If you are like many actors, you dread getting headshots the way you dread an appointment with the IRS or dentist.
I suppose this happens because you are about to spend a bunch of money without knowing what to do or whom to trust. Here are some suggestions to help guide your way. If you think of anything I've overlooked, please contact me.
Why Can't My Mother Shoot My Headshot?
If a headshot was just a picture of you, your mom or your cousin could take it. Why can't they? Because they can't create a photograph tailored to your marketing plan.
What is a headshot?
Well, it's several things.
  • A picture of you.
  • A marketing tool.
  • A business expense.(Don't forget to deduct it.)
If you are an actor, you have a marketing plan. If you don't know whether you have one or not, then you probably don't have a good one. (And a good one is crucial.)
You take acting classes, dance classes, improv classes, scene study classes, you belong to a gym and work out regularly, you go to all kinds of seminars, and you spend money on clothes, on showcases, maybe on psychiatrists, all to advance your career as an actor. All this is part of your marketing plan. So are your headshot and your resume.
In fact, if your headshot and resume aren't working for you, you're wasting a lot of money on everything else, because your headshot and resume are what the key hiring people (casting directors, directors, producers) will see. If your headshot isn't great, you're making it harder on yourself to get through to them. You're making it harder on yourself to get hired.
Why is my headshot so important?
You go in for a read. Maybe for a soap, maybe a commercial, maybe the next big action blockbuster with Mel or George or Brad. You smile, they smile, everybody smiles (well, maybe not everyone)and introduces themselves, you take one last look at the sides in your hand, your quivering hand, and you start reading, making the best choices you can based on 5 or 15 minutes of study.
They say thank you, you say thank you, you hand them your picture and you leave. How long were you there? Maybe five minutes. If you're very lucky or know someone in the room, you might be there 10 minutes.
What happens to my headshot?
It's (briefly) on top of a stack of 10 or 50 or 200 headshots of people in your category trying to get the same job. This is the culmination of all your efforts, these little five minutes. How long will it take the key hiring people to make a decision that may affect the rest of your life? They may have already decided, in which case you can regard those 5 minutes as another class. They may take a week to decide. They may take even longer.
Now your headshot grows more and more important because as their actual memory of you recedes, your headshot becomes you.
Why does Mel Gibson have a so-so headshot?
Keep in mind why you need an effective headshot. I recently had an actor point out to me that he had seen Mel Gibson's headshot and it wasn't that great. He was right. I've seen it too, and it's not a great headshot. But then, all Mel Gibson does with his headshot is sign it and mail it to fans. He has other avenues for getting work. Do you?
What are the major pitfalls to a great headshot?
It looks like you. Accomplishing that is not as simple as it seems. Many traps await on the way to getting the shot you need. Here are several:
  • Looking terrific at all costs. People want to look terrific in their photographs. Who wouldn't? But remember that a headshot is a marketing tool.

  • Sacrificing accuracy. If you walk into that five-minute audition and you don't look like the person in the photograph (if the photograph shows someone younger, more glamorous, thinner than you could ever be), then your five minutes likely shrinks to one or two minutes.

  • Ignoring your personality. Your headshot needs to look like you, but the best you, the you most like the person they are seeking. The you they want to work with. The you who is engaging and exciting and fun to work with. The lighting and the framing and the expression in your eyes and body and make-up all combine to create that person.

  • Making snap decisions. You and your photographer have a lot of decisions to make to get the best you. Weigh each decision.

  • Forgetting your agenda. A headshot is a portrait of you with an attitude and an agenda. The agenda is to get you work. The attitude shows you can act the character they're casting. Share your agenda with your photographer. Check that the proper attitude appears in your photograph.

  • Ignoring lighting. Ask why your photographer uses this setup for you. There is no such thing as a generic lighting setup. After all, are you a generic person?

How do I end up with a headshot that shows the best of me?
Each actor requires a different answer to that question. First, pick the right photographer. Relax, it could be almost that easy. I might even be the guy. Call me and we'll see.
People shooting headshots bring a wide range of knowledge and ability to headshots. Some are brilliant. Some know little and will, for $50 or $75, produce a photograph that will never get you work. Most of the photographers you talk to will fall somewhere between these extremes.
How do I choose a photographer?
Look at their photographs and ask questions of the photographer:
  • Do they shoot in the studio?
  • Do they shoot on location?
  • Do they shoot only one group (men, women, ingenues, character actors)?
  • Do they shoot a range of categories.
  • Does the light look pretty much the same in all the shots? For example, are the shadows and highlights the same or do you see some variety of lighting between one shot and another?
  • Do you find the actors engaged, active, and interesting?
  • Do they look ready to walk onto a set and start working.
  • What's the expression in their eyes? There better be one.
  • Do they look like they're having fun. I'm not kidding. People want to work with people who are fun to be around. Some photographers know how to work with actors to achieve a great presentation. Some don't.
  • What is the photographer's background? Some have been actors or directors, and understand the language of acting.
  • Does the photographer have an understanding of the industry and how it works?
  • Does the photographer grasp your place in the industry and what you would like your place in it to be.
  • How does the photographer help an actor prepare for a photographic performance. Yes, your headshot session is a performance.
  • Do you feel the photographer has a natural gift for working with people? Some don't.
How do I select a headshot package?
The simple answer is to make sure the headshot package furthers your marketing plan. The complex answer is to ask questions until you are convinced a package [link to Headshot Packages page?] fits your goals. Try asking your photographer these questions:
  • Why does your headshot package cost this amount?
  • How many shots do I need?
  • How often should I get new shots?
  • How many changes should I bring to a session?
  • Do I have to have make-up? (Beware if your photographer says "no".)
Other questions, of course, will arise as the date of your session approaches. Feel free to contact me.