WHAT IS A GREAT HEADSHOT?
A good headshot is one that gets you auditions. A great headshot gets you the right auditions: auditions where the casting directors are looking for an actor just like you.
Rule #1: A Great Headshot Looks Like You
Your headshot should look like you on your very best of days, one of those days when you look in the mirror and say “oh, yeahhh.”
If the headshot lands you an audition but you don’t look like the person in the picture when you walk through the door, then forget about it. In person, if you’re younger, older, thinner, heavier, etc. you’re not going to get the part or even worse: they might want someone who looks just like you, but you won’t get the audition if the headshot leads them astray because it doesn’t look like you.
Rule #2: A Great Headshot Shows Your “Type”
Your headshot, particularly a legit/theatrical headshot, should reveal a type. You want the casting director to look at your photo and know right away if you’re the best friend, the professional, the con man, the leading lady, the comic sidekick, the mom, etc. If you don’t know your type, talk to casting directors, agents, acting instructors, or friends in the business. Then talk to your photographer beforehand. If you know what you’re looking for and can convey that to your photographer, your final shot will be much better. Trying to be the jack-of-all-trades who can play anything rarely works. If you’re seeking auditions for distinctly different types, take multiple headshots that reveal those types and send them out accordingly.
Rule #3: A Great Headshot Shows Your Personality
Your headshot should express something unique about you. It should be engaging and interesting. Maybe it’s a special twinkle you have in your eyes; a bemused smile that’s just your own; a big/roaring personality. Whatever it is, show off what makes you special and sets you apart from the hundreds of other actors whose headshots casting directors look at every day.
Rule #4: A Great Headshot Is About You, Not Your Photographer
This isn’t to say that you don’t need a great photographer. But regardless of the photographer, the picture should show off your style, not the photographer’s. Some photographers have a very distinct look, and that look is their personal “brand.” It doesn’t matter who you are, they are going to make your headshot fit their brand. When looking for a photographer, be sure your photographer will take a photograph that emphasizes your brand, not his or hers.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR HEADSHOT SESSION
There are plenty of things you can do ahead of time to make sure your headshot session goes well.
Meet The Photographer In Person
Meet with your photographer ahead of time. (He or she should do that at no cost). Discuss your needs and find out if this is a person with whom you would feel comfortable. A headshot session can be a very revealing process in which you might feel vulnerable. If you aren’t comfortable while having a cup of coffee with a prospective photographer, keep looking. When meeting with your photographer, be sure to let him or her know what your “type” is so the photographer can be prepared to shoot you the right way.
Make Sure Your Beauty Shows
Well in advance: Guys, if you want pictures with and without facial hair, start growing your beard with enough time for it to grow in. You can shave it during the session, but it’s tough to grow it the day before.
One week before: Take care of all your beauty treatments (haircut, color, eyebrows, tanning, etc.) so the treatments are fresh but look natural.
72 hours before: Drink lots of water; avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and salty foods; stay out of the sun. Don’t forget to moisturize.
The night before: Sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.
That day: Make sure the clothes you want to wear are clean and pressed. If you’re using a makeup artist, come to the shoot with your face clean and product-free except for moisturizer.
And Speaking of Makeup
Women: Don’t underestimate the importance of makeup for your headshots. The makeup you wear in daily life or on stage is not the same as the makeup you’ll wear for a shoot. So, unless you’ve studied makeup for photography, get your makeup done professionally. A professional makeup artist knows what makeup looks good on camera and will make you look your best.
Men: It may sound sexist, but men don’t usually need makeup. It’s all about expectations. We’re accustomed to seeing women in makeup, not men. So if you do use makeup, it should be minimal in almost all situations. For instance, a little powder (which I provide for my shoots) will eliminate shine.
Unlike makeup, there’s no magic to doing hair for photos. A hairstylist can make your hair look its best for the shoot. But if you hire one, don’t get a hairstyle that’s too fancy. You must be able to replicate the hairstyle when you go for auditions.
Practice Makes Perfect
Finally, give a lot of thought to what image you want your picture(s) to convey. Then practice posing in front of a mirror. You might feel silly, but it helps. Trust me.
WHAT TO WEAR TO YOUR HEADSHOT SESSION
General Rules & Advice
You should like and feel comfortable in the clothes you wear in a headshot session. What do you wear to auditions? Chances are you should wear the same type of outfit for your headshot. Bring shirts in a variety of collars/necklines. The picture may be cropped pretty tight, and some collars and sleeves look funky when cut off. Women, don’t forget to bring bras that match your tops’ colors and necklines.
Solid colors are usually better. Patterns and busy prints distract from your face. The same goes for clothes with big buttons or other features that might take away attention from that beautiful mug of yours. Fine textures and weaves often look nice in pictures. Wear jeans or dark pants. Even though it is a head shot, your waist and legs might show up. In addition, you might want to bring a dress, suit, skirt, or something else different from a typical pants & top combo. Make sure your clothes are pressed and clean.
Color Me Beautiful
Choose clothes that complement your skin tone and eye color. No solid white shirts if you’re Caucasian or light-skinned. And bright red usually doesn’t work for anybody. It’s just too strong a color. Fair skin and blue eyes? Try blues, pinks and grays. Green eyes? Try browns, greens and oranges. Medium or dark skin and brown eyes? You can probably wear most colors, but avoid those that closely match your skin tone (contrast is key).
Clothing for Theatrical vs. Commercial Headshots
For legit/theatrical headshots, bring dressier, upscale clothes with darker colors.
For women: stretchy tops, sweaters, velvet, satin, scoop necks, spaghetti strap, tank tops and v-necks. Also business suits and other professional clothing. For men: Dress shirts, crew necks, textured sweaters, v-neck, and turtle necks. Also suits and blazers. You can create contrast by layering a t-shirt, collared shirt, and/or leather jacket. For commercial headshots, bring casual clothes & lighter/brighter colors. Think sporty and fun. Consider layering light and dark clothes for contrast. For women: t-shirts, tank tops, sweater sets, denim/leather jackets, textured sweaters. For men: t-shirts, hoodies/sweatshirts, work shirts, polo shirts, denim/leather jackets, textured sweaters.
AFTER YOUR HEADSHOT SESSION
There’s an unfortunate trend that you’ll see when looking at sample headshots all over the internet. For some reason major portions of the actor’s head and face are missing. You want to get cast, not be the photographer’s experimental art. If the picture is missing ears, foreheads, eyebrows, chins, etc., just say no. It’s OK to crop off just a bit of the top of your head, but don’t do it so it looks like you’re hiding a bald spot. And don’t crop your neck so it looks like you’re hiding plastic surgery scars.
Some photographers, like me, include retouching in their packages. Some will do retouching for additional fees. If not, make sure you take the pictures to be reproduced at a shop that offers professional retouching. But be careful. Some retouchers go overboard. Make sure it still looks like you! Pictures should be retouched to bring out your eyes, clean up loose hairs, maybe lighten or clean up some shadows. Retouching should not make you look 5 years younger or 20 pounds lighter. Casting directors know when a picture has been retouched to remove every line and pore from your face. They aren’t going to bring you in for an audition if they think the picture looks fake. Even if the picture fools them, it’s no use to you if they are looking for someone without freckles, and you come in covered with them. It’s OK to touch up acne and other blemishes if they’re temporary breakouts. But if you have acne all the time, or if you have acne scars, do not retouch it. A fake picture keeps you from getting appropriate auditions.
Once you’re satisfied with your headshot, you need to get it printed. Here in New York City, there are several options including Reproductions, Modernage and Precision Photos. Plus, you can find print shops online if you don’t live near one or don’t require personal service. But the most important advice I can give is to get a printed proof of your headshot before you order your final prints. Even if you’ve viewed your headshot on a finely calibrated monitor, it will look different when it’s printed. If the proof doesn’t look exactly like you want it to, ask the lab to reprint it to satisfy your standards. And then when you receive your final prints, make sure they match the proof.