5 Tips for an Awesome Acting Headshot Session

I’ve been photographing headshots for actors for a pretty long time, and I’ve been acting and having my own headshots done for even longer. I’ve worked out a handful of things that you really want to get right when you’re having your acting portrait shot. They are things you can control, outside of the photographer’s input, and it’ll make an enormous difference to your professional acting headshots, I promise. 🙂 So, here they are…5 Tips for an Awesome Acting Headshot Session. Yay!

Brush Your Hair

I know, sounds obvious, right? Like I shouldn’t even need to say it. But…I do. So, there it is: just brush your hair, and before you do that, please make sure it’s clean. And also bring a brush/comb with you to your headshot session. We want hair that looks nice, you know? Freshly styled, however you like it. And bring hair ties, if you have long enough hair to tie back, because we’re going to do different things with your hair.

perth acting headshot Paris long dark hair smiling in pink tshirt

With her hair back straight and simple, pushed back from her face on one side, Paris looks young and fresh.

perth acting headshot Paris long dark hair small smile wearing white tshirt

Here, with her hair slightly messy and down around her face, framing her cheekbones, Paris looks older and like she might be up to mischief…a very different feel to the previous shot.

Changing hair style radically affects your look: it changes the shape of your face, and that can result in a photo where you look younger or older, or stronger or softer, or a whole bunch of things that are useful in an acting headshot. And range is everything, so any time you can add to an age range, or emotional range, or social demographic range, or any other human variation, it’s very worth doing.

Avoid Logos on your Clothing

A headshot is about YOU, not the brand of clothing you love the best. Logos, catchphrases, words, and patterns are distracting, and we want everyone who looks at your headshot to only see you. Nobody is casting Nike or Lululemon or the hottest top from the latest shop in their film or play or television commercial. Keep it simple and let your awesome face do all the talking. 🙂

Bring a couple of different changes of tops with you: something casual, something colourful, and something a little formal. It helps make your headshots look different from each other (important when you’re posting them on a casting website like Showcast) and can contribute to your dramatic range. In the headshots below, the wonderful Greg Marsten started in a black collared shirt for the serious headshot, then paired a bright blue tshirt with a suit jacket for a relaxed and friendly commercial headshot, then rocked out the tshirt for a great three-quarter headshot full of personality. In each photo, Greg’s face and expression tell the story, with support from the clothing. That’s exactly how it should go. 🙂

greg marsten voice over headshot black shirt serious

greg marsten voice actor headshot smiling commercial

greg marsten voice actor headshot blue shirt laughing

Makeup

Ladies, this is for you. Some of you will find this easy and some won’t. But, it’s really important, so I want you to pay attention: please don’t wear makeup on your skin. By that, I mean concealer, powder, foundation, illuminator…nothing. Go nuts on the eye makeup, and lipstick is good, too, but keep your skin fresh and clean. Please. I can do wonderful retouching with those annoying breakouts that happen RIGHT BEFORE YOUR SHOOT (yep, happens to everyone), honestly I can. But I can’t match the colour of your made-up skin to the colour of your natural skin on your neck and chest, which will very likely be visible in your photos (unless you’re wearing a turtleneck, which I generally don’t recommend…do you want to look like a turtle in your headshots?). Plus, casting directors want to know what your natural skin tone is – they like to know what they’ll be working with. 🙂

acting headshot nikki jones with red hair and black shirt

Nikki’s natural skin tone is visible, but without any distracting elements. You can see natural variation in her skin colour and texture.

perth acting headshot jayne blond hair green eyes slight smile grey jacket

Jayne-Louise’s natural skin texture and colour is hidden by her makeup. She looks absolutely stunning, but not as natural as the previous image.

I’m often asked about professional makeup for acting headshots, and I always say if you can’t replicate it yourself, don’t do it. Your acting headshot is a casting directors first point of reference for you and your suitability for a role. If you’re marketing yourself in a way that doesn’t actually reflect YOU, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. It’s important to arrive at auditions looking like your headshot, otherwise you’re wasting your own and everyone else’s time..

Connection

A great headshot is mostly about the eyes. The coolest looking shot in the world won’t get you far if your eyes don’t jump out of the photo and grab the casting director’s attention. The way to have this happen is to be connected to the camera, as if it’s a person. Connection happens when you’re engaged, listening and communicating actively. An empty mind means empty eyes, so put something in there that reflects the mood you’re trying to create with the headshot. I often tell my headshot clients to think the words, “I’ve got a secret”; not any specific secret, just the words, over and over. I ask them to decide what kind of secret it is, then give the words that feeling. It’s amazing the difference it makes.

perth acting headshot jordan brown hair and eyes black top serious

Jordan’s connection with the camera connects her to you, and makes you wonder what she’s thinking.

perth acting headshot sara brown hair and eyes pink top smiling

Even while laughing, Sara maintains connection with the camera so you feel drawn into her happiness.

Trust

Most people find it difficult to see themselves in a flattering light. We all look for flaws, and we’re well practiced at finding them. But a great acting headshot isn’t about having the prettiest photo of yourself – it’s purpose is to generate interest, and interesting comes in all shapes and sizes. An actor needs to embrace themselves, as they are, and use what they have to generate character. So, try to be objective when you’re looking at your shots. But if all you see is flaws, please listen to your photographer – he or she knows what makes a good acting headshot, and is working hard to represent all aspects of you, to give you the most useful range of headshots possible. If you have an agent, show them the proofs and ask which shots will work best for you. Trust the professionals around you, they know what they’re doing. 🙂

headshot of young actress emmy smiling blue eyes green tshirt blong hair in pony

Trust your photographer, and you’ll find that your eyes reflect that trust with openness and clarity.

headshot of young actress emmy smiling blue eyes green tshirt blong hair around shoulders

Your photographer will work with you to create authentic expression that is present in your eyes.

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