10 Things Actors Need to Know About Headshots

This is kind of like Julia Stiles’s poem to Heath Ledger in “10 Things I Hate About You.” Or even “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Informational stuff happens in lists of 10s, especially in the entertainment biz.

There’s probably a list of 100 things I wish my clients knew about headshots, but for today, I’ll jump on the bandwagon of the golden 10:

1) There is a huge difference between a great portrait and a great headshot.
— Let’s hope your photographer knows the difference.

2) Be smart about yourself.
— What’s your playable age range? What type of characters are you suitable to play? What TV shows are you wanting to audition for? I know we all want to play leading roles and be top-dog, but be realistic, too. There are so many great characters out there, broaden your horizons. And be educated about what’s going on in the industry right now. Would you be good for a co-star on Breaking Bad or maybe you’d rather be on Modern Family? Two completely different types of shows.

3) Fire your mom. Fire your friends. And please, for the love of God, fire Facebook.
— I learned this one from my acting coach. And he is so right. Your friends and family love you. They want you to look amazing, and so does your photographer. But you’re not going to submit a huge smiley headshot to a breakdown that’s asking for a troubled teen. So when narrowing down your headshots, choose a variety of expressions. The goal is to cover a wide range of roles that you and your agent will submit to. Alas, it’s not all about a sexy photo.

4) An artistic crop looks awesome, but it’s not always the best crop for a headshot. Same goes for angles. 
— A lot of casting directors and agencies are currently wanting headshots that don’t crop off important body parts. Like the top of your head or one of your ears (are you trying to hide something? No. So show off your whole face, please). Especially with men, the general trend is don’t crop off the top of the head! Most also really love to see a wider crop instead of an extreme closeup. What’s your body type? They want to know. There are exceptions to all these points, but in general: keep it simple. Keep it clean. If you’re worried about this, ask your photographer if they shoot wide and can crop in closer later if needed. It gives you more options.
— Same goes for angles. Women are notorious for wanting to shoot their faces at an angle. Resist the temptation. Casting wants to know what you look like, straight on, no gimmicks. It feels like a glorified mugshot some times, but if you work on expression and connecting with the camera (and your photographer knows what they’re doing), you’ll have an amazingly interesting shot, even with no angles and no artistic cropping.

5) Retouching is great in moderation.
— There’s a lot of bad retouching out there in the world. I get it. But I also get tired of hearing “Don’t retouch it! You’re perfect the way you are.” This isn’t the point. The point to retouching is to make the overall photo look as professional as possible. And what you don’t see in a low-resolution photo on Facebook, you will definitely see in an 8×10 print. Thought that hair across your forehead wasn’t a big deal? Or that tiny piece of dry skin on your cheek? Well, it’ll be glaringly obvious when the photo is printed. Or even full-screen in high-resolution on your website. So when people try to convince you retouching is a terrible idea, most of the time it’s because they don’t know good retouching (or they do, but they don’t see it very often). There’s a big difference between headshot retouching and beauty retouching. Let’s hope your photographer knows the difference. It’s not always about retouching your face, either. Maybe it’s balancing out exposures, evening out your skin tone, getting rid of something distracting in the background. So be open to good retouching.

6) Don’t cheap out on your career. But pay your rent.
— If you were training to be an Olympic figure skater, you wouldn’t buy your ice skates from the JC Penney catalog, right? Not that JC Penney doesn’t have some great stuff, but they don’t have professional equipment. Same goes for your headshots. If you want to be a professional actor, treat yourself to professional headshots. Don’t cheap out. It’ll cost you more money in the end because you’ll have to hire a different photographer when your first set of cheapo headshots is terrible. That being said, there are a lot of photographers who think they can charge an arm and a leg because they can. There are some amazing photographers who won’t charge you the amount of your rent. But be cautious of those who don’t value their work and time worthy of a professional rate.

7) Don’t over-think it. Have fun!!
— During your headshots: keep calm. Don’t think of getting “the one perfect shot” that will make or break your career. Who needs that kind of pressure?! Let the photographer worry about most everything. You: focus on connecting with that camera. That’s your only job. And breathe. Breathing during your session is always good. If you relax, you’ll just be yourself in front of the camera. And from there, you can free yourself to have fun with your expressions so you can get the most out of the session. Tense lips will ruin any photo. Oh, and crazy eyes……

8 ) Go shopping if you need to.
— If all you own is black, white, or grey clothing: you may need to go shopping for a few “actor” friendly items. You can always return them or keep them for auditions. If you don’t have the colors you need, or the types of clothing you need (aka a suit for a business shot), go invest in it.

9) Take care of yourself.
— Let’s face it: acting is largely about marketing yourself. So if you want to feel great in your skin, take care of it. Don’t want your photographer to have to whiten your teeth or get rid of chin hair in photoshop? Take care of it before your session. Digital cameras pick up everything, so keep that in mind. And more importantly: you’ll feel more confident during your session.

10) Never choose a photo that isn’t in focus!!! 
If your photographer doesn’t proof your photos for you and delete anything where the camera may have back-focused (or issues focusing at wide apertures), do not fall in love with a photo that isn’t focused sharply on your eyes. There are so many times I see actors who post their photos and guess what: The eyes are blurry. It’s terrible. It’s distracting. It destroys all impact the photo would have otherwise had. It makes me want to hug that actor and cry with them. Pay attention to the details if your photographer doesn’t. There are a lot of photographers who aren’t yet focus-savvy. If you get stuck with one of those, be smart and throw out any photo that isn’t focused. Please.

That’s it for now on my tips for fun, stress-free headshot sessions. There’s also something to be said about being technically savvy, but I’ll be going over a few things you should know about that in a later post. 🙂

Website: http://www.emilysandiferphotography.com

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