3 Tips for Compelling Actor Headshots

3 Headshot tips for Actors

Being an headshot photographer for actors has never been more exciting or fulfilling than now. “Carlos, my son, just received a role on a new Netflix series!” explained one of my VIP clients after a headshot session. “Thank you for the headshot that opened this opportunity.”

US film productions are moving to Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa to avoid COVID-19 mishandling and to ensure crew safety. Thirty or more production will re-start or initiate filming in Hollywood North (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa).

Los Angeles based Solstice Studios was scheduled to start shooting a new feature film with Ben Affleck last April but will instead be shot in Vancouver, BC, Canada. On Reddit, people are researching how to move to Vancouver and take advantage of this opportunity of a lifetime.

Headshot of Julianna by Art of Headshots Edmonton

Compelling Actor Headshots: Tips for Success

For those starting out in the industry, compelling actor headshots are your first step to success. Your headshot is what grabs agents’ attention before you’re even given a chance to audition. Agents, writers, producers and some photographers have written many articles on what makes a compelling actor headshot. The following are three tips to consider if you want your 8×10 to open doors to being discovered as an actor.

1. Professional Printing

Although advancements in technology have changed a lot on how talent is discovered over the last few years, the printed actor headshots continue to be the way for initial casting. It’s far easier for a casting director seeking new talent to shuffle 8X10 prints from one pile to another than to be painstakingly searching online for talent. Once the casting director shortlists the lucky few, then they will look at the reels, websites, and other media showcasing an actor’s talent and experience. Don’t cheap out in printing. It’s not worth it.

2. More than a pretty photo

Your headshot isn’t for you, but your career. Having a pretty photo often isn’t what will help. Looking like the role you’re auditioning for is more advantageous. I’ve had a lot more success with actors who know what roles best fitted for their success. One of my pet peeves with talent agents and some actors is that they are solely concerned about a “nice picture – where I look good” instead of invigorating the individual’s personality and energy to obtain compelling actor headshots. An agent told me before a session: “I want a nice smile for her headshot. Make sure she looks 20 to 25 years old”. What could be more dull and commonplace? When we see Jack Nicholson, Jennifer Lawrence, or Robert De Niro, we don’t just see a good looking human being – we see their roles in movies that shifted our thoughts about the stories they conveyed.

3. Be real

Don’t choose the overproduced, over retouched or a pretend image that we call “vacant smiley” or “grooming.” Be you. Bring your soul in the portrait.

Or consider the case of the actor, the one seeking to be picked by the casting director and “made” famous. Just about every single person who enters this field fails because the dip is so cruel and the arithmetic of being chosen is so brutal.


It’s not enough to have a portrait; an actor’s headshot should be a tremendous document illustrating an emotional message. Compelling actor headshots always manage to show off the actor’s individuality, core, and soul. I wrote an article outlining the importance of an effective headshot and how most actors are picking the wrong style.

The secret for photographing a portrait that lands a career is to love and listen intuitively while photographing the client in front of my camera. The purpose of an actor’s headshot is not to boost the person’s vanity but to land a role, to be discovered and have a prosperous career – looking good is not good enough.

Most headshots of amateur actors are what I like to call the ‘vroom look’ -lit in high contrast no shadows heavily processed and photoshop with the model looking at the camera vacantly with a fake smile ( Great pics for Calvin Klein or Channel ). My competition produces those headshots but I want a headshot like Marlon Brando’s, Jack Nicholson and Angelina Jolie – eyes that ensnare your attention… Wow, the great ones really know how to share their beautiful energy.

Montreal actor headshot

How showing personality in headshots leads to gigs

Recently, I photographed an actor who is usually cast as a villain. The emotions inside his headshots highlighted the darker, more dangerous aspect of his character. His agent complained that I should have captured a nice smile, so I photographed him again to capture a “nice smile” with even and safe lighting. His agent was very happy with the second shot, but I told the actor to keep the original headshot for his next audition. I heard from him soon afterward: “Carlos, I’m not sure what happened with your headshot, it’s like magic – it’s landing me roles”. Against the advice of his agent, he kept using that same headshot with roles in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The X-Files” and he also snagged a principal role in a new television show! I wonder if he still has the same agent?

Some headshot photographers are following a stale, formulaic approach by simply asking their clients to “say cheese”. Fake smiles are never going to be as engaging and lively as one’s authentic and true energy. A smile isn’t just about lifting up the corners of one’s mouth; it’s in the eyes and spirit. Casting directors notice the difference on a deeper level when they see truly compelling actor headshots, it’s subconscious but effective.

More actor resources

I’m just thrilled by my recent actor’s headshot session with Carlos at Art of Headshots in Vancouver! The ease of online booking, the great location, through the session itself — which was a collaborative and happy experience — the variety of images: everything was fantastic!

Carlos takes the time to listen to an individual’s goals and concerns before taking a single shot, and so, in my case, he captured more depth and range than any photographer has before.
The proofs arrived quickly, my emails received responses almost immediately, and the cost was more than reasonable. Also, Carlos’ assistant, Becky, worked a re-touching miracle on a shirt collar that had a mind of its own: amazing!

I think any actor will be super-satisfied with the experience and the end results. I will definitely use Carlos’ and Becky’s talents again.

Mary Monaghan (actor)

Advice from the Greats

Matthew McConaughey, Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and more share their thoughts on acting.


Art of Headshots specializes in corporate and professional headshots for websites, social media like LinkedIn, and advertising. We have over 13 years of experience guiding you into authentic and professional portraits.

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