What is an “Industry Standard” Actor Headshot?

A man in the film industry that I met networking emailed me afterwards saying my photography and website looked great.Then he said there were too many photographers that didn’t know what an “industry standard” headshot was and for my definition of it before he referred me any clients.

My first thought was, “Here we go again.”  There are as many definitions of what an “industry standard” headshot is as there are casting directors and photographers.  How could I guess what his was?

But I could also see that what he was actually attempting to do is weed out all of the photographers out there that really don’t know!  And sadly, that is a very high percentage of them.

I answered him and felt it would be a good idea to post my thoughts on this on my blog to help others know what to look for when getting their headshots.  As a note, this post is geared more toward actor and actress headshot than business headshot, though many of the same principles apply.

1.  Your headshot is the most important part of your marketing

Headshot done for an established radio personality with an established character/brand we wanted to create a visual representation of.

Don’t skimp on this.  You know you have talent and are right for the part, but without a killer headshot you’ll never get the chance to audition.  Your headshot is what makes the casting director decide whether or not to call you in the first place.

Don’t have a friend with a “good camera” take the picture.  Your career is at stake.  Choose an experienced professional whose work you like.

2.  Your headshot is your branding and should show who you are

Your headshot should be thought of as your brand identity.   Use it everywhere.  Your casting profiles, business cards, website, post cards, your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profile image… anyplace you have an online presence.  It is also a good idea to bring printed copies of your headshot with you to auditions to leave with the casting director.

Your headshot should be taken by a photographer that is capable of working with you and pulling your personality out and then capturing it flawlessly.

3.  Your headshot should look like you

In an era where creative lighting and Photoshop are heavily used, this isn’t the place for it.  The same with heavy makeup.  You should get your hair and makeup done prior to the shoot, but do it the same as you would for walking into an audition.  This isn’t the place for glamor makeup.

The casting director wants to know what you look like.  Casting directors want to get an accurate sense of what you bring to the table.

4.  The focus of a headshot is you

Your headshot should be taken with a plain or a non distracting background.  A plain studio background is ideal.  If it’s shot in an indoor space without a studio background or outdoors, then the background should be out of focus.  The casting director is interested in you, not where you are.

5.  The eyes have it

They say the eyes are the mirror to the soul.  Professional photographers have long selected the eyes to be the sharpest point of focus in the image.  We are all intuitively drawn to the eyes when we look at another person or their picture.

This is where doing your homework pays off too.  What type of roles do you hope to land?  What kind of character will you be playing?  Is it an intense person with an equally intense gaze?  Or perhaps a more fun loving person with a twinkle in their eye?  Give it some thought before your headshot photoshoot.  Your mindset will show in your eyes and the casting director will be looking at them.

6.  Your headshot needs to “pop”

Casting directors go through hundreds of headshots.  Yours has to stand out, to pop, to have a chance of being seen at all.

Your headshot should be perfectly lit.  No over-exposed highlights.  No harsh shadows and very good contrast between the yourself and the background.  For example, if you have dark hair a white background is a better choice than a black or grey one.

Outdoor headshot with the background kept out of focus to keep attention on the actress.

7.  The essence of your personality should shine through

As an actor or actress you will certainly play a lot of different roles.  But think about this for a moment.  Brad Pitt has played a lot of different type roles… but there is an essence of him that’s there in every role he plays that says this is Brad Pitt despite the character.  The same is true with Julia Roberts. 

This isn’t just their physical appearance.  It’s as if the soul shines through.  If you doubt that, consider the personality of a store mannequin.  There isn’t one is there?  This is an intangible thing, but nevertheless very real.  A good headshot photograper will recognize that ad draw it out.

8.  Your headshot should be looking into the camera

For the most part your headshot needs to be of you looking into the camera.  A variation is slightly to the side, and another variation is looking over your shoulder but always make eye contact with the camera  The point is the casting director wants to see your face and your eyes.

9.  Relax about it

This is probably starting to seem overly complex.  You have to show the essence of your personality, of the characters you want to play and your talent in just a picture or two.  It only sounds impossible or hard.

A good headshot photographer is going to spend enough time working with you to discover for himself who you are and where you shine.  What your best angels are while keeping within the angles listed above.  He will talk with you, help put you at ease and observe you as you are moving constantly looking for the exact magical moment when the pose, light and attitude by projected by you all come together for the perfect headshot.

Keep coming back and checking my blog.  I’ll be doing a number of posts dealing with how to get the best headshot you possibly can with tips on what to wear, how to prepare and more.