In Pursuit of the Perfect Headshot...
What is a 'good' headshot?
As a general rule, an actor will instinctively pick a headshot that they think looks good, as opposed to one that makes a good headshot. A headshot should be about the the actor, not the lighting skills of the photographer or the designer label of the clothes they wear. In magazines, those glossy photos we see are about selling a product and so the lighting, the angle the mood are all set to highlight this product. In a headshot, the product is you; think of the headshot as your logo and so, everything about it should be about saying to a casting director ‘this is me’. The headshot is what gets you through the door!
Our aim is to be a malleable and flexible actor with a range to rival the finest of Olivier winners, but actors are unique. Your physical appearance is a huge part of what makes you sell and should be considered your ‘unique selling point’. Before starting out as an actor there are two things you must come to terms with;
1)Knowing what you are – the way you are perceived by an audience.
2)Being comfortable with who you are.
You wouldn’t spend a lifetime trying to fix cars if you’d trained as a vet – it’s counter productive. Your headshot (logo!) should be a clear indication of ‘you’.
Likewise, a shaven headed man with a scar does not need dress up as a biker and pull faces; their appearance will tell us all we need to know. If you were selling avocados, you wouldn’t send a picture of a tomato…
At drama school, university, classes – wherever we have trained, we are pushed and stretched into various roles. As more and more actors are trained and arrive on ‘Spotlight’, the days of having to be so versatile are almost gone, certainly early on in one’s career. If they need a red-head, Geordie with a limp, you can pretty much guarantee there is one out there. However, this can be used to your advantage!
Agents and casting directors love actors who know their strengths and are clear about it; it makes their job easier. When your headshot is a clear representation of what you offer as an actor, you’re n the right track.
Which bloody photographer?!
Firstly, pick a photographer who takes pictures that you like! Don’t just shoot with your friend (or your friend’s photographer) just because the price is low, or because your friend likes the photographer. Similarly, don’t shoot with the photographer charging £500; a big price doesn’t always mean a ‘big’ photo!
Your headshots can make or break your career–you want to make sure you are picking a photographer for the right reasons, and price (expensive or cheap) is not necessarily one of them. Also, as with clothing, headshots tend to go through phases of ‘fashion’. Don’t feel that you have to pay the extra money to fit that trend. Fashions, even with photographers, come and go yearly. Your headshot could last 3 years.
Be careful of opinions and who to ask for them! It doesn’t matter if your family and friends like them–what matters is if they will get you in the door.
Next, especially for your first time, your photo shoot should last at least an hour but hopefully way more; you are going to be nervous and a long and relaxed shoot helps build a rapport. This leads to better photos! Try and shoot with a photographer that you can take your time with and relax around.
Just like with screen acting, it’s all about your eyes, and what’s happening behind them. Your eyes don’t lie – especially on a close up! They need to be perfectly in focus, alive, and energized, and not dead and glazed over. There should be a strong inner-monologue, giving something, anything behind the eyes.
How many “looks” do I need?
Many agents and Casting directors will tell you that one, good headshot is enough – which is true! This is especially the case when graduating from a drama school. For actors further down their career path, one good headshot is enough, but it is the bare minimum.
A savvy actor will have different shots for different submissions. On Spotlight you should aim for 4/5 photos. A casual, comfortable, smiling headshot might be appropriate for a sitcom, but it’s not going to work for that feature film role of a serial killer. If you are capable of playing multiple types of roles, you need a headshot for each type, and therefore multiple looks; perhaps even one with/without facial hair. This said, do not push outside of your casting – there is no point! We’ve seen too many people who think they are or the stero-typical leading women or hunky leading blokes and try and use those shots – as soon as they walk through the casting room door, we can see the truth!
If you can only play a scary serial killer type, then you only need one “look”! Similarly, those famous actors that you really admire ALREADY EXIST! Don’t try and emulate them – be yourself!
Every actor is different…
1)Understand who you are!
2)Be comfortable with who you are!
Retouching my headshot...
Retouching is a bit of a touchy subject (boom boom!). A headshot that is re-touched badly can be a disaster and can make the photo look fake or, in the worst case, make it look like someone else entirely!
With the rise of digital photography, retouching is more readily available and therefore more tempting. Some re-touching can be useful, but with the standard of cameras out there, the photo taken should be enough! Photoshop can be used to fix a stray hair, lighten a shadow or remove that irritating spot!
But remember; because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done! Make sure that the photographer only removes temporary imperfections. In general, if it will be there in three weeks, it should probably remain in the photo.
Scarring is one thing that can take a little re-touching. A scar on the face might be almost unnoticeable, but under the close scrutiny of a lens with professional lighting, it might in fact highlight the scar. In these instances, it’s fine to tweak your photo so that it matches your appearance in person.
Shooting with full frontal light is best – it shows us your face in all its glory. If shooting outdoors, this will require a canopy or bridge over you. A photographer may ask you to hold a reflector under your chin – this is great, but feel free to ask if you still have a chin in the photos! It has happened that chins have disappeared into necks and nobody wants a headshot looking like a thumb with a face!
Surviving the shoot!
Shooting your headshots can be fun and something you might enjoy doing (although I know very few actors who do!). Prepare for your shoot by treating yourself well, getting plenty of sleep, caring for your body, and allowing plenty of time to prepare. If you’re nervous bring some music that you like. If you’re shooting outside, sometimes holding a cigarette or a can of drink (probably not Fosters!) can help you feel a little more natural.
During the shoot, don’t let fear paralyse you and remember that this photo is different from the obligatory ‘night-out-in-the-toilet-selfie’. Standing still for two hours with a pout is not helpful! Different thoughts will make for a range of photos.
Don’t worry about taking “good” pictures or the “right” pictures. The photographer knows their trade and despite what you think (within reason!) you should trust their judgement; your job is to show up prepared and to then relax.
Enjoy the shoot–you’re the centre of attention!