5 Steps to Selecting the Perfect Headshot

Ah, the eternal subject of the headshot . . . as an actor, your headshot is arguably the most important tool in your arsenal: It  is your calling card. It is often the thing that catches the casting director’s attention and gets you in the door. It is the thing by which they remember you after you have performed your audition and left. So obviously, you want your headshot to be the best it can possibly be. In a previous article, I offered suggestions on finding the right headshot photographer. But what about after your photography session is complete, and you find yourself staring at proofs of often hundreds upon hundreds of shots? How in the world is it possible to choose only a single headshot?  Fear not! I’m here to help:

  • The number one golden headshot rule is that your headshot must look like youAsk any casting director, and they will tell you how frequently they see headshots that are not accurate representations of the actors who submitted them. And how happy do you think that casting director will be when he calls you in based on his impression of your headshot, only to have someone totally different walk in the door? You’ve just wasted his time (and your own)–not a good move, and not likely to earn you a chance with that casting director again. So above all, choose a headshot that looks the way you look on an average day. If your headshot photo has you wearing makeup or a hairstyle that you’d never be able to duplicate in real life, that’s no good. If your photographer managed to achieve some sort of lighting sorcery that shaved off 50 pounds? It may be tough to part with that shot, but still–it’s no good. The only acceptable headshot is the one that looks just like a picture of you–end of story.
  • Look for that special quality known as “something going on behind the eyes”.  A vacant stare–no matter how great your skin looks or the super shininess of your hair–is a huge obstacle in catching a casting director’s interest. Imagine: they review hundreds upon hundreds of actors’ photos, often under a heavy deadline. They’re sifting through plenty of blondes, plenty of brunettes . . . yes, even plenty of redheads. So in order to cut through the visual noise and help yourself to stand out in the crowd, be sure your headshot is interesting. Capture the viewer’s attention with a flash of your personality showing in your eyes. Intrigue them. Transform that flat sheet of photo paper into something multi-dimensional. Make them want to know more.
  • Choose a photo that perfectly embodies the image you wish to project. What do I mean by this? Choose the headshot that looks like the roles you are most likely to play, and which effectively markets your personal type. For example: if you’re 13-years-old and mainly castable as the precocious, cute teen, don’t go ruining your chances by choosing to use a headshot that makes you look 19 and sultry. Play up your strengths! If you know you best shine as the jolly sidekick, or the young mom next door, or the villainous creep–embrace it! And allow these particular qualities to dictate the way you present and market yourself.
  • Call in the second opinions (once you’ve narrowed it down to a handful of top contenders). This is a very useful step, since it’s almost always true that we don’t see ourselves exactly as we are seen by others. In addition, we can be prone to bias–wanting the headshot that makes us look thinnest, or most muscular, or in possession of more hair than is actually on our head. Show the photos to people whose opinion you trust. Include an industry professional or two, if you know any well enough to ask for this small favor. You might find that popular opinion backs up the gut feeling you had all along, making your headshot choice an easy and confident one. Or, a new set of eyes may be able to alert you to something you hadn’t before seen . . . or mercifully break the news to you that–uh oh, cardinal sin number one!!–you’re trying to use headshots that don’t look like the real you. Whatever the results, just definitely take advantage of the opportunity of having these shots seen by someone other than yourself before you make a decision.
  • One final consideration–and an important one!–is running your potential headshots by your agent or manager. I wouldn’t recommend descending upon them with that proofs disc of 942 separate images, but narrow it down to those final few best shots, and then see if the agent/manager is able to take a few minutes and look over them with you. This accomplishes several things: First, the professional who is representing you–if he’s been part of the industry for more than a few minutes–has looked at hundreds, probably thousands, of different headshots. He knows what stands out. He knows what to avoid. That wealth of practical knowledge and experience is golden. Secondly, your agent/manager should know how he is marketing you–what character types you get submitted for–and be able to identify the headshot which is most in line with this crucial image. Third, it’s worth mentioning that if you somehow wind up having chosen a headshot that your agent/manager positively hates (or even that he feels just doesn’t showcase you effectively), you run the risk of him becoming reluctant to submit you for potential work with that headshot. And headshots are supposed to get you work, right? Not impede it.

Now, go forth and make wise choices–and once you’re done, toast to the fact that you finished the job . . . and that you probably don’t have to do it again for a good couple of years!


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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. www.elizabethsekora.com.

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