What is the Best Headshot for an Actor?

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By The Light Committee

The best headshot for an actor is one that best suits the types or roles you want to be considered for by casting directors. That’s the quick and simple answer. But what does this really mean? Much of it depends on where you are in your career. If you are just starting out in a city like Los Angeles, there is one answer for this. Meanwhile, if you are experienced, there is another answer. There are also multiple correct answers.

Types of Actor Headshots You Want When Just Getting Started

You have to start somewhere. Most actors just starting out with getting their headshots have done some actor training or having taken acting classes. An actor just finishing with training will also have developed a demo reel or will be doing so as they get their headshots done. They will be using these tools to try and find agent representation.

In this case, getting headshots that are broad in appeal, rather than razor-sharp focused, is more desired. You might not yet know if you want to be considered for commercial-type roles or more dramatic type roles. So, it is usually ideal to get at least 1-2 commercial acting headshots and 1-2 theatrical acting headshots. This way you can target as many opportunities as possible as you find your way to the types of roles you’re suited for in the acting world.

Back to being broad, you should consider not making these shots too specific for a role. For example, your commercial headshot should probably not exude being, say, a barista. Likewise, nor should your theatrical headshot exude looking like a street drug dealer. Instead, they should attempt to portray being able to be lots of things in commercial roles and lots of things in theatrical looks. Again, this is to cast as wide a net as possible to what roles you might be considered for.

Actor Headshots You Might Want When You are Experienced

If you are experienced and have plenty of basic commercial and theatrical headshots, alongside a demo reel and resume that showcases your broad experience, you might be thinking of targeting roles you’ve really liked doing or want to try doing. In these cases, you might want to start getting more into character actor headshots.

Some actors like to get extremely specific about these. For example, they might rent a police officer uniform or wear a stethoscope and lab coat for their headshots. Other people will try to push their looks toward these ideas without making it obvious. In such cases, they will pair the outfit they choose with the expressions they match to them. Working with a good headshot photographer that can also create appropriate cinematic lighting and use creative backgrounds to complement the looks you are targeting is also a good idea.

A theatrical actor headshot of a dramatic man in leather in a studio near Los Angeles with a red background

Should You Smile in an Acting Headshot?

Yes, at least in commercial actor headshots or comedic acting headshots. But how much? Is a smirk enough or are we talking about full teeth exposure or even mouth wide open? Again, it depends on the look you are going after.

If you’re trying to be Jim Carrey-like in his early years, that’s got to be one big smile. But sometimes a smirk is appropriate. It just depends on the roles you want to target. If you have a manager or agent, it is always best to consult with them. Make sure you are on the same page for the types of roles you both see yourself fit for. Then go get headshots to target those types of roles.

Smiling for theatrical headshots is usually not a good fit. They can come across sinister, especially if the cinematic lighting an acting headshot photographer uses is geared toward being very dramatic. But, of course, if you are targeting a sinister character acting headshot, then perhaps a smile is appropriate.

Appear Approachable in Your Acting Headshots

No matter the look you are after, always be sure that the headshot you put forward is one where the viewer feels you are approachable as a person. In other words, give off good vibes that you are a team player, especially if you are just starting out.

This is mostly important with your theatrical looks. When you collaborate with a photographer, first find one in Los Angeles with demonstrable results on being able to adapt the lighting they create with the looks the actor is going for. Many photographers use the same lighting setup on an actor for a commercial look or a theatrical look. How can you tell? Look for the shadows created with lighting. The more dramatic a theatrical look, the more shadows will be used. But it’s not just shadows on the face anywhere. It has to make sense for that look.

If you are working with a photographer that understands lighting, they can help you look approachable even with the most dramatic theatrical looks. This is important because in every industry, entertainment included, approachability is an important character trait to help your success.

woman in a commercial acting headshot Los Angeles

Get Help with Acting Headshot Advice

If you are just starting out and are not sure about what you should get out of a headshot session, do not be afraid to get advice. Find online forums or social media to engage with actors that have experience and ask what worked for them and what didn’t. Call the photographers you are considering and speak with them to ask what they have seen work and not work.

If you are experienced, you likely have a manager or agent or both. Get their input on what works. After all, you need to arm your agent with headshots they feel will make their job of representing you easier. Ask other actors that you have worked with for their advice. In other words, the more input you get the more intelligence you can gather to help you set off on a path to success. You might get some bad advice alongside good advice, but knowledge is always power when you use it correctly.

A Word About Quality in Your Headshots

You know Hollywood goes all out in major productions with the best quality equipment, from the cameras to the lighting. If quality matters that much, then it better be present in your headshots too. As an actor just starting out, getting high quality acting headshots that are affordable can be near impossible in Los Angeles. But it is possible.

Generally, the lighting and camera gear used should matter, just like it matters to Hollywood. So, be sure to check out portfolios of work. You also know that the director of photography in major movies is instrumental to making a movie look fantastic. So, be sure your chosen photographer demonstrates varied lighting capabilities so they can help you create the looks you need to help propel your acting career. All of these things matter when you are trying to figure out what is the best headshot for an actor.