Can You Take Your Own Headshots for Acting?

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By The Light Committee

Many actors are struggling financially to make it in the industry. Still, one requirement is that they get really good acting headshots made. But some photographers can charge quite a bit for just a couple of headshots. So, a common thought is whether actors can take their own headshots?

take your own actor headshots
Actor’s Considering Taking Their Own Headshots Should Consider Their Results Will Be Compared with Professionally Made Acting Headshots

If you know what you’re 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. And there are many clear reasons why.

Professional Headshots vs. Amateur Photos

The easiest way to get acting headshots is to take a selfie. It’s 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. They might have a DSLR and the photos are very likely to turn out better than with a smartphone. Still, they will not compare to those from a true professional headshot photographer.

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’s as much about the photographer you use as it is about the equipment they use.

The Gear Used for the Best Headshots

There are four main components a professional will likely use to create acting headshots: a very good camera, a very good lens, very good lighting and good post-production software. 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’re likely going to only have 75% of the potential of a good headshot. If two are missing, 50%, and so on.

A very good camera consists of a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera. If money is no object, then a medium format camera is 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.

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 doesn’t know what they are doing. But some natural light shots do have “that look” that can be appealing.

Studio lighting is very polished and provides the photographer ultimate control. It’s more likely an actor will get the shots they’re after with studio light – not that it isn’t 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 don’t want to spend the time or don’t know how to do it.

There’s probably not a single photo made that can’t 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.

You’re likely to have flyaway hairs, some red eye because you didn’t 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 don’t alter your essence but removing them can polish your image. They aren’t 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 what to wear and how you’ll pose. So, in other words, your being a good subject is also important. But while you don’t 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 probably a wise choice.