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Last Updated on August 15, 2020 by Hunter Phoenix
I can’t stress the importance of having great headshots! For actors they really are your calling card – this is the first step to getting you in front of the casting director and into the audition room, or setting up a meeting with an agent. Over the course of your career you will shoot new headshots many many times.
Whenever your look changes, you want to refine your brand, move to another category, or the industry changes, you are going to need new headshots. And headshots session are expensive, so you want to put some effort int planning before you shoot – you want to get it right the first time!
Head & Shoulders vs. Three-Quarter or Full Length
As the name implies, a headshot is normally just that, chest up. This is super important today with online casting services where casting directors are scrolling through hundreds, or even thousands of thumbnails online.
Ideally, your face fills the frame, allowing your eyes to draw the viewer in and want to see more. A photo that is too widely cropped is going to get lost is a blur as the viewer scrolls through page after page. I’ve often heard casting directors refer to this as “scroll blindness”. And it’s not about trying to stand-out as much as just being yourself – clear and close up. You want the casting director to notice you IF you are the type they are looking for at this moment.
Photos that show more of your body, three-quarter or full-length, are typically used for models, but not as much for actors. These can be useful to have as well if you have a really unique body type or feature that you are selling, such as bikini-babe, body builder, are heavily tattooed, or perhaps are differently abled.
*Note: I would suggest to ALWAYS shoot 3/4. You can always crop later but you can’t add anything back on if you are unhappy.
Serious or Smile?
This would really depend on your character type and what type of roles you are hoping to book with this shot. Generally, commercial shots tend to be a little more smiley, quirky or charactery, and theatrical shots convey more of a character, and yes, tend to be a little more dramatic and serious. This can change though if you are primarily a comedy actor.
Ultimately commercial shots are about sales, and conveying a warmth and engagement that says “Yes, I’m going to sell your product!”. Theatrical headshots should show someone that we could watch on TV week after week; a fully fleshed out human being. Going for sitcoms? A smiling shot is a great idea! Playing the bad guy or drug addict, maybe not 🙂
To Glam or Not To Glam
Oooohhhh…. actors love to look beautiful! And we are all so thrilled when get those stunning and lovely headshots. If glam is in your brand, yes, go for it! If it’s not, just say no to the glam squad 🙂
Your headshots should look like you on your best day. Nothing makes casting directors more crazy than an actor who walks in the room and doesn’t look like the picture that was sent out; it just wastes everybody’s time. People should be able to recognize you on the street just from a headshot they’ve seen. Keep them current and don’t drop ten years or ten pounds in retouching. Yes, of course clean up the basics like a blemish, a stray hair, a recent sunburn or weird wrinkles in your clothing, but keep it authentic.
This is usually the first question that actors ask “What should I wear?” Again, this comes down to your character type and can vary quite a bit commercial to theatrical.
Let’s look at Commercials first:
If the look you’re going for is Retail Service Rep, then a jeweled tone polo shirt is an obvious choice. A doctor for big pharma ads or bank manager is is going to dress differently. It’s important here to know your character type and where you fit in. you can play a few different characters but not all of them, none of us can! Your commercial headshot, ultimately, should come across as warm and likable.
Choose colors and a collar or neckline that flatters your face, and this is where it’s important to be honest with yourself – high collars look terrible on me. Always have, I don’t care what anyone says about ‘needing’ that type of shot. I’ve never gotten a good shot with a high-collared shirt, ever. It’s always been a waste of time and money! Blacks or grays tend to take away from the warmth and energy of a shot, and for commercials you want to use these colors sparingly. Before shooting, watch commercials, see where you fit in and what people are wearing. If you are the right type to audition for a sales rep at Best Buy or Verizon, that’s one look, Mom is another. Hipster or quirky friend, again different looks. Know your type.
Now for Theatrical:
Again, I know I’m harping on this, but it’s super important… character, character, character. The types of characters you want to focus on, and will realistically be going out for, should determine what you wear for theatrical headshots. I have one friend who repeatedly plays the therapist, another, the bad guy, another, the cop. None of these people get the mom or dad roles, but I do have friends that clean up on those ones too.
Watch TV shows you thing you are a good fit for and see what those characters are wearing. Note: stay away from costumes! That smacks of an inexperienced or background actor. You really just want the essence of the character. Jeweled tones are my favorite because they pop and can draw attention when casting is scrolling through thousands of photos, but pick colors and styles that flatter your face without drawing attention away from it – you are the star here, not your wardrobe.
And lastly, BE YOU. Show what is unique about You. Maybe it’s that million dollar smile, that absolute death stare, your off-beat quirkiness or annoying neighbor look. Really, you are perfect just the way you are and there is always going to be a job for ‘just your type’.
As always, I’d love to read your questions or comments below.
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