Getting the Best Actor Headshots to Help You Stand Out for Auditions

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By The Light Committee

In acting, staying ahead of your competition means being able to convey your skill, charm, talent, and overall personality at an audition. But getting into an audition also means investing in the tools you need for success. In this profession, one of the most important tools to have is your acting headshots. There are many reasons why they should be professionally made.

woman in a commercial acting headshot Los Angeles
A vibrant headshot such as this can go a long way to help an actor stand out

Why Actors Need Headshots?

Your headshots are almost always your first impression upon a talent agent or casting director. So, it is important to get them done correctly. No matter if it will be your first time getting actor headshots in Los Angeles or your umpteenth time, you should always make proper considerations to ensure you end up with the best actor headshots for you. So, actors need headshots because casting directors use them as part of the process to consider you for a role. Managers use them to promote you for castings too. In other words, they are a main gateway to success in an acting career. So, what can you consider to make sure your actor headshots are the best? Also, are there other considerations if you are looking for child actor headshots instead?

Work with a Professional Photographer

It is so easy to pull out your latest smartphone and snap a picture to use for a headshot. But why risk using this low quality when most actors work with a professional to do their actor headshots? Your smartphone-quality headshot is no match for headshots made with professional equipment used by a professional photographer.

The most successful brands in the world do not settle for smartphone-quality photography and video in their marketing. This is because they understand it would leave them exposed to brands that would supplant them with superior multimedia branding. As an actor, you are a brand too. Your headshots are a marketing tool. So, be sure to keep it professional as many industry experts recommend.

Come Across as Yourself

As is well-known in the industry, you want to look in your headshot similar to how you will look when you show up for an audition or casting call. This means looking the best you can. It does not mean overcooking the outfit you wear and the makeup you put on. But it does mean other things.

Get a good night’s rest the night before so you look well-rested, without red-eye or dark shadows under your eyes. Drink extra water the several days before so your skin looks naturally hydrated. If you will be doing your hair and makeup, leave plenty of time for adjustments in case your hair or makeup do not come out as you wanted that day.

If you are getting a haircut, try to match the length in your headshot that you will show up with for auditions. This is so you look as close to your headshot as possible Try to get a haircut a few days before instead of the same day. Again, this is in case something goes wrong – you will have time to adjust.

theatrical jean jacket women actor headshot
A theatrical headshot such as this can help a casting director picture you in that role

Should You Retouch an Acting Headshot?

Some in the industry go a step further in suggesting you not have your headshot retouched. This is just poor advice. Despite best laid plans, things happen. You might have gone to bed extra early but allergies the next morning might still give you a bit of red-eye, for example.

Working with a good photographer should mean they know how to retouch a photo while still ensuring your essence comes across. Things like excessive red veins in your eyes, a pimple that showed up that morning, lint on your shirt, a fly away hair – these are things that easily could not be there when you are at an audition. It is safe to remove them from a headshot and does not misrepresent you.

However, you should stay away from removing all your wrinkles, a mole, a scar, a tattoo, and so on. These are your essence. That mole or scar might be part of the reason a casting director was interested in your look.

Make Sure the Looks You Can Do Come Across

Coming across as yourself in a headshot does not mean you should not come across as the various characters you can pull off. In life, we go through moments where we must be serious and devoted and just the opposite, playful and care-free. We all naturally have different character traits depending on the moment.

So, it is possible for you to take on the role of a cheerful best friend at one point, and a serious detective in another. Be sure you get enough headshots to convey the many characters you can be. Determine who you are in each regard. Some people naturally smile and laugh all the time. Some people must force this. Some people are naturally upset often, and some must force it.

So, if you normally do not exude laughter, you might not want to put a comedic look in your portfolio. If you are usually happy go-lucky and rarely upset, you might not want to put a villain look in your portfolio. Capture the looks you can naturally pull off so the audition itself is natural for you to do and is not forced. Getting these varied looks helps a casting director more easily imagine you in that role. In quick summary, each casting director seeks something different. So, having a broadly appealing look is most important. Do not get too specific with looks, at least not in the main shots you are sending out.

Actor Commercial and Theatrical Studio Headshots
Get the Looks You Can Cover, Whether It's the Friendly Girl Next Door or Female Villain Character

Consider the File from All Angles

Your headshot is viewed in many ways. It can be viewed as one thumbnail amongst a sea of other thumbnails. It can be viewed as the sole image on a digital display. It can be viewed as a printed file. So, be sure the headshot is a winner across all these possible view types.

As a thumbnail, good color coordination will be essential. So, working with a photographer that has a grasp of color theory is a good idea. But it is not enough to just have this understanding – do they have the tools to pull off the color coordination you need? This can include lighting, studio backgrounds of various colors, and so on.

Once your thumbnail is clicked on, your headshot must continue to impress. While capturing your essence is important, the quality of the image is essential to helping you stand out. Here is where all the color coordination, the outfit you chose, the look you are expressing, and so on, get all put together to help compel the viewer to take the next step and contact you.

So, be sure that when you are submitting things like your resume and headshots that they are the best quality possible and the highest resolution possible too. To get an opportunity to audition, this is essential. You also want to bring your resume and headshots with you to the audition just in case someone from the casting team did not get a copy. It is probably best to consider bringing it in print and digitally.

There’s No Second Chance for First Impressions

When it comes to your headshots, are you happy with them? Do they show off your best sides, features, etc? Do you have the looks you need? Is your resume up to date with your most current work? Are these two important items doing what it takes to grab the attention of a casting director? These are all things to consider once you have your headshots.

You might have done all the right things to get professional headshots but sometimes the look you need just did not come across that day. Whether you hired the best photographer or not, sometimes it might just be the outfit you chose, or the picture you think is best is actually not. So, when you get headshots, get many of them so you can rotate them around and see which ones are helping you succeed more.

A commercial actor headshot of a black man in a studio near Los Angeles with a teal background
A commercial headshot like this can help open doors

Keep Things Real

Do not opt for ridiculous costumes in your headshots. Wear smart clothes that allow your eye color or hair color to be emphasized. Take yourself seriously and remember who will be looking at your headshots.

More about costumes. It is good to consider getting headshots for specific roles you are after. For example, if you have had success being given roles as a doctor, military person, etc., getting headshots done as those characters can help make you more appealing for such roles. In other words, the more headshot options you can arm your agent with, the better.

Wrapping it Up

A professional headshot is one of the most important tools an actor will use to help them succeed in a highly competitive industry. To summarize, first be sure to work with a headshot photographer in LA, NY, or whatever city you are in. Do not just use a friend that has a DSLR or mirrorless camera. And definitely do not use a smartphone camera. Competing actors will supplant you with superior quality imagery.

Be sure to come across as your best self in your headshots. This means taking some steps the days leading up to your headshot session. Be sure to go after the many looks you can pull off without forcing things. And do not overdo your costumes – at least not as your primary headshots.

Get plenty of headshots so you can rotate them in and out and see which ones are working. Sometimes, the shot you think is best is not. So, having options to use is important. Once you have your headshots, get out there and use them as often as possible to go after that success.