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DEC 9, 2021

Blog > Tips and Tools

Photo Credit: mimagephotography /

You’ve heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s particularly true in the casting world. Described as a calling card into the business, headshots are an actor’s most important marketing tool. After all, when it’s time to cast a commercial, TV or film project, getting noticed is the first hurdle an actor must clear. Here are elements that make up a quality headshot to get you noticed for the right reasons.


1. First and foremost, make sure your headshot is professionally shot.

  • Technically speaking 

Casting directors used to receive hundreds of 8×10-inch paper headshots to consider for a particular role. But these days, casting has adopted a more efficient and green way of searching for their next talent—and that’s by scrolling through hundreds of actor thumbnails on a computer screen. And what a difference this can make for an actor. A photo that looks great enlarged on paper may not necessarily translate well when it’s the size of a digital thumbnail. For instance, a profile shot or a picture that includes the full-length of the body can render an actor too hard to be seen in a thumbnail ratio. 

  • Quality Matters

Casting directors must be able to see actors’ faces clearly. Moreover, headshots need to appear clear, dynamic and professionally lit when they’re tiny in size, but still look great when blown up on a large computer screen. A professional photographer who specializes in headshots will have a command of all the technical aspects needed to create a quality photo to showcase you as a performer who takes your job seriously.

  • Personality and Expression

There has to be something in the headshot that grabs a casting director’s attention and says, “Give this diamond in the rough a shot!” And that something is the essence of you. One good photo can speak volumes about what makes you unique as an actor and as a person. A quality photographer who specializes in headshots can capture your sparkle, intensity, and depth. Photographers who know how to direct actors with their expressions have the potential to significantly impact the number of opportunities performers receive. 


2. Keep it natural.

Go with a natural, relaxed expression (without tension in the face) that demonstrates your personality as a confident, experienced actor (even if you’re new to the game). It should not look like you’re trying too hard.


3. Keep the focus on you.

Don’t camouflage yourself with too much makeup, distracting patterns on clothing, or elaborate backgrounds. Indoor photos are usually shot with studio lighting with blurry backgrounds or flat backdrops (often gray, white or black). Outdoor pictures often have blurred backgrounds to keep the focus on the actor’s face. Whatever option you choose, make sure your outfit doesn’t blend too much into the background, as you want to “pop.”


4. Capture yourself accurately. 

It’s important the headshot shows what you currently look like with minimal or no retouching, allowing for some imperfections on the face. Casting must be able to see what you truly look like.


5. What to wear.

Generally speaking, solid colors work best. Wear clothing that you love and that represents the types you’re capturing. Avoid jewelry. Wear glasses if you normally wear them.


6. Photo basics.

Take color photos from the chest up with a vertical format, as is often preferred these days. Keep hands out of the shot.


7. Capture your types.

Instead of shooting one “general” headshot to submit for various parts, shoot a few specific types and then strategically submit the best match for the role at hand. For example, when submitting a headshot for a lawyer, select a different pic from the one you submit to play a florist. And on a practical note, don’t make the mistake of skimping. Be ready to show casting as many looks as you can convincingly pull off. They may not know you can play a biker or a basketball player unless you show them.


8. Keep it fresh.

Take fresh headshots about every two to three years or as needed to reflect your new look (such as when you dye or cut your hair), if you’re specifically trying to add a new type, or if your old headshots are not getting you invited to auditions.


9. This is not a selfie.

Members of the younger generation who have grown up taking selfies to post on social media sites tend to strike a “selfie pose” when it comes to headshots—with a tilt of the head, hand-on-hip kind of stance. When being photographed professionally, these younger individuals may receive valuable instruction on how to bring out the best of them, and not rely on old habits.


10. Mustaches and beards.

You never know when a beard will help or hurt your chances for the next role. For this reason, many actors choose to get headshots taken with a beard, and then shave it off for a few more clean-shaven photos during the same session. If you’re only taking one kind of headshot, and you’re not sure which way to go, get shots taken in the way that best represents your look most of the time. Keep in mind, if you do supply casting with both bearded and clean-shaven looks, you’ll need to be willing to grow a beard or shave it at any given time when you land a role.

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