3 Looks to Avoid When Getting Acting Headshots

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By The Light Committee

Actors need headshots at most stages of their career. You might just be starting out as an actor and need them to find an agent. Or perhaps your agent has just asked you for updated ones. There are things that are a given in terms of what you want out of them. For example, you know they must be high quality and created with a professional photographer. But what should you avoid when getting acting headshots in Los Angeles?

red head woman in a theatrical acting headshot Los Angeles
It's a Given that You Want to Avoid Low Quality Results in Favor of High Quality Results Like This

First, there are no rules. In other words, what one agent or casting director might find as desirable in a headshot might be what another finds deplorable. This is often because agents work for different types of actors just like casting directors are not all casting for the same thing. So, the point of this is these are generalizations in terms of the things to avoid. It’s not necessarily that if you do them, you’ll never get an agent or be cast.

Avoid the 90 Degree Profile Turn

During your headshot session, you might take some shots where your body is squared with the camera or photographer. Then, you might take some where you are a bit turned to the left or right. It is when you turn that you want to be careful not to overdo it. If you turn completely 90 degrees away from the camera, it becomes near impossible to maximize the symmetry of your face. Studies prove subconsciously people like symmetrical things, including in faces.

When you turn too much, the whites of your eyes become imbalanced on each side. Your pupil starts to dominate one side of your eyes. Since your eyes are typically the first impression of your face, it can be a bad start to how your headshot will come across to the viewer. Plus, you want to appear approachable in almost all cases. The first impression you want to leave is that of someone other people want to work with.

studio theatrical headshot of an actress in Los Angeles
Avoid Overturning So There is Symmetry in the Whites of Your Eyes on Both Sides of Your Pupils

Avoid Plain Black and White Tops

While I can’t remember which famous chef said this, I heard one once say not to add water to a recipe but instead use a broth or juice in its place, or other fragrant liquid. Why? Because water brings nothing to the taste party. Similarly, try to avoid plain black or white T-shirt tops.

As mentioned earlier, there is nothing completely wrong with such a top, but like the chef said, it brings little to the headshot party. Colors help tell a story and used strategically can help you more easily convey the looks you are after in your headshots. If you insist on wearing plain black or white, then you should consider adding a pop of color to the background.

Or again if you insist on plain black or white, then consider booking a session that allows for multiple looks. This way you can also have some other looks with color in your top.

A commercial actor headshot of a black man in a studio near Los Angeles with a teal background
Pops of Color Help Better Impress the Looks You Were After Upon the Viewer

Avoid Cropping in Too Tight

Headshot photography is an art form. The way it is done can vary wildly from photographer to photographer. How one photographer crops their headshot might differ to how another one does. If your photographer crops into the top of your head, you might want to ask for a version of the headshot that does not crop out the top of your head.

Why a photographer chooses to do so makes some sense. It is commonly done to get a much closer shot of your face. But it can leave things to the imagination too. For example, if you have some gray hair, now it is not as easy to know how much. Or, what if you have a mohawk or a shaved head, or really tall hair.

Also, your hair style might be a factor in considering you by an agent or casting director. You want your headshot to tell the full story of you rather than leaving things to interpretation. Cropping into the top of the head can be risky in this regard.

headshot cropped off at the top of the head
Cropping Into the Top of the Headshot Does Zoom Into the Face But Can Leave One Wondering About What Hair Style the Person Has

Bonus Tip: Avoid Appearing Unprofessional

So, you’ve made the investment in paying for acting classes or getting a degree to pursue an acting career. Now is not the time to suddenly try to save money on headshots by having an amateur photographer create them.

It’s true that headshots can be expensive for the time spent creating them. But this is typically because you haven’t done your homework. Most of us are satisfied with taking a recommendation or the first 3-5 photographers that show up on Google. But remember Google might only be showing you the 3-5 closest to you, which are not necessarily the 3-5 best or affordable you will find.

It is possible to get affordable headshots in Los Angeles. Yes, affordable is a relative term. But given that your actor headshots are what you will likely be judged by first, it is not the place to suddenly get lazy about finding a good, reliable, and proven photographer.

You might run across the advice to only work with a certain photographer and they might be expensive. Such advice might be because the person giving it doesn’t know any better or there are kickbacks involved. There’s nothing illegal that I know of with kickbacks, but it adds to the expense of what headshots can cost.

You might run into claims from a headshot studio that says their services are recommended by agents. They might claim that their clients get booked with major studios like Netflix. These claims are made to help justify higher prices. The truth is any headshot photographer in LA with years and years of experience can make these claims about acting headshots. So, shop around and validate their quality, results, and costs, and you can save money too. More importantly, you can avoid having your headshots look unprofessional.