Headshot Tips from a working Actor
Updated: Oct 10, 2018
Like most Actors I find getting my Headshots taken rather daunting. To me it's an awkward process: walk into a room with some lights, a couple of varying plain backgrounds stuck to the back wall and a stranger pointing a lens at you for the next 2 hours... Weird right?! But it's necessesary in this business called show, so my friends you're guna have to suck it up! Fear not though, I have had my fair share of headshot experiences and perhaps if I share them with you, it'll put you on the path to the perfect Headshot or three!
1 Expensive doesn't mean "The Best":
Ok so I know why you'd think that, I did once upon a time. I mean, all the photographers the stars use cost the upper echelons of the Headshot price scale, so why wouldn't forking out several hundreds of pounds (or dollers) get you the best Headshot in town that'll get you called in for all the Hollywood roles?! Well kid, because like the best things in life it isnt about money; it's about chemistry. Your photographer needs to be able to make you feel relaxed, and that won't just happen by saying "ok now relax", but it will happen if you have a natural chemistry with your photographer. Someone who's kind and wants to know about you, someone who's looking to get that shot of the real you, the part that shines through just long enough to be captured in a moment of time by the lens.
2 Don't feel pressured to book the Photographer your Agent pushes:
By all means if you like their work go for it! But don't be badgered into accepting a photographer who has been shoved down your throat, as I did with one my past Agents were friends with... Bad move! Yes as I was told they were "cheap" but cheap cost me a lot in the long run, as I now revere them as the worst Headshots I've ever had taken. Why you ask? Because I looked tired, older and bored in almost every picture. Even my smiling pictures looked disingenuous and contrived. Contrary to what I said above about chemistry: myself and this photographer had none. To me, he was an unprofessional dithering fool, and I spent much of my time suggesting ways we could get a good shot when really that was his role! It was like he was an ameatur doing this for a bit of pocket money. Alas, a good photographer will make you feel like you are being gently guided by a professional. They will steer conversation a certain way in order to understand you better, and capture that look you just did which was perfect...
3 Don't be cheap:
Just like spending too much, you can also spend too little. A cheap photographer (I'll let you determine what you define as cheap) suggests they don't know what they're doing. They'll make mistakes like black hair on a dark background, something that happend to me once and I only noticed when someone pointed out "I have no idea what your hair is like from this picture". But at the time I was still new to the Industry so of course I didn't know that was wrong. Now however, it seems like a rookie mistake!
4 Take clothes you actually wear:
This is pretty important. Once a previous Agent (not the same as the one I mentioned above... I've had a few rubbish ones...) once told me I should "wear something Oriental - one of those high collared silky tops" to really hammer home the Asian part of my heritage. Needless to say I was appauled by this suggestion. He then followed it with showing me one of his clients who was wearing an actual maid's outfit and hat. Like the ones you'd see on a dress up costume, the ones that look like a white doily on your head secured by a rubber band! Most people think that if they 'dress' as a character then they'll book the role, i.e. white coat equals Doctor, darling... no! Wearing clothes you wear all the time has a number of benefits: you'll be comfortable and therefore relaxed in front of the lens and you'll still be able to feel like the role you want to portray given the cut or material of the garment. Colours are also important so keep bright colours for commercial looks. For example if you were going up for a role as a Doctor/Lawyer then wear a top with a collar, or one that has a nice professional vibe. You can hint at characters without being too 'in ya face' with what you're wearing. If you play more edgy characters then wear a leather jacket; it's more about the expression on your face than anything else, but clothes can help suggest a role to a certain extent. The picture above has two main purposes: it shows genuine emotion and can be used for a dramatic character who has been through a lot, but also hints at a period drama role given the lacey vibe of the top.
5 Trust Your Photographer
You can prepare and practice ahead of a session, but the photographer will be the outside eye during your shoot, so do listen if he/she gently suggests your go-to selfie pout isn’t reading well in a headshot!
6 Think don't Act
This is a tricky one to explain, but I feel the best headshots are the ones with a very natural feel, that suggest the character without doing too much. When I took my latest shots my photographer and I discussed what kinds of roles I'd like to go up for and we tailored the shoot to that. When I put on the clothes that suggested my "Edgy Netflix role" I felt like that character and I imagined myself in the role. I did nothing more than that and the result was exactly what I wanted. The camera sees everything: it is both a gift and a curse in that sense, so don't lie to it. Don't try too hard or it'll reflect that. Just be in the moment and enjoy the experience.
I put the headshot above on this post because it is my favourite headshot of all time. It came from my first shoot with AP Wilding earlier this year which has been the best shoot I've ever had. For me she's the best because she managed to make me feel relaxed whilst pointing a camera in my face. We talked for ages (the whole shoot actually!), she put on music to get me into the mood of certain charaters and we got every type of shot I needed. This particular headshot is the result of talking about a current show on Netflix, one that made me feel so sad at the perils of the main character, that along with the melancholy music I actually started to cry. This picture was the moment just before tears welled in my eyes. To me it's perfect. It shows that I can do very emotional characters and makes the viewer feel something; the emotion is subtle enough to evoke a feeling but isn't too much.
Most importantly my latest shots from AP Wilding have got me into more rooms, and helped secure more roles than any other Headshot I've had. If that isn't a shining testiment then I don't know what is!
So ladies and gents, when you find a photographer you vibe well with hold on to them for dear life; they are worth their weight in gold! Remember these photos are your gateway into the life of a working professional Actor, so enjoy your time on the shoot and think of all the oppourtunity it will bring!