Headshots: Twelve Top Tips
If you are a performer, then your headshots are your number one selling tool. The first thing a casting director considers is your photo. If you possess the right features for the role they’re looking to cast then you’re likely to get a call for an audition. It’s as simple as that.
But so many factors can get in the way if you’re not careful. It’s so important to get your headshots right. So, if you’re needing that all important set of photos, here are my top twelve tips to consider before you even step in front of the camera.
Tip 1 – Make sure it looks like you
It might sound silly but just because it’s a photo of you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it looks like you. The number one gripe of casting directors is actors not looking like their photo. Calling you in for an audition that you’re just not right for wastes everyone’s time and can mean huge disappointment for you.
It’s time for new headshots if…
- Your current ones are more than two years old.
- They’re photoshopped.
- You’ve noticeably lost or put on weight.
- You’ve changed your look dramatically.
Save a casting director the blushes and help them want to bring you before a director again – for the right roles.
And if you don’t have headshots already, I would advise very strongly against using family photos, holiday snaps or selfies – even if you look really good in them. Invest in your career from the off and be taken seriously by hiring a professional.
Tip 2 – Like your photographer
It’s important that you feel at ease when you have a photo session, that way you’ll get the best shots of the ‘real’ you, which is what casting directors are ultimately looking for. If possible, make sure you know and/or feel comfortable with your chosen photographer. Make sure you like their work too! Try and meet up (or even Skype) with him or her beforehand to discuss the shots and make sure that they’re right for the job.
Tip 3 – In or Out?
Well-lit or outside shots seem to bring the preferred look. Natural light is ideal, but try to avoid bright, harsh sunlight, which brings unflattering, dark shadows. The background should be out of focus but a hint of foliage, wall, or texture can help.
Tip 4 – What to wear
No need to splash out on a whole new wardrobe. Simple outfits in neutral tones that are complimentary to your own colouring are great. Don’t choose anything too patterned or busy and avoid accessories so as not to distract the eye. And take a few options along with you for variation.
Tip 5 – The shot itself
Avoid high or low angles and look straight to camera. Make sure your eyes aren’t obscured by your hair or anything else. And you want a head and shoulders shot. Full length or mid-length shots might only occasionally be requested but are also worth getting, just in case.
Tip 6 – Save the glamour for the red carpet
These shots need to be natural and give a true sense of what you really look like. If you really feel the need to go for make-up then make sure it’s light and subtle. Ditch the dramatic makeover and hazy filter.
Tip 7 – Keep it decent
Nude or scantily-clad is a no-no. It’s true that some modeling headshots feature bare shoulders but it’s not a requirement for acting shots. Your measurements will be on your CV and they are your starting point for communicating your physique. And guys, they’ll ask you if you’ve got a six-pack (if they need to know). No need to show it off.
Tip 8 – No props
Save Yorick’s skull for the stage. Don’t try to hint at other skills with the presence of a tennis racquet or a musical instrument. Props are a distraction and they scream unprofessionalism.
Tip 9 – No acting!
You are a fresh, blank canvas. Leave some room for the director’s imagination and keep the acting for the audition. You may wish to have a few smiley shots (but nothing too OTT) largely for the more commercial jobs and more deep and wistful ones for your mainstream performance work. But don’t try and show a range of scenarios or exaggerated emotions. That’s a little bit cringe-worthy and will only serve to limit your opportunities rather than broaden them.
Tip 10 – Variations
You’re likely to need one main headshot and around five others that offer a bit of variety in your natural look. For example, you could have one photo of you wearing glasses (if you wear them), hair up, hair down, hair curly (if it’s naturally so), hair straight, with a beard (gents!), without a beard etc…
Tip 11 – Black & White or Colour?
Until quite recently, black and white headshots were the favoured look. But now, although black and white seems still to be acceptable, colour very much wins the day. Casting directors say that colour somehow tends to be a lot more real and accessible and helps them to choose the right people for auditions.
Tip 12 – Tech Spec
If you need to send physical prints (which you sometimes will) it’s best to ask your photographer to provide images in a standard 8x10cm ratio (minimum) to allow ease of printing to the industry standard. There’s nothing worse than having to crop the perfect photo into the right size at the risk of spoiling the perfection.
Spotlight is THE casting directory in the UK. It is used by casting directors for stage and screen and lists everyone from Dame Judi to recent graduates. One of the first places you’re likely to upload your headshots to is here so, although advice may vary a little from place to place, these guys are worth listening to. They give great, up-to-date advice and further technical specifications about headshots in these links:
In the meantime, feel free to get in touch for a chat about your headshot needs and here’s to your burgeoning career in lights!