The Importance of Actor Headshots: Secrets from a Former Talent Agent

Headshot advice from a former Booking Agent

Have you ever wondered why you aren’t getting audition opportunities even with a good acting education under your belt? Our talented photographer Fredau Hoekstra, located in Regina, shares her talent / booking agency industry knowledge and explains why your actor headshots are so much more important than you think.

Art of Headshots Regina Photographer, Fredau
Art of Headshots Regina Photographer, Fredau by Anastasia Bauer

A short introduction

Fredau Hoekstra built up a respectful reputation as portrait model in the art-photography scene, traveling the globe to work with some incredible photographers.

After deciding to settle down in Canada, she became a managing director at a talent agency in Toronto, where she worked for two years.

She now resides in Regina with her family and is putting her photography industry knowledge to use as Regina’s premier headshots photographer.

What do talent / booking agents do?

As a talent agent Fredau got to know each actor/actress, model, and other talented individuals to find out what their hopes and ambitions were, where they saw themselves working, to determine where she could send their information to land auditions. She would pass on their headshots and resumes to the people that ultimately decide who fills any given role.

Why your acting resume won’t land you an audition

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Photo by Oli Lynch

There’s no point in being an actor and trying to get work without a good headshot

Fredau Hoekstra

Your resume can be fantastic; you can have all the right courses and enviable experience, but if you do not have good acting headshots the casting director won’t invite you for an audition. There are so many people being submitted for a role that casting directors don’t have time to look through all the resumes. Instead, casting directors scan through a set of 30-40 hopeful actress or actor headshots on one screen at a time and select all the people that visually convey the type of role they are trying to fill. These are the actors and actresses that go on to receive an opportunity to audition.

Your acting resume only comes into play later in the process, after casting directors have narrowed down the pool of applicants to something more manageable. We’re not saying that your acting resume is not important, but rather that your resume is not what will land you that initial audition (unless you’re already as famous as Jennifer Lawrence).

7 audition tips every casting director wants you to know

What makes actor headshots stand out?

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You might be thinking “why not use just any photo?” or “why won’t a selfie work?” As a manager of over 200 individuals, Fredau points to one very talented actor she represented who had what she refers to as “so-so” (very average) headshots. She convinced him he needed to get better actor headshots and, after saving up and working with a highly recommended photographer, he went from booking 2-3 auditions per month to 4 or more auditions a week. That’s over five times more auditions as a direct result of investing in high quality headshots. Without further adieu, here are our most important actor headshot tips.

A strong expression

First and foremost, you need actor headshots that stand out, says Fredau. If you’re using a selfie or a photo of yourself cropped out of photo with other people, then casting directors eyes end up skimming past your photo without taking a longer look. Actor headshots need to have a strong expression – nothing over the top – that catches the casting director’s attention.

Only your face

You can imagine when casting directors are looking at a monitor with 40 actor headshots on it, each image will look pretty small in comparison to the actual monitor size. If your head is small in the image frame, you’re even smaller on their screen. There’s no guarantee how big the monitor they’re using is, so you might not be visible enough in your image. The harder you make it for a casting director to see your facial expressions in an image, the more likely you’ll lose out on an opportunity to showcase your talent in person. So ditch the full body, 3/4, or waist up shots, and send in that shot of just your head.

Don’t make sexy your objective

This is more common with women than men, where they want to look pretty or – if the women are younger – they want to look sexy. The industry is already inundated with 22 year old sexy people, so sexy is not going to get you a job. Beautiful actresses are a dime a dozen, and even if casting directors are looking for someone sexy, they need that attractive person to capture and hold the audiences’ attention. Your good genes show through your actress / actor headshots even when your primary objective isn’t to look sexy.

Pick which acting roles suit you

Casting directors aren’t interested in what you look like in real life, but rather how you can portray a character. You need to figure out which types of roles you want to pursue, then pick 3-4 archetypes to portray in your headshots. For example: the villain, the mother in law, the shy and intelligent girl, the sarcastic best friend, the boyfriend, the bad boy. Have a good discussion with your photographer so they know what you’re trying to convey and then act during your headshot session. Use your facial expressions and body language to make your character come to life. Even though your body won’t make it into the image, acting with your body will help you get into character. If you’re already able to do that in your acting headshots, you’re one step closer to landing an audition.

Finding the right photographer

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There are so many photographers on the market, and not everyone can afford to make the wrong choice. So how do you know when you have a good actor photographer?

Start by looking at their portfolio

Find the photographer’s website and spend sometime studying their work. You’ll be able to tell from their website if they know the basics of operating a camera to get clear, properly lit images. It might not be obvious if the photographer has worked with actors or actresses before, so don’t be afraid to ask them if they have. Ask them to send you samples of their actor headshots if it isn’t clear from their site.

Eliminate the photographers without a focus

Photographers are often multifaceted in the types of photos they take, but when your photographer portfolio contains architecture photos, and family photos, and pet photos, and landscape photos, they might not have enough experience to take the kinds of images you need. On the flip side, as Fredau points out, they might be a fantastic interior design photographer but also be able to take beautiful headshots which is why it is so important to look at their portfolio. Keep in mind the difference between business and actor headshots: business headshots make people look attractive, professional, and approachable, while actor headshots focus on portraying a character.

Discuss a photographer’s method when working with actors

Your photographer should have a method when it comes to photographing actresses and actors. They might play back and forth with an actor improvising lines for a character the actor wants to convey, or they might talk about scenarios with an actor to get them into the mindset of becoming that character. The photographer should always be giving you feedback to let you know when they can see and feel what you’re trying to convey.

Ask your talent agent for a recommendation

If you’re in a position where you have a talent agent representing you, ask them for their recommendations. They’ve seen enough headshots to quickly learn which photographers in the area are worth spending your money with. When Fredau was managing a talent agency, she had a shortlist of 2-3 photographers with different levels of skill who charged different prices. The different price levels were there so her talent had options depending on their budget. She always felt confident her talent would end up with good photos by working with one of these photographers, but never forced her talent to use these photographers.

Be wary if your talent agent is forcing you to use one photographer

Not all talent agents will put their actors best interests ahead of their own. There are agents who will insist you use their own photographer – one who probably charges an arm and a leg – and won’t recommend alternatives. It is possible that your talent agent is making a profit from any people they send to the photographer. This is highly unethical. These type of people would rather make money from you than make money from finding you work says Fredau, and if you suspect this is happening to then you should find a different agent. In some cities, like Vancouver, this type of business dealings are illegal, but it might not be in your city.

You have all the skills you need

Armed with your newfound knowledge of what makes actor headshots stand out and how to pick the right photographer, we have so much confidence you’ll start landing auditions in no time with better headshots. Do you have a burning question for Fredau? Send us an email at [email protected] With enough questions we’ll follow this post up Fredau’s responses.

See the full interview with Fredau for more details

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