A headshot is potentially the most important tool in your acting kit, even more so than your resume and your education. It won’t matter if you’ve been to the best acting school and done all the best courses, if your headshot betrays you. To be clear, what makes a bad headshot is one that either presents you poorly, or misrepresents you.
A headshot that presents you in a bad light can be due to many different aspects. Some that you cannot fix are bad retouching, bad composition, and bad lighting. That is why it’s imperative to get a professional photographer. Someone who is talented at shooting portraits and has the top-of-the-line equipment will undoubtedly produce a better quality image than your neighbour’s DSLR.
It’s not about hiring a professional photographer to improve image quality, it’s also about the aesthetic. The entertainment industry is built on reputations and relationships. It sounds like a cliche, but what really drives this mentality is one of style, integrity, and trademarks. The style of the headshot professional you most identify with will resonate with casting directors in a different way to other potential photographers, giving them an immediate read of your vibe. Your own integrity is supported by the integrity of the photographer whom you hire. Not only are you supporting other artists in the industry, asserting yourself as part of the community, you are also proving that you respect their art form enough to acknowledge that what they do can’t be faked by some other muppet with Photoshop.
Your headshot becomes your trademark, a quick read of the package you’re selling. This is the recognisable thumbnail that casting directors will come to associate with you, so make it one that carries with it a solid professional backing. Take this seriously and professionally, and you will be viewed in the same light.
What can lead to a poor headshot is your acting, or your comfort in front of the camera. Every frame that is captured by that shutter should be a moment of performance, with all of the requisite life and soul that you breathe into any character. Everyone’s prompts will be different for this, and if you are shelling out for a professional photoshoot, I suggest doing some character research. While it may seem silly to craft a character when that character is you, it’s more necessary than you’d think. The most important thing in a headshot is clarity. Unfortunately, you will never be perfect for every role out there, but this is actually an advantage – by specialising, and identifying your niche, you can be absolutely perfect for that type of role, rather than a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Build yourself your ideal character, the one that you couldn’t not be cast as, and the self-assured naturalism that you capture will sell you for that role, as well as carry you over the threshold for many others that have less specific specifications. Err on the side of more specificity rather than less. It’s like painting your walls beige. Sure, they’ll never go out of style, but no one will actively take notice or like them either. Your headshot’s job is to get you noticed, so do this above all else.
This advice could be easily misconstrued as “fake it” or “perform”, and that’s not what I’m saying. We want to see the genuine you. You on a good hair day. You need to find the truth of the performance in you. This can just be a good way to reframe how you approach getting a headshot taken, especially if you know you’ll be uncomfortable in front of the camera.
So go on an’ get in front of a mirror to learn your angles. No level of narcissism is too high when prepping for your personal photoshoot.