Tips for Making the Most of your Headshots

At Casting Workbook, we go through hundreds of headshots a day.  We help upload them, we have some up on the wall, and we check and make sure new accounts have some posted.  We get asked all the time, “What do you think of my headshots?” or “What should I upload?”.  The answers can vary significantly.  It really depends which direction you’re trying to take your career in.  There is no right answer, but here are some guidelines to help get you started.

Have professional headshots already?  That’s awesome!  But just because they’re professional, doesn’t mean that you can just upload them without thinking.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to upload 16 really beautiful shots of slightly varying angles and expressions.  Each picture has the same clothes, only you’re smiling slightly differently.  This is all wrong.  You have to think of the types of roles you’re going to play.  Unless you’re only willing to play one role, then your headshots should never be the same.

Choose one headshot from each different category you can play.  You should have your leading man/woman shot, your good boy/girl shot, your bad-ass rebel shot, your  bad-guy shot, your Innocent shot, your sultry shot, etc.  The categories go on.  This is your chance to show your range.  How much variety do you have?  How many different roles can you fill?  How many different looks can you pull off?

If you only have one or two professional shots, but you have lots of experience, it could also be a good idea to posts high quality screen grabs of some of the different characters you’ve played.  A good angle of you as a cop.  Another one where you played a waitress.  How about when you were that insane clown?  The point is to show your variety.  But always remember the image needs to be clear, and of high quality.

Remember: It’s alright to have only one or two headshots up.  In fact, having one good one is better than having ten that are of low quality.

But what if you don’t have any professional headshots?

It can be hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have a professional headshot.  There are lots of reasons why you might not be able to get them.  The high cost is a frequent complaint.  Keep an eye out for deals, because unfortunately, you will need them.  But here are some tips to make sure you can make the most of your shots.

1.) Quality matters.  Do not just snap a shot with your iphone when you’re standing against a blank wall.  They’re so easy to spot, and they just don’t look professional.  Take the time to think about it, and set up the shot.  Position yourself in a way that’s natural, so that the shot doesn’t look awkward.  Think about the type of role you’re trying to portray with this shot.  If you’re smiling, this is a good-guy shot.  If you’re wearing a leather jacket and chains, you should probably not have a happy smile on your face.  Be mindful of how you want the people viewing these photos to see you.

2.) The light should be bright so that your features are properly shown.  You might not be able to have a professional lighting set up, but it’s not impossible to get decent lighting, especially during the summer.  Avoid taking shots outside in the middle of the day.  The high sun will create harsh shadows.  Take the photo early in the morning, or later in the afternoon, when the color of the sun is warm and it’s a little softer.  If you’re at home, try and move lamps around instead of using any ceiling fixtures.  Use bounce boards instead of direct light when you can, to keep harsh shadows off.

3.) The background should be simple, but stay away from white unless it truly is pure white.  Otherwise, the entire shot looks dirty.  Black is only an option if you have enough light to make sure you pop.  If you’re outside, or there are object in the background, try and make them as out of focus as possible so they don’t take away from you in the frame.  If the background is brighter than you, then it will distract away from your image.

4.) The shot should at least include your shoulders.  Chest up is a common shot, as well as waist up.  Full body shots can be used, but not for your main headshot.  A headshot should show…well, your head.  The point is to see what you look like.  Please keep in mind that a shot of just the neck and head will always look awkward.

5.) Wear makeup.  This might be a little awkward for guys, but you’ll end up wearing makeup on set when you get hired, so best get used to it.  Nothing extreme.  Girls should stay away from doing too much.  It will really depend on the shot you’re trying to get.  But remember that a makeup artist can pretty much make you look any way they want.  What’s most important is how you look naturally.  A guy should simply make sure his skin his smooth, and that there are no dark circles (unless you’re doing your homeless shot).

6.) Do a little editing.  Put the photo in a photo editing program and make sure to get rid of anything that looks odd, like red-eye, a dog in the background or maybe that unfortunate blemish you weren’t able to cover up with makeup.  You don’t need Photoshop to make basic changes.  But stay away from really stylizing the shot.  It should look as natural as possible.

7.) If you can find a friend with a decent camera and some knowledge of photography, then buy them lunch and enlist their help.  In the digital age, it’s possible to get some high quality shots with your phone, but a phone doesn’t give you the focus and exposure options a good camera does.

8.) Do not have friends in the picture!  Unless you’re a twin, there should be no reason to have other people in the frame.  If you’re posing as part of a group, then it’s not the right picture to use.  Cropping pictures to hide the others still isn’t right.  Take the time to take a picture specifically for your headshot.

Have any other specific questions or comments about this list?  Let us know. 




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