3 Tips for Successful Actor Headshots

September 3, 2020

Being an actor headshot photographer 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).

0122Quinn Beasley WEB

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. https://www.reddit.com/r/vancouver/comments/6ok0qh/thinking_of_moving_to_vancouver_from_los_angeles/

Actor Headshot Photography tips for success

For those starting out in the industry, your 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 successful actor headshot. The following are three tips to consider if you want your 8×10 to open doors to being discovered as an actor.

Headshot of Julianna by Art of Headshots Edmonton
Headshot of Juliana by Emily in Edmonton Studio

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. 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 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.”

Seth Godin

It’s not enough to have a portrait; an actor’s headshot should be a tremendous document illustrating an emotional message. Actor headshots should show off their 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 Jollie – eyes that ensnare your attention… Wow, the great ones really know how to share their beautiful energy.

Montreal actor headshot
Personal trainer headshot by Eric Sanchez

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, it’s subconscious but effective.

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