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The acting headshot is an often forgotten aspect of acting. The truth is that it matters a great deal. Talent scouts will not care how talented you are if you have a headshot that doesn’t look right. Your headshot is your professional calling card in the acting business.
You may think that it’s just a single photograph — but remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why we’ve created a guide for you to determine what you need to do to get the perfect headshots for acting! Here’s everything you should know about acting headshots.
A headshot is, well, a photographic shot of your head. However, it’s the first thing that a casting scout will look at before you even meet in person. This could determine whether you will be invited for an audition.
As an actor, your headshot is part of your branding. You’ll need to stockpile a lot of these to give out to agents, and when you submit something for a role. It seems old school, but it’s still needed when you want to break into the business.
Acting headshots are taken for the following reasons:
Verify social media profiles
Use on your website
Submit for online casting
Submit to agents and managers (if you’re looking for representation)
Marketing purposes (i.e., sending them out as postcards, or hanging them out as business cards)
As we’ve reiterated in the past, the product you’re selling as an actor is YOU. Your headshot ties together every marketing move that you’ve made for your brand. Think of how some brands like Apple, Facebook, or even McDonald’s have instantly recognizable logos. The headshot is your logo.
Acting headshots should be your main marketing material. You may notice how some actors, regardless of their fame, use their headshots as profile pictures for their official social media accounts. That’s because it’s a part of your branding and pitching your face to talent scouts.
So, the whole point is: Invest in your headshots, and it will go a long way. It’s a must to have both physical and digital copies of it if you want to bag an audition. Some projects are so strict that you won’t be able to apply without a professionally taken headshot.
If you’re planning on acting in theater, it’s standard practice to bring in, or sometimes mail in, a hard copy of a headshot. It’s not unheard of for theater casting directors to ask actors to send in their headshots and resumes to the office if they’d like to be considered for an audition. Film, TV, commercial, and print casting directors usually only require digital copies sent via email or submitted on a website. While this is good enough, it’s always better to have a hard copy of your headshot if you’re asked to participate in an audition.
The standard format for acting headshots has the following specifications:
The size should be 8 x 10 inches
Has the talent’s name printed on the front
Aside from the ones listed above, the orientation of your headshot is crucial. While you can choose to have it formatted in either portrait or landscape mode. It’s much better to use a portrait (vertical) orientation. This makes it easier for a casting director to flip over your headshot to move on to the next page.
For the name on your headshot, there’s no standard font. The only rule is that it should be in black and bold letters, and easy to read. You can have your name printed within a black or white border, depending on what you think looks good.
You should also staple your acting resume on the back of your headshot printed in the same size as your photo. Your resume should also be stapled on all four corners of your photo, with the staples’ pinchers visible on the side of the resume.
Aside from basic editing and touch-ups, your digital headshots also need to be formatted. Raw camera images have huge file sizes, which may not be accepted on some websites. To get the best possible quality without going over a file size limit, make sure your file is in:
Compressed file format – Your images should be in .jpeg, .jpg, or .png — these file types usually have a reasonable file size without compromising the quality of the photo.
High-resolution – At least 300dpi is recommended for digital headshots. This resolution makes your photo look great on both thumbnails and large images.
No need to put your name on a digital headshot. You can just put your name on the file name, or sometimes, you may have to follow a file naming format depending on the requirements of the casting agent.
Your photo should also be cropped properly. This ensures that your face will stand out amongst the pool of other faces on a casting website.
Your acting headshot should look similar to what you look like in person. With the age of Photoshop and camera filters, it’s not surprising that even the most seasoned actors depend on those. Most, if not all, casting directors are looking for actors that can accurately fit the “look” that they require.
You know how when you look at an actor’s photo; they seem to be fit to play the role of a mom? Or maybe a cop? Then there are also those actors that seem like they could play someone wise, such as Morgan Freeman. That’s how powerful headshots could be. Sure, it may seem like you’re already being typecast, but it’s your key to getting called in for auditions.
Headshots for acting shouldn’t just show what you look like. It should also let people know what your brand is about. Your possible personality/occupations, your age range, your socioeconomic history — almost everything that can give you a broader choice of roles.
With just one look, casting directors already have a specific idea of what role you may fit in. They get thousands of applications, that’s why they probably wouldn’t scour through your resume. They’re just going to take a look at your photo and make a decision based on that.
Here are some do’s and don’ts that you can follow
Find a photographer that has experience in taking headshots. You can ask fellow actors for recommendations. Make sure you pick someone that you feel comfortable with so that your personality can shine through your photos.
Have a professional format the photos for you. They should be familiar with the industry practice. If you’re lucky, your photographer may be able to do it for you as part of a package.
Wear a bit of makeup. No, you don’t need to hire a makeup artist. Just have enough makeup to avoid looking washed out in photos.
Wear clothing in a solid color. Pro-tip: do a Google search to find out your skin’s undertone. Once you have that, you can search for colors that can be flattering for you and help enhance your looks in photos.
Don’t assume that your selfie can count as a headshot. Selfies will never be accepted by casting agents.
Don’t recycle your headshots. Make sure you get your photos updated regularly. You’ll confuse casting directors if you submit a headshot from five years ago and appear in front of them looking much older.
Don’t wear too much makeup.
Don’t have your photo edited out too much. Those laugh lines and freckles can help land you roles if you know how to enhance them in a flattering way.
Avoid wearing clothes that are printed or too bright. If it’s too distracting, it could pull attention away from your facial features.
Understandably, you’ll get tempted to get your headshots done by a close friend with a camera. However, it’s always better to have these things done by professionals. These photographers have had years of experience and they can easily capture your essence and your expression.
Professional photographers offer packages that may range between $300 to $1500, depending on their portfolio and other services such as makeup and hair styling, or editing. While you’re not required to pay a lot, it’s better that you don’t cut corners when it comes to this stuff.
Remember that you need to make certain investments in yourself if you’re determined to make it big. You’ll be paying for a professional who knows their way around a camera and catches your expression within a still photograph.
Headshots are focused on your face, so make sure you’re relaxed during your photo session. Any tension or discomfort will show in your shots. A good combo of a solid posture and amazing facial angles can do wonders and will make the photographer happy.
You can try any of the following poses:
Back straight, facing directly at the camera – this pose is a classic. It’s been tried and tested and has become an industry standard. It captures all of you in a simple yet powerful frame.
Over the shoulder – This is edgier and definitely gives off a mysterious vibe. It’s uncommon to have headshots like this, but it’s not unheard of and could be powerful if you’re aiming for stronger roles.
Lean towards the camera – the “leaning in” pose can make you look like you’re in the middle of a chat. It can help you give off a friendly vibe.
Your shots should showcase your facial features, but don’t be afraid to use your eyes to communicate. Think of the camera as a scene partner. How would you look at it if it were your lover? Your friend? Or an enemy?
Additionally, if you have a niche talent or skill, consider showing those off in a headshot. If you’re known for being muscular, by all means, show off your muscles. If your aim is to bag the role of a cop, do a pose or use props that can make it look like you’re part of the force.
If you still want guidance on how to handle headshot sessions, you can always choose to enroll in an acting class. There are both in-person and online classes available everywhere, and taking the perfect headshot is commonly included in the curriculum. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by the process — it will all be worth it once you get booked for roles!