Why an actor head shot is the most important tool for you

Importance of a great actor head shot

First impressions mean more than anything else you do when looking for work as an actor or trying to find the right agency to represent you. Casting directors are no exceptions; these professionals go through hundreds of applicants a day, and the first impression is all they have to go on most of the time. Some people say that casting directors have made up their mind about an applicant in the first five seconds of an audition, but this is incorrect. Casting directors have made up their mind about most applicants well before giving them an audition, just from looking at their head shots.

A close up of a man and a woman looking at the camera

Your head shot is your first impression

In acting, an impressive resume is a distant second compared to an impressive head shot. It’s basic human psychology: people respond much more strongly to visual stimuli than to words on a page. For an actor, your headshot is your first and often only impression on potential employers. Unprofessional, blurry head shots with poor lighting mean you will never see an audition.

What is an actor head shot?

A man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera

You may have heard a headshot referred to as a mug shot. This is a plain 8X10 photo of a person’s face. The purpose of a head shot is to show what a person’s face looks like. It usually consists only of the head (and possibly the shoulders). If the shoulders are included, the photo is termed a 3/4 head shot.

In the United Kingdom, entertainers and actors usually have need of both close up face shots and 3/4 head shots. The traditional head shot is done in black and white. This is still the norm in the UK. In the US, colour headshots are more acceptable but is also becoming very popular in the UK. Before having your headshot taken, be sure to let the photographer know where you plan to work.

A really good head shot is honest and transparent. It shows the person as-is. It must reflect the age, style and look of the person depicted. Head shots should be kept up to date, so if you colour or cut your hair or make some other change, you should have new professional head shots taken.

Be sure your personality shines through in your head shots. Choosing the right photographer to work with will help you get the most effective headshots. A truly professional head shot focuses on the subject of the photo and not the subjects clothing or other adornment. Before a head shot, select the clothes you will wear. Simple tops in plain colours such as white, black and grey are good. Choose two different types of neckline, such as V-necked and rounded collars. A V- necked top will help make your neck look longer. A rounded neck top has the opposite effect. Be sure the clothing you select is plain. You don’t want to have to compete with the loud print of your shirt for attention.

There are a few different kinds of head shots for different jobs

  • A commercial head shot should show you as friendly and warm. Be sure to smile!
  • A theatrical head shot is a serious shot. You should not smile for this.
  • A studio head shot is one that is shot indoors, at the studio under studio lights.
  • A natural head shot is taken outdoors in a natural setting using natural light.
  • A black and white head shot is the sort that models and actors in the UK use when seeking employment.
  • A modelling head shot is used when creating a modelling portfolio. They are used for demonstrating the models’ skin completion for modelling assignments. This type of head shot is taken in colour.

How much does it cost?

The cost of actors’ head shots varies. Some are £50. Still others are as much as £300. The skill and expertise of the photographer usually determines this. Remember that the cost of your head shots should not be your first or main consideration. You should be sure of getting proper value for your money. You don’t want to pay too much for anything, and you certainly don’t want to lose any money on poor quality photos. Don’t go for DIY head shots. If you are interested in getting work as an actor, entertainer or model, invest in good, professional quality headshots. Doing it yourself could derail your career.

What you need to know about submitting your head shots, casting agencies and securing auditions

A group of people posing for a photo

If you have a great head shot, you have a lot better chance of getting a break to kick-start your career. Otherwise, you could end up sitting about waiting until you are old and grey to get your break. If you want a good opportunity (and remember they are rare) you should always hire a pro to take your head shots. An expert photographer has the necessary training to take effective head shots. A good photographer has a keen eye and the ability to identify your good features and bring them to the forefront in your photos.

If you want to be successful, you need a great head shot. It should be representative of you and your character, and it should intrigue the viewer. It should capture the attention of the one looking at it and stir interest in you and your personality. A good head shot is one that causes them to look twice. Remember that these results are only available with a professional photographer.

Be sure to talk with your photographer about creating multiple looks. A casting agent always wants to see how versatile you can be. You will probably find that a truly professional headshot photographer will take a variety of images automatically and give you good suggestions on how to create the best looks. They have had many years of handling a variety of models, so they know just what it takes to bring out the potential in a photo subject.

Entertainers of all kinds, whether musicians, dancers, singers or actors need good photographs that clearly show star quality and talent. An actor’s head shot is given to casting agents. These people are known for having meticulous taste. For this reason, the headshot has to be clear and outstanding. Otherwise, it is likely to be ignored. The world is tough, and it’s hard to get a break in show business. A good head shot can open a lot of doors.

Clearly, if you have a business you want people to visit your website and spend their hard earned dollars. Using commercial photography to present and promote your business or firm is a smart idea. Good, clear photos that show your business at its best can be reproduced on business cards, fliers, billboards and what have you. Having great photos on hand helps you get good media coverage and the promotion that comes with it. You might also want to have some photos of yourself and/or your staff and co-workers. These can be used to introduce your business to others and show how friendly, skilled, smart and professional you all are. Don’t be shy about this. There is nothing narcissistic about blowing your own horn when you are trying to promote your business. It is the way to success.

Make quality your priority when getting head shots

Choosing a skilled photographer is your number one priority. Look at shots they have taken, and ask specifically if they have experience with actor’s headshots. A poor photographer is not worth your time.

Look for examples from other actors when you decide how to do your headshot. Take cues from actors in situations that you would like to be in. Make sure to keep your headshot current and representative. For example, a headshot in which you have a beard will need to be phased out if you have cut the beard. A casting director will choose you based on your appearance, and walking into an audition looking radically different will guarantee that you miss out on the part.

Make sure that you are the focus of the photo, not your clothing. Neutral clothing means that the casting director will better be able to imagine you in a variety of roles and costumes.

A professional photographer is always studying and learning. He or she will take a great deal of time to study the work of other photographers and to take courses and read books on photography. They take time to practice, improve and hone their own knowledge, skills and abilities.

Make sure to have your makeup done well; professionally, if possible. Remember that the best makeup enhances your appearance; it doesn’t replace it. Keep it clean and natural looking.

Think about how you would like to be posed in your pictures. The photographer will help it look natural for the camera, but you should know going in what emotion you want to convey. Pick a pose that fits you.

Post production is fine, but keep it simple. Remember that your head shot must represent you; edit out a pimple or a ruffled bit of hair, but remember that you do not want to appear to be a different person. Casting directors will choose you for your appearance in the picture, and will dismiss you if you look different.

When seeking out a good head shots photographer, look for applicants who have the following:

  • A professional website
  • Verifiable client testimonials
  • A professional portfolio
  • Good client list

Examine the photographer’s work carefully to be sure his or her vision is similar with your own. Be sure to determine whether or not the photographer is a one shot wonder. If all of his or her photos look alike, you will want to take your business elsewhere. After all, you want your individuality to stand out in your headshots.

How to find an actor head shots photographer

If you are looking for a good actor head shots photographer, check listings in your local phone book and newspapers. You may find excellent listings for local photographers there. Also, do a Google search and have a look at their website and view their work. A professional photographer will have a website that complements their work.



Our Style Guide will help you choose the right outfits for your photo session.


Our Posing Guide is full of tips and tricks on how to move and feel confident in front of the camera.

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