What is an Actor’s Headshot: Commercial vs Theatrical

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What’s is an actor’s headshot? Sounds like a silly question, right? Since the dawn of time, actor’s headshots have been an 8 x 10 “publicity photo”. It is essentially your calling card. It’s how agents, casting directors, directors and producers know who you are, what you look like and what to cast you as. You send it out to agents and managers to find representation and post it online to get auditions. And yes, you bring it to EVERY audition. (* NOTE: many CD’s won’t take your headshot in an audition these days, they prefer to keep everything electronic, but many still do! Be prepared and take it just in case!)

There are 2 basic types of headshots: Theatrical & Commercial. Theatrical headshots are used for casting film, television and theatre roles. Commercial headshots are used for just that, commercial casting. And yes, you really need to have both. There are a thousand different variation within each of these categories depending on your age, your type, your brand and what market you are in. How headshots are done and what casting likes to see varies widely across markets, say…. New York to LA. And are notably different in European markets. You want to make sure that you shoot materials that are best suited to your type, your career goals and where you will be working. 

Commercial Headshots

Commercial headshots are designed to appeal to the advertising industry. Keep in mind, the purpose of a commercial is to sell a product to a specific group of people. Your commercial headshot should really be in line with who you will most likely be selling to, or what demographic.

Personality types in commercials need to be very clear and identifiable, since there are only a few seconds to connect with the audience. Is your character a customer service rep at a big box retailer? Working at a fast food counter? Selling real estate or insurance? Or maybe a customer for one of these? Are you the quirky, nerdy office worker? Does he or she drive a Mercedes or a Prius? These are all very different characters and it’s important to know your type.

Advertisers usually like warm, friendly, trustworthy people to sell their product, so your headshot should convey this. Commercial headshot also tend to be more brightly lit that theatrical shots and have a broader appeal.


Theatrical Headshots

Theatrical headshots should feel like you just stepped out of a TV show or movie. They are more about the layers of an actor’s personality, and generally give an idea of your emotional range and depth. Big job for a mere 8×10 image! In commercial headshots, it is important to come across as trustworthy so you can sell a product, but not so with theatrical; you could be the villain, the bad guy or the bitch – nice and trustworthy doesn’t cut it here unless that is your niche. In theatrical headshots, you are selling a specific character  type, whether he or she is warm and fuzzy or not!

Your headshots really are your calling card and I can’t stress enough how important they are. They are probably the biggest determining factor to whether or not you get in the room! Nobody is going to make it to your reel or resumé without first seeing something engaging in your headshot.

COPY BY: Hunter Phoenix  FEATURED IMAGE: Courtesy of Pixebay


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