What makes an outstanding, effective actor headshot?

I recently had lunch with a casting director I know and the conversation shifted to how bad casting directors find the majority of headshots that they get.  Though I have had the experience of both being the person taking the photos, and the one pouring through headshots and comp cards with a client looking for the right talent for a project, I somehow didn’t realize so many photographers and actors were getting it wrong.

The basic problem here is that neither the photographer or the actor/actress are looking at what the headshots need to be from the right point of view:  That of the casting director.  What does the casting director need to see to know if you are right for the part?

The job of your headshot is to get you an audition.  The key points that must be present:

Your actor headshot must look like you.  

The script is calling for a character and the director and producer envision this character in a certain way.  They need to know you are potentially right for the part before they call you for an audition.  This means not getting overly creative with makeup, photoshop retouching and dramatic lighting.  Not in your headshot.  Too much of this and you won’t get called.  They can’t tell if it is how you really look…. and nothing is more frustrating than to have the talent show and look nothing like their headshot.  Trust me on this.  It has happened to me when I have been on the casting end.

Your headshot needs to “pop,” and stand out.

When the casting director is looking for who to audition, they typically are scanning through hundreds of headshots with most getting only a glance.  Yours has to stand out enough to make them pause, look at it and consider you.

Great lighting, correct color, good contrast, and a background that compliments without distracting from you make your headshot pop off the page without getting into the errors listed above.

Your headshot should represent your essence, your personality.

True, a good actor can assume many different types of characters.  But there are also those where you just aren’t suited and you know it.  Project the essence of you, and that of which you are most able to portray into the photos.  This is something I consider a key component of a headshot session, discussing this with my client and then working with him or her to draw that essence out and into the photos.

Work with a headshot photographer who understands what you need.

One of the more unfortunate things in the photography industry is that beginning, inexperienced photographers gravitate toward headshots.  After all, anybody can do it, right?  Wrong.  See my opening paragraph.  This is why my friend was complaining about the number of bad headshots she had to sift through.

This brings us back to the point that beginning actors and actresses also may not have a thorough understanding of what the casting director is looking for.  I’ve met several actors and actresses who in the beginning simply found whoever they could that would shoot their headshots free… and when neither party understands what is needed, the resulting headshot is not going to get calls for auditions.

Discuss your headshots with your agent.

Any set of guidelines is going to have exceptions.  Your agent may want you to have headshots in your portfolio that bring out a specific strong point in your talent.  He may want you to “step out of the box” in some of the shots.  Or he may have found that the casting directors he works with tend to prefer certain qualities in headshots.

Your headshot can be, and should be unique.  

It doesn’t have to look like every other headshot that every other photographer has taken.  We work with you to do just that.

We work with you to make you look confident, successful, like you have already made it… Maybe a bit larger than life, all the while ensuring your basic personality shows through.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions and concerns you may have about your headshots.  That’s why I’m here.