Acting for Beginners
Acting for Film & Television
If you are serious about making acting a career, then you have to understand that getting the best headshot is one of the very first important steps. Always remember that acting is a business and you should treat it as such. A good analogy would be that business people use their business cards to promote their business and themselves, in much the same way that you will use your headshot as a marketing tool to promote yourself and attract the interest industry professionals.
Never take for granted that when you walk into a casting room, that it is okay to offer a digital photo taken by yourself or a friend, or show the casting director the cool photo you just took on your iPhone. In most cases, this is not an acceptable format for a professional headshot, unless you are going to an open call where the casting notice clearly states that it is okay to bring in any photo and it does not have to be a professional one. An iPhone is a valuable tool when you need to take a quick photo or photos which you can upload to your website or to film a video when a professionally filmed and edited video is not a mandatory requirement.
If you are just getting started in the entertainment business or already have experience, it is always a good idea to network as much as possible with other actors and actresses. Pertaining to headshots, you would want to look at as many samples as possible to get a feel for different photographers' work. Please remember that a portrait is different from a headshot, so you will need to find a photographer who has experience doing headshots for film, television, commercials, and theatre.
When you see some headshots that you like, find out who the photographers are. Almost always, they will have a website you can check out so you can take a look at their portfolio. This is a great way to screen many photographers before narrowing the field. You will also want to look at the fees they are charging for professional headshots. Make sure that if they have a package price, that it will include everything you need including the photo shoot, such as, a retouched 8" x 10" hardcopy as well as a jpeg image on CD.
I am not an advocate of spending hundreds of dollars on a headshot, given that we need to update them regularly, in most cases, probably at least every two years. Children will need to update their headshots far more regularly since they are still going through so many growth spurts. Try to find the most cost-effective way to get a good quality headshot. When you are new to the game, it is so easy to get sucked in by people who claim to be professionals, but truly are not. So, this is where you have to do your research thoroughly and keep your head on before leaping into a costly mistake.
There are also numerous trends in the industry that you will also need to be aware of. Sometimes headshots are black and white, sometimes in color. Some are portrait view, some are landscape view. By networking, you will be able to get a pretty good idea of what the current trends are in the industry. Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially if you are new in the business. Look for consistency in responses so you can gauge if you are getting accurate information and feedback.
So, what are you looking for in a good 8" x 10" headshot? As a tool to market yourself, I think my best response to this is a photo that really does look like you. It's that simple. Some actors and actresses do not update their headshots and it is not a good image of what they currently look like. They may have gained or lost weight, cut their hair or grew it out, and maybe even changed their hair color. All these examples are a clear indication that an updated headshot is necessary. Whenever you make a drastic change to your look, you will need to get a new headshot. I know many casting directors who are very upset when the person they meet in the casting room looks nothing like their photo, and this will never be a good point in your favor.
Choose your wardrobe carefully when preparing for your headshot photo shoot. I think it's best to go somewhere between casual and business casual. Choose solid colors that truly highlight your eyes and positive features that put you in your best light. Avoid clothing with racy patterns and colors that distract. For women, minimal jewelry is preferred. I guess that a good rule of thumb is to dress the part that you most likely see yourself playing. On a personal note, I have found that a good commercial headshot in Florida works very well across the board for film and television. This may vary in different states, so you will need to do your research to determine what will work best for you and where.
One of the most important aspects of a good headshot is for you to exude personality. When an industry professional looks at your headshot, your goal should be for them to think that they would like to have you come in and audition for them, or that they would like to direct book you, because they see something in you that is unique and special. A warm smile is great, although for theatre headshots, a more dramatic look may work better.
Once you have a good headshot, you will want to find a service or company that reproduces headshots at a reasonable cost. Do some research first by reviewing their websites to determine the quality of the reproductions. Make sure that you get them to print your name at the bottom of your headshot as this is an industry standard. The next part in this series will talk about preparing your résumé which you will need to affix to the back of your headshot.