Can You Take Your Own Headshots for Acting?

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By The Light Committee

Let’s face it, getting actor headshots can be expensive in cities like Los Angeles, though, depending on which photographer you are looking to hire, it does not have to be. However, one requirement to get into acting is that an actor gets the best actor headshots made by a professional photographer. To avoid expensive headshots, you might ask can I take a selfie for actor headshots? This is an awfully bad idea for many reasons.

An example of a professionally made actor headshot versus taking your own headshot
Actor’s Considering Taking Their Own Headshots Should Consider Their Results Will Be Compared with Professionally Made Acting Headshots

Or can you make your own headshots using pro-grade equipment? If you know what you are doing, you can do anything. So, it is possible. However, it’s usually advised by professionals in the industry that actors work with a professional photographer instead. Besides, actor headshots can be more affordable than you think.

Professional Headshots vs. Amateur Photos

The easiest way to get acting headshots is to take a selfie. It is also the easiest way to not have yourself taken seriously. Another potentially easy way to get headshots is to ask a friend that is an amateur photographer to do it. They might have a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Furthermore, with such a camera, the photos are likely to turn out a little better than with a smartphone.

However, the camera they have is likely not professional grade. It might not have a full-frame sensor, for example. Without getting into technical details, this matters in terms of image quality. Furthermore, so does the quality of the lens as well as the focal range used.

Still, even if they have a high-end camera, the results will likely still not compare to that of a professional headshot photographer. There is much more to it than just the camera and lens.

A professional actor headshot photographer has probably taken countless photos for acting. Their experience alone will shine through in the photos. However, in most cases, it is as much about the photographer you use as it is about the equipment they have to use.

An Armenian womens acting headshot made by The Light Committee in Los Angeles Seline Bagramyan
A Professional Photographer Should Have Commercial-Grade Lighting, Cameras, Lenses, Backgrounds, and Post-Production Applications That All Add Up for Big Differences in Actor Headshots versus Shots You Might Try to Take Yourself.

The Gear Used for the Best Headshots

There are four main components that make for creating the best acting headshots: an exceptionally good camera and lens, incredibly good lighting, good post-production software, and a photographer that understand how to use all of these in concert. Think of each of these elements as accounting for 25% of the results of what a great headshot should look like. If one element is missing, you are likely going to only have 75% of the potential of a good headshot. If two are missing, 50%, and so on.

As touched upon earlier, an exceptionally good camera consists of a full-frame mirrorless or DSLR camera. If money is no object, then a medium format camera is also an option. Pairing such a camera with a high-quality lens is also important. And the chosen focal length per person is important as well. Not all lenses and focal distances are created equal. Using a smartphone or other camera with a kit lens will be very limiting here, particularly when you compare them to each other.

The Ideal Lighting for Good Headshots

In addition, what lighting is used is important. Many actors opt for natural light but, this can also be limiting. Natural light leaves a photographer at the mercy of the day’s weather and the environment being used. It can also be unflatteringly harsh on the skin, particularly if a photographer does not know what they are doing. But some natural light shots do have “that look” that can be appealing. So, natural light is not to be discarded. It just needs to be used by a photographer that understands lighting, whether sunlight or strobe lights.

Studio lighting is very polished when good strobe equipment is used and provides the photographer ultimate control. It is more likely an actor will get the shots they are after with studio light – not that it is not possible with natural light. With studio light modifiers, photographers can manipulate light to make it soft, softer, hard, harder, to cast long or short, and much more. In this way, commercial and theatrical looks are possible within a single studio.

Post-Production of Acting Headshots

Once the photo session is done, a photographer will need to process the images. There is advice out there that an actor should never have their headshots retouched. This is simply bad advice. It might be from photographers that do not want to spend the time or do not know how to do it.

Every single photo made that can be improved – even just slightly – with post-production work. As is more commonly known, this is to Photoshop a headshot. While an acting headshot should be limited in what is retouched, it too can gain from it. The goal should be to ensure the retouching adds polish without altering how someone looks. An actor wants to look in their headshot how they would look arriving for an audition.

You are likely to have flyaway hairs, some red eye because you did not sleep too well, acne that would otherwise go away next week, lint on a shirt, and so on. None of these things are your regular appearance. They do not alter your essence but removing them can polish your image. They are not things that someone would say, “wait a minute, what happened to that flyaway hair I saw last week.”

What Else Goes into a Good Headshot

You also need to consider yourself as the subject. Practice being in front of the camera to get the looks you are after. All you need is a mirror for that. Also consider what to wear. So, in other words, you being a good subject is also important. But while you do not need to learn all these things and acquire such expensive gear to be you, you will need it for stand-out headshots.

Headshots are an actor’s first impression upon a casting director. They are an actor’s resume. As such, relying on a professional actor headshot photographer to create them is a very wise choice.