Advice for Getting an Actor Headshot

Headshot
The Author of this article circa 2016
As someone who has been on both sides of the camera, having spent many years attempting to work as an actor and currently working as a full time photographer there are a few things I have learned about headshots. The main one is that just like life, everything changes, as does what casting directors are looking for from a headshot.

Black and White or Color
When I started it was customary to have a black and white headshot with your resume but this has changed since then and now it is standard to use a color headshot for auditions. If you are like me and prefer a black and white, use that as part of an online profile or have it as a thank you card.

Thank You Cards
A thank you card is a postcard with your image on it that you can send after an audition. The idea is that it gets you remembered. From asking around it doesn't sound like these are worth the time or investment. Casting directors see people all the time and if they want to remember you they will do it based on your initial headshot.

Clothing
I've heard the advice to dress in your headshot like you would wear to the audition. This is good advice if you know what you are auditioning for, but we can't always know that or have a 16th century outfit to pull out for that period piece. When doing a headshot go with solid colors over extreme patters. Avoid solid white and only do blacks if you are passing yourself off as a serious dramatic actor with no interest in comedies. And honestly I would still recommend avoiding black. Go with something that compliments your skin tone like browns, light pinks, blues, grays, greens, and oranges. Avoid bright red as well. Also avoid large jewelry items or other things on your person that take away from your face.

Border or no Border
Should you have a white border around your picture? I say yes. I know it is common for people to have the picture bleed to the edge but there is something professional about a print with a nice white border around the image. If you have an agent you can place the agent and contact information on a lower area white border. Of course if you do have an agent, go with their suggestion on border or no border.

Gloss or Matt
Go matt. Not much more to say on this one. You are not getting a print of your family to frame and hang on the wall, you are trying to look like a professional actor. Print on matt.

Posing and Framing
The purpose of the picture is to express yourself and who you are with just your face. So don't take a picture that is so close it crops the top of your head. This does emphasize your eyes, but for casting they want to see the top of your head as well to know what your hair looks like. Have your shoulder in the image as well, but not your belly. They can tell your weight pretty well from the head and shoulder. For guys you can cross your arms. I know people think this is standoffish but it also does a nice framing in the image.  For women I don't recommend this, usually I would recommend a hand over to the other arm. Look at the camera as your eyes should be the first thing they see. Guys, if you have a beard in your picture make sure you have that same beard in the audition.

Smile or No Smile
This really comes down to how you want to project yourself. If you are going to smile make it genuine and not fake. If you are not going smile, don't frown or look angry. Unless that is what you are going for, but it could limit your options.

Landscape or Portrait
Go Portrait. An actors headshot should not be landscape. Maybe this is slowly changing as I have heard of this and this is a question, but your resume format should match the headshot.

Backdrop
If you are doing your pictures at a studio they will most likely use a solid backdrop. If you are having them done on location be sure the backdrop isn't distracting from you. For my photos I do a combination of grey and black backdrop to give options. My recommendation is go grey. At no point when looking at the picture should the viewer have a thought of what is behind you.

Look Unique Look Natural
With all these rules about framing, format, clothing, how can you stand out? Well that is what makes someone famous. Don't look at the camera like it is your passport or driver's license photo. The eyes are the window into the soul so take that face of yours and show them what you have to offer. If you are the wacky guy say that with your smile. If you are the serious cop, let's see it.  But make sure that is you. I know actors want to not get typecast and do a range of things. When you are famous you can branch out, for now pick a look.

Relax
If you can't relax when getting your picture taken with a single photographer how do you expect to relax on camera or in the audition room full of people staring at you?

Makeup
For women I would suggest to always wear makeup. Don't go overboard with it, as it should look natural. It should look similar to how you will look walking into the audition. Some guys will also do make up for a photoshoot and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you do, be sure it doesn’t' look like you are wearing makeup. Don't try to wear it to make you look younger, just use it to take some shine off your face or cover those giant bags under your eyes because you were out all night before the shoot.

Keep It Up To Date

If you walk into an audition and don't look like your headshot, that is bad. Also stay up to date on the trends. As mentioned it was common to use black and white now it is color. Know what casting directors want to see on that picture. Same with your clothing.