Over the last few years, I’ve shot well over 1,000 headshot photography sessions in Los Angeles. I’ve shot “green” actors. Series regulars. Actors who have no representation. And actors who are repped and (thankfully) referred to me by some of the most reputable and trusted agents and managers in town.
Clients and potential clients often ask, “What will help me get the most out of my headshot session?” It’s a loaded question but since I can confidently speak to this, I figured “why not blog about it?”
My opinions aren’t gospel – but they do come from an informed place with a large sample size of the many headshot sessions I’ve captured and the many, many conversations I’ve had with actors, agents, and managers. So, without further delay, here are 12 ½ Ways To Ensure A Successful Headshot Session…
1. Same Page: Talk to your reps before your session – Remember: agents and managers know the language casting directors are putting out for character breakdowns as they are looking at them every…single…day. They’ll know the “trends and types” you may fit and it’s a good idea to strategize around that. You (hopefully) should know what your type(s) is/are as well – so the conversation should be a 2-way street. Neither party wants to feel like your headshot session is missing anything so send a few emails or schedule that 5-10 minute phone call. Drive across town to meet them. You get the picture.
If you don’t have representation yet, link up with trusted industry colleagues and professionals who can help you identify your type(s) accurately (and even help you strategize ways to get representation). Resources like Actor Salon are PERFECT for this sort of thing.
2. Headshots are for acting, not Tinder: What in the world do I mean by this? It’s simple: unless one of your types is the “heart throb” or “hot guy/gal”, a highly marketable headshot is not really about looking ultra-attractive. It’s about being specific and getting you into the rooms of casting directors. So, if all you’re thinking is “how attractive am I in this photo,” you’re moving in the wrong direction. Your assessment of headshots needs to be centered around, “Is this photo going to get me called in for the right auditions?” And…”Do I actually look like my photos?”
3. Play the verb, not the adjective: Let’s say, you’re going for a look that will get you called in for “mayor, lawyer, CEO, etc” and within that look, you want some of the shots to come off “authoritative.” Well, if you’re thinking, “I’m going to be so authoritative right now” – the result is often something that looks forced. Rather than play the adjective of “authoritative”, play the verb of what an authoritative CEO or lawyer might do (to threaten, to belittle, to overpower). It helps actors SO MUCH when they do this. The camera catches the most subtle of thoughts especially when they are action based.
4. Eyes, eyes, eyes: We HAVE to see them. Make sure to talk to your photographer about the best angles for you, where your chin is to be placed, etc. And for those who have a tendency to squint, whose eyes get smaller at certain points (i.e. whenever you smile), along with making sure your headshot photographer knows how to best shoot you – there’s always the option of opening those eyes up a bit more in post (meaning retouches) and doing so naturally.
5. B.V.O.Y. : Speaking of retouches, your photos need to be the Best Version Of Yourself. Part of the luxury of spending an hour or two with my clients is that I know what you actually look like. So, when I go into the retouch phase of headshots, my aim is to retouch the most accurate and dynamic version of you. I know we can be critical about wrinkles, nose shape, teeth, etc. But you must walk into the casting office looking like the headshot you or your rep submitted. Otherwise, you’ve wasted that CD’s time, and in a sense, lied to them. Who wants to leave that sort of impression on casting? Exactly. Nobody.
6. Stop being so perfect: That small wrinkle on the left side of your shirt? Oh – that one tiny hair that is out of place? The knot on your tie isn’t 100% perfectly tied? Folks – don’t stress the small stuff. While I’m not saying to show up to your shoot with the most wrinkled outfit we’ve ever seen, what I am saying is don’t freak out over the trivial. Casting directors are literally looking at a thumbnail sized image of you for a few seconds before deciding to bring you in or not. They are not studying your headshots for hours. Nor do they ever go, “OMG – she totally fits this breakdown – wait…zoom in. Nevermind. Don’t call her in. Wrinkle on the shirt near the collar.”
7. Be kind to yourself: A major component of taking great headshots is you being relaxed. Part of a headshot photographer’s job is to help you relax but you play a big part in as well. Don’t negative talk your way out of a successful session. If you spend the majority of your time and energy criticizing your weight, shape, how you “used” to look so much better, your age, grey hairs, wrinkles, blemishes, etc., what type of shots do you think you are going to get? Don’t be so hard on yourself. And relax. There’s a place for everyone and every look in this industry.
8. At a Moment’s Notice: If you spend hundreds to do your hair and makeup for a headshot session, keep this in mind: casting notices are often sent the night before or even THE DAY OF. With that said, will you be able to look like your headshot at moment’s notice? (Hint: This answer needs to be yes.)
9. Shoulders and mouth: Relax them both. From my experience, a lot of people tend to carry tension in these areas and don’t even know it and it can result into you always clenching your teeth with shoulders that are shrugging. Unless that’s what you’re going for, remember to relax. Your photographer should always keep an eye out for this as well.
10. Know your photographer: For headshot photography, it’s not just about having high-quality gear, understanding how to put you in the best lighting situation, etc. But does your photographer understand what the goals of a headshot are? Have they shot actors before? Do they know how to talk to actors to get the best out of them during a shoot? Do you vibe with them? You want to make sure you feel comfortable with your headshot photographer because ultimately we are here to serve you and help you get the tools you need (in this case, marketable acting headshots).
11. Don’t Force It: Check out the photographer’s portfolio, first and foremost. How do photos of clients with your similar skin tone and aesthetics look? Does the photographer do in-studio shoots? Outdoor with natural light? Both? Make sure you’re clear on what you prefer and see if that photographer meets those needs. Just like a headshot photographer shouldn’t be forcing you into taking shots of types and looks that do not fit your brand, you shouldn’t be forcing a photographer to shoot or light you in a way that isn’t their forte. Make an informed decision when hiring and ask a million questions if you need to. You owe it to yourself and your career.
12. A Lil’ Research Goes A Long Way: Spend time on IMDB, headshot portfolios, etc. to see what headshots really stand out to you and why. Is there a mood you like in the shot? The lighting? Colors that pop on actors who have a similar skin tone to you? Those are all helpful to note and even share with your photographer. Now, you’re not sharing those photos to tell them to get an identical replica as the one image you saw of your favorite actress on IMDB but…they should get further clarity of what you’re going for. Also, in terms of research, I’m a big fan of asking to see the headshots of acting peers and friends who audition/work a good amount. Clearly, there are reasons their headshots are working. They might even share the headshots of other actors they know who audition and work a lot as well. The more you know…
12.5 Have Fun: Enjoy the session. You’re investing your hard earned money into a major component of your career. Be present. Be intentional. But also loosen up and don’t take yourself too seriously. In a lot of ways, headshot sessions are an opportunity to act! What story can you tell in these still images? How drastic or subtle do the shots become when you have a shift in thought? It’s a great opportunity to get more comfortable in front of the camera but more importantly, to just play!