While headshots for realty, business, and corporate needs are important for branding and social media engagement, none are more important to a career than acting headshots for a professional actor seeking a career in film and/or television. “The headshot- It’s the single most important marketing tool for an actor, and it’s amazing how many people do it wrong”, says esteemed New York-based acting teacher Matt Newton.
“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, the actor’s headshot should be a tremendous document, illustrating an emotional message. I wrote an article called headshot for auditions outlining the importance of an effective headshot and how most actors are picking the wrong style.
Although advancements in technology have changed a lot on how talent is found over the last few years, the headshot continues to be the way for initial casting decisions to be made. 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.
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?
To me, bringing out someone’s individuality, chore and soul is the way to go! 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. Actor’s headshot is not to for the person’s vanity but to land a role, to be discovered and have a prosperous career – looking good is just 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 makes one’s heartbeat upon gazing their eyes… Wow, the great ones know how to share their beautiful energy.
Recently, I photographed an actor who is usually cast as a villain. The emotions inside the headshot 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 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.
We have an exciting up-and-coming shooting season planned for Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary. Get a fresh headshot that brings out your “beautiful energy”, not one with an artificial smile and vacant eyes. We look forward to hearing from you.
“I don’t get into these long-winded heavy discussions about character – do we do this or that or what. At the end of the day, what you gotta do is just go out there and do it.”— Robert DeNiro