Headshot Extravaganza: Why You Need Fantastic Headshots!

by Teresa Reilly on May 13, 2009

Well, folks, it’s been quite a day.  A long, exhausting, anxious, finicky, neurotic day.  To be more specific…Headshot Day.  The day I’ve been putting off for three whole years.  (When I got my last headshots taken.)  I finally got my new headshots taken, and now that Headshot Day has passed, and all I have to do now is narrow down my option and print up my new pictures, I’m in the mood to share some tidbits I’ve learned along the way.  First off, I’m hoping I’m not the only one in the world who is consumed by an overwhelming desire to run far away to a nice job in insurance sales when I think about getting new headshots taken.  The fact is, getting good pics is a job on its own!  If you’re new to the business, you might wonder why everyone makes such a big deal about headshots.

“It’s just a picture!  It costs how much?!”

“Why can’t I just get my cousin to take a picture of me with his Polaroid camera?”

“What’s a ‘look?’  And why in God’s name would I want four of them?!!”

All good questions!  In order to answer them all, I’ve decided to write a three-part posting entitled the Headshot Extravaganza!  We’ll delve into all those juicy questions about why you need that elusive and mysterious headshot, where you can find that awe-inspiring and fabulous photographer who can give you the best picture possible, and finally, how in the world to take the best pictures of your life.  Are you excited, or what?!

Firstly, what the heck do you need a headshot for?  In the most succinct possible answer, a headshot is your business card.  You want people to remember you, and a picture is worth a thousand words, right?  It’s the first thing anybody asks to see: agents, casting directors, managers, directors, etc.  (And if your picture is bad, it’s the last thing anyone will see of you.)  A headshot is your first impression, and we all know how important those are, especially in this industry!  And it’s true, they can be very expensive, but if you pick the right photographer, you will reap endless rewards from your photographic investment.  (Last spring, I booked an extremely well paying print job purely off of my headshot. I didn’t even have to audition, they liked my picture so much.  That’s the kind of job I like, one in which I don’t have to audition!)  So, let’s talk about what you should aim to garner from a great set of headshots:

1.    You Want Pictures That Look Like You. If you send out a sexy headshot that looks like a Kim Kardashian cover shoot, and then you walk in to the big audition and you look more like Anne Hathaway BEFORE she got that killer makeover in “The Devil Wears Prada,” you’re going to waste the director’s time and they won’t cast you ever.  They thought they were calling in Kim!  And they got regular, normal you.  Who is perfect, by the way, for “The Devil Wears Prada.”  Don’t be someone you’re not.  Get a headshot that looks like you!
2.    You Want Pictures That Make You Look Your Best: Again, I did not say “Pictures That Look Like You If You Looked Like Angelina Jolie.”  That being said, you also don’t want a photographer who doesn’t have a good enough camera so that you don’t look blown out and distorted OR hire a makeup person who makes you look like Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”  You want to look awesome and beautiful, but if you can’t ever look that awesome and beautiful the day you walk into the audition…you’re going to waste a lot of time and money.  Mostly yours!

3.    You Want Pictures That Represent Your Type: Figuring out your type is a whole other discussion, but you should have a pretty good idea where to start anyway.  Do you get cast as mothers a lot?  Maybe you shouldn’t get a headshot of you wearing your leather motorcycle outfit.  Do you get cast as teenagers often?  So then, why get a headshot of you wearing a business suit?  Play up to your strong suits.  Photograph smart.
4.    You Want Pictures That Make You Look Confident and Happy: This leads us into the discussion about finding a kickass photographer who will help you to look and feel confident and happy while getting those pictures taken.  You want your pictures to help you sell your product: You.  No one wants a sad, depressed, and undependable product.  Unless they’re crazy.  In which case, you don’t want to work with them!

5.   Know Why You Need Them: So by now, you know that every actor needs great pictures to sell themselves.  But what kind do you need?  Are you a musical theater actor?  Or do you primarily act in films?  Are you a model as well?  In the most basic terms, there are commercial headshots and there are theatrical headshots, and they are pretty much exactly  what they sound like.  A commercial headshot will generally be high energy and smiley (as you’re trying to appeal to a commercial market) whereas theatrical headshots are more serious, with depth and an intense mood.  Resist the urge to say, “Well, I’m a fabulous actor who could play any part.  I can do everything!”  Narrow down your options and figure out what kind of headshots you need as you focus on what kind of career you want.

Once you have those gorgeous shots of your fine self, you will then use them at every single audition you go to.  (Don’t believe people who say no one wants hard copies anymore in auditions.  Just because we live in an electronic age, it doesn’t mean you won’t need a picture of yourself for every role you go up for.)  You can mail them out to gather interest from agents and managers.  And you can post them on casting websites like The Right Cast!  Your headshot will be your best friend in this business, so you better find one you love.

Next time: How to Find the Best Headshot Photographer for You!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

NYC Headshots - Nick Coleman March 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

Great advice!

Found you through a tweet from Casting Frontier… looking forward to the rest of your advice.

For my two cents, the thing most actors need to think more about before the session is number 5 – they need to have a specific idea in mind for they shots they *need*, rather than just showing up and trying to take a good picture.

A good headshot is like a great acting role — crafted, not captured by accident.

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