Being a model or actor has never been easier. There are so many platforms today for you to get noticed on and build your personal brand. Broadway is just a viral video away. Throw a couple of artsy filters on some profile photos, get some likes, and before you know it you’ll be the next face of Chanel.
In reality, being a model or actor is as hard as it has ever been. You are competing on so many levels, against so many people, with the bigger, more lucrative opportunities still being guarded by the traditional gate-keeper: the Casting Director.
And this first thing the Casting Director is going to want to see - even before they meet you - is your headshot. Your headshot is your first impression. It is the entry-point for a meeting/audition and the opportunity to begin a relationship with that casting office.
This means you need to think very seriously about your headshot.
Here are 4 things you should be thinking about before hiring a headshot photographer:
1) A good headshot photographer will know the difference.
Your photographer should understand the difference between a theatrical headshot and a commercial headshot - because their purpose, and style, are very different.
Commercial headshots should express different characters suitable to your look and personality; while in a theatrical headshot, you want to capture the essence of who you are, while remaining natural enough to allow for a breadth of different characters.
In a theatrical headshot you should also look professional and measured. The reason? Quite simply, while commercial shoots only take a couple of days max, theatrical endeavours (plays, movies, etc.) can be produced over weeks, months or even years. The photographer needs to portray you as being someone who can be trusted day-in, day-out. Someone that won’t be needy, unreliable or rude.
And your headshot should reflect this.
2) A good headshot photographer will communicate well.
It can be very lonely in front of a camera. And many people feel pretty vulnerable when having their headshot taken.
The very best photographers make you feel at ease from the get-go. And this goes for headshot photographers too. You should expect your photographer to engage with you by asking questions about you, your ambitions and your career. They will calm you, while building up your confidence.
The good photographer knows casting directors are looking for authenticity above all else, and they will make sure your headshot photo is the best possible depiction of you.
3) A good headshot photographer will make you stand out for the right reasons.
If your headshot photographer suggests props, a fun plaid shirt or an interesting backdrop, then politely thank him for his time, and leave. The key to a great headshot is simplicity. Think understated wardrobe, that matches your complexion and eye color. Don’t wear a hat, don’t wear a necklace and don’t wear too much make-up. The background should be muted and complementary.
A good headshot photographer will know this, and will steer you in a direction that makes you the hero of your own picture.
4) A good headshot photographer has done it before.
Don’t ask your friend with an iPhone 6 to take your headshot photo. It’s needlessly cutting corners, and ultimately you will only be hurting your own acting or modelling career. Similarly, think twice before asking a wedding photographer or a landscape photographer (or any other non-headshot or portrait photographer) to take your headshot. It’s not too dissimilar from asking an electrician to fix your leaky faucet. Sure, they might figure out how to get the job done; but you’d be best off asking a plumber.
So make the investment to have your headshot photo taken by a professional portrait or headshot photographer - it’s what they do. If you’re a model, you could also ask a fashion or beauty photographer too. As with everything, there are photographers to suit all budgets.
And do some research. When choosing a headshot photographer, be sure to scrutinise their portfolio or website. Does the photographer mainly shoot models? Or actors? Many will do both. Look at the headshots of people who are the same age, have similar hairstyles and skin-tones. Do you like how they were shot? Do they feel current, but without being overly stylised?
Do you feel like you might get a sense of the model or actor’s personality? Do the photos have stopping power - would they give a casting director pause as he flicks through a mountain of other headshots? This is the reason you’re having your headshot taken, after all.
A couple of final thoughts:
Your headshot is your calling card. It marks the beginning of the relationship between you and the people who have the power to book you for a job.
And it must be up-to-date. If you change, so should it.
When you go in to audition, the Casting Director doesn’t want any surprises between you and your headshot. It is seen as being dishonest and risks irrevocably breaking any trust you had with the Casting Director. If you dyed your hair, and they aren’t casting redheads - then you wasted their time. And yours.
So, if your weight has differed noticeably or you have updated your hairstyle or color, then it is definitely time for a new headshot. Aging is also something you should be aware of. At the end of the day, you want your headshot to be as close as possible to how you look right now.
Finding the right photographer - someone that gets you, that you trust - will help make the entire process so smooth, warm and easy, as opposed to nail-bitingly stressful.
Let us know what you think. Is there anything else you would recommend to an actor or model before they hire a headshot photographer?
We have included some photos of some aspiring actors on this page. It is interesting to consider what opportunities arose as a result of these headshots. And how much success can be attributed to the photographer who took them, Andrew Brucker.
TL;DR: Hiring the right headshot photographer is critical to the success of any aspiring model or actor. Make sure it’s shot right, and regularly.