can charge as low as $100 and as high as $3000.
Headshot prices vary depending on the photographer. But you can often times get what you pay for so don't sacrifice quality for a few dollars.
But don't go into major debt either.
My prices for headshots, along with photography for modeling, digitals for models, and portrait photography are here.
Headshots - What To Wear?
Many people struggle figuring out what attire to bring to their actor headshot photography session. Should dress be casual? Should dress be flashy? There are so many options.
The answer for me is it depends. As a headshot professional who is also an actor myself, who I am sure has gotten a gang of roles because of the diversity of my headshots my philosophy is simple.
Think of roles you want to play
Write down the types of roles that you want to play, think you'd play best, or think you'll be most casted for. Rank those from least to most important and then be sure that you knock out as many as you can from the top of that list on down.
Keep it Classic
If you are limited in the looks you can wear in your headshot package then be sure to do two things.
Firstly, keep it classic.
Opt for clothing looks that are timeless as opposed to very trendy looks that may be out of style within a shorter period of time.
You don't know when your next shoot is, so if you are limited, shoot in looks that can last a very long time.
Bring Outfits That personify different characters
And also bring outfits that are interchangeable for multiple characters on your list.
Like how a teacher or school principal, psychiatrist, office worker, or banker can all have on a blue button down shirt, and you can add facial expressions and use your arms to give closer clarity to which is which.
Emulate the roles you want to be casted for
But really try to emulate a look to represent characters that you hope to be casted for.
Buy clothes and take them back
And you by no means need to be confined to what is in your closet. Days before your shoot you should take a trip to TJ Maxx, Zara, or any big clothing store and buy as many clothes as you can with a plan to take it all back days later. So you'll just use them for your shoot and return them all, literally costing you nothing.
Try to shoot every character if you can
And if you are in a situation where you can shoot as many looks as you'd like, then try to get a look as every single character you hope to be considered for.
Many casting directors may have a hard time seeing you as a doctor, gangster, athlete, or jazz singer, unless they see you in an outfit looking as such so a major cheat code it having a headshot for as many characters as possible.
I have an unlimited looks package where you can shoot as many looks as you want in two hours. Click here to see it and book your actor headshots with me.
Will I Need a Hair and/or Makeup Artist For My Acting Headshots Shoot?
For your acting headshots session it is highly recommended that you come as natural as possible. This shouldn't be looked at like a fashion or beauty photoshoot or a shoot for a modelling portfolio. Nor are you taking wedding photos or engagement photos where it is about being perfectly polished.
This is shoot is for casting directors, film directors, and others in the film industry to see what you look like. So you don't want to pile a ton of makeup on or have a super exaggerated hair style.
Don't get me wrong. You SHOULD look great! But in a very natural way.
So in my opinion it isn't too necessary to have a hair and/or makeup artist on set for headshots. You definitely can, but it isn't too necessary.
A good headshot professional will be able to remove any major blemishes in the retouching of the images.
In the event that you do want to have a hair stylist and or makeup artist on your actor headshot shoot, then you should have them do a very natural look for you, which many can and will do very well.
Posing For Your Acting Headshots
Posing for your acting headshot session is very important!
The biggest piece of advice I give to actors I shoot is to KEEP. IT. MOVING.
You don't need the same picture twice. The less movement you give, the less options you will have when it is time to choose your photo.
And I want to be clear. Keeping it moving DOES NOT mean to constantly move. In photography you pose and move, pose and move, pose and move.
What does that mean?
That means you pick a pose, hold it, and wait for the the photographer to take the photo. Then you pick a new pose within seconds and hold it, again until the photographer shoots.
And these pose changes don't need to be drastic either. Every slight change in facial expression and angle can give an entirely different photo.
So if you want to have a wide variety of images to choose from, I recommend not staying still and giving your headshot photographer a lot to work with.
Know your angles
Also, know your angles and pose ideas in advance. Look at other headshots that you like online and try to emulate them. Look at yourself in the mirror the night before and familiarize yourself with your face and body and see if there are angles that you like more and be ready to showcase them during your acting headshot sessions.
Use your whole upper body
Remember that every small detailed movement can provide a totally different image for you. So use your entire upper body during your headshot shoot. Push your shoulder forward. Cross your arms. Scratch your head. Arch your back. Clasp your hands. Anything!
Any of these body movements can lead to that perfect actor headshot that you are looking for. So be quick about it, but try it all, and let your body work for you!
A few last points for your headshot session.
If you follow all of those details above you should be welcome equipped to take the perfect actor headshots. But a few more points to remember:
The worst thing you want to do is go into a shoot being uneasy and intense (unless you only plan to go out for intense characters). If you do, it will show up in your eyes and eyebrows.
Get a good night's rest before your shoot. Eat a light meal. Meditate. Do whatever you need to do to be as relaxed as possible for your shoot.
Lastly, be yourself!
About the writer:
Forrest is an nyc based actor and professional photographer. I shoot mostly people so I consider myself a headshot photographer, photographer for models, portrait photographer, family photographer, wedding photographer, lifestyle photographer, event photographer, and engagement photographer in nyc (who travels to Los Angeles and Miami a lot).