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Actor Headshots: 3 Things Most Actors Get Bass-Ackwards

actor headshots

What you think about your actor headshots is irrelevant.  In fact, most of the time, you’re looking at the whole actor headshot thing bass-ackwards.

A bold statement but a true one.  Let me explain.

Over the course of my career in casting, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of headshots.

A LOT.

After all, one of the difficult tasks every Casting Director has to do daily is go through mountains of submissions, scroll hundreds of pages of electronic submissions and pick the needle out of the haystack.

When you look at that much data, some very consistent trends emerge.  Here are some… 

COMMON HEADSHOT TRENDS:

Actor Headshot Trend #1
Most actors have bad headshots.

Actor Headshot Trend #2
Most headshots don’t accurately represent you

Actor Headshot Trend #3
Most actor headshots get passed over and never grab the attention of the Casting Director

What is the solution?

Let’s deal with these one at a time and talk about SOLUTIONS to these problems.  Afterall, these are not insurmountable issues.  We’re just talking about headshots, not world peace.  :-)

Yet, if it were so easily solvable, why do these actor headshot trends persist?

Most Casting Directors scratch their heads and wonder….

Why don’t ALL actors have outstanding headshots?

I’ve been thinking about headshots a lot lately and here’s what I know from my own experience as a Casting Director…

When it comes to headshots, most of the time you’re either:

A.  Focusing on the wrong thing… or

B.  You don’t know what to focus on and therefore focus on nothing or the wrong thing.

So what’s the RIGHT thing to focus on?

Well, remember before I said your headshot has a JOB?

Your headshot’s JOB is to get you an audition.

It’s to get you an opportunity to be considered for an audition – in the room or on tape.  It doesn’t matter.

If your headshot is not getting you auditions, it’s not working.

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There are a lot of different ways your headshot can get you in a room.

Let’s focus on these 3 qualifications for the job of “Great Actor Headshot”:

Great Actor Headshot Qualification #1

It Has To Look Like You

Here’s the thing about this one…because I know you’ve heard it before.

Yet I know this to be true from my experience in casting.  Most of the time, actors who the Casting Director doesn’t know, (who get called in from a headshot) show up and look really different from their headshot.

This drives Casting Directors bonkers.

Why?

Let’s climb inside the Casting Director’s mind for a sec.

When the Casting Director is poring over submissions, they are looking for a MATCH among several different things.

For example, they have in their mind:headshot

  • What the script says about the character
  • What the Director envisions
  • What the Producer told them they want the character to be like
  • What THEY think would work based on all of the above

Sometimes they have to please others too – like the studio or network.

The Casting Director is trying to solve a problem — finding the “right” person for the role based on all these criteria, including their own vision of what they want this character to be like.

Now, there are several sources for Casting Directors to pull from when it comes to bringing actors in to audition.  In this moment, let’s just focus on actor headshot submissions of actors they DON'T already know.

So, they scan through submissions looking for ideas, inspiration, a spark — looking for a match between what’s in their head and what they see in that sea of hopeful actor headshots.

And then they see your headshot.  It catches their eye (so it did part of its job).

And they bring you in.

They expect the person in that headshot to walk in the door.  Afterall, that is why they chose it… Because your headshot had a particular look that fit the bill.

And in you walk in with a whole different look.

Maybe you cut your hair. Or maybe you airbrushed a few wrinkles off your headshot.  Maybe you look way younger in person and they wanted older.  It could be a zillion things.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT HEADSHOTS

But the most important one you need to understand, is that you’ve pulled a “bait and switch” in the eyes of the Casting Director.  Not on purpose, of course, but that’s what it feels like to them.

headshot bait and switch

So you got in the room, but you’re not right for what they need.  This means they’ve just wasted precious time bringing in someone to audition who is probably not right for the role…

Which leads me to …

 

Great Actor Headshot Qualification #2

It Has To Represent You

How is this different from the previous qualification?  It’s subtle, but here it is.  It may look like you and still not represent who you ARE…your “essence”.

For example, you may resemble your headshot but your “vibe” is completely different.  You might have taken a photo where you look a little edgy but in reality, you come in the room and there’s not an edgy bone in your body.

You may resemble that headshot with your leather jacket on and your badass “I dare you” look on your face, but you couldn’t hurt a fly.

And even though you’re a great actor, your essence goes completely counter to the character and you’re not a natural fit for the role.

And yes, there’s always the exception to the rule.  Someone who seems sweet as sugar but they can pull it out and really surprise you.

Unstoppable Headshots – Online Video Training

Discover How To Get Headshots That Are “Casting-Director-Friendly” So You Can Stand Out & Grab Their Attention
(No Matter How Many Submissions They Get)

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THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT HEADSHOTS

If the Casting Director doesn’t know you, has never auditioned you and is taking a chance on bringing you in from your headshot, you’ve begun your new relationship by breaking the unsaid trust between you.

You’ve lied to them.

How likely will they be to trust you?  Do you think that might color their judgment of your performance?

Yes.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but it’s my experience that you’ll get much greater results by learning the rules of the game and becoming a master of them BEFORE you try to break them.

And it’s results you want…aka more auditions from your headshots, right

That is why you MUST get this…now.

Don’t break the trust before the relationship is even off the ground.

Look like your headshot.  Let it accurately represent what you can play easily….and…

Great Actor Headshot Qualification #3

It Has To Stand Out From The Crowd…In A Good Way

Standing out from the crowd, breaking through the noise…this is a tough qualification for your headshot, but it’s non-negotiable.

Afterall, if it does not meet this qualification then it doesn’t get seen, never mind picked.  It gets scanned over in a millisecond, never to see the light of day in the audition room.

actor headshot stand out

There are so many different ways to STAND OUT… And, a great photographer who specializes in headshots in the market you want to work is a good place to start.

Great lighting. contrast and composition AND a photographer who knows how to capture your spirit in a photograph are some of the most important things.  There are many ways to stand out…the right way.

THE THIRD MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT HEADSHOTS

Notice I keep saying “the right way”?  There is DEFINITELY a wrong way to stand out.  And it usually happens by accident with your best intentions of standing out the right way.

There are 4 BIG headshot disasters that happen consistently and you should avoid them like the plague.

In fact, this is so important, I put them all in one place you can download right now.  You can grab your free “Ultimate Headshot Disasters And How To Avoid Them” Guide here.

Okay, to sum up.

Look like your headshots

Make sure your headshots represent you

Get UNSTOPPABLE headshots that stand out …the right way.

REMEMBER, BEFORE you invest in your next set of headshots, get educated on what you can do to make sure you know how to get great, amazing, unstoppable headshots that will get you more auditions.

If you need some help, start with this:

You DESERVE The Red Carpet,
~Amy

Your turn! Have you been sending out loads of headshots and getting no auditions?  What are you going to change?   Please share it in the comments below :-)

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Amy Jo Berman - Acting Coach
Amy Jo Berman's Tips On Acting & Auditioning Blog
Email: Asst@AmyJoBerman.com

“I show actors how to be better, book more jobs and live The Red Carpet life!”

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69 Responses

  1. Dara Osborne says:

    Thank you so much for the advice on having headshots that Represent you. That is definitely the element I was missing. I just got new shots done with an excellent photographer. I look like me, the composition is excellent, now I’m just going to look through and pick the one that screams “This is Dara”.
    As always, your blog is immensely helpful and encouraging. Thank you Amy!

  2. Joseph Rich says:

    Thank you Amy as always, very informative! =]

  3. Richard Allan Jones says:

    I completely agree with you, but my agent likes multiple “category” shots — nerd, homeless, businessman, professor, etc., which I can pull off, but I look really different in the various shots (nine of them!). The follow up is to dress to match the photo when I go into the audition so I don’t bait & switch. But I wonder if all those can truly “represent” me even if I am somewhat chameleon, with drama and comedy roles. What do you think about too many “category” headshots?

    • AmyJoBerman says:

      While I think you should definitely have different looks representing different “categories” of what you can get cast as most often, I think it’s better to SUGGEST a look with more subtlety than to have an on-the-nose image (for example, you in a cop uniform). 3-5 looks on any of your online profiles should do it. 9 is too many IMHO.

  4. Carole says:

    Thank you, Amy! Excellent advice.

  5. Bj Wieland-Doucet says:

    This was an awesome blog with tips I plan on initiating immediately. Thanks Amy!!! Have downloaded the PDF & am currently dissecting every morsel!

  6. Ronald Patrick Thompson says:

    Amy does it again!

  7. Angela White says:

    AWESOME TIPS on the HEADSHOTS Amy ! Yes, I’ve seen some of them before, but really saw them this time. And noted them, getting new head shots soon, So, perfect timing. Thank you and many blessings : ))

  8. Lorren Cotton says:

    Do you recommend any photographers who consistent “get” how to get you the headshot that accomplishes these things?

  9. monie lee Perez says:

    i am so glad for you AJB! I am so grateful! You are the perfect tool for actors. This is another great article. Thank you for all you do for us out of love for the work and the actors! :)

  10. KEVIN BROWN says:

    Hi Amy, I notice that agents always want new actors to take new headshots with a photographer which they recommend when meeting with them usually. But I just finished paying 500 bucks for headshots in which gets me the interview usually. This has become very pricy so now I pay 200 until I hopefully get an agent to accept me then take the pictures they like. I thought this method would work but im still without any representation. How do I solve this problem?

    • Kat Palma says:

      Work with photographers the casting directors and agents are familiar with. They have a list. A lot of times it’s on their website. Most of us don’t charge $500. LA and NYC shooters charge $600 (Dylan Patrick and Peter Hurley), but in ATL you should not pay more than $250-300 for GOOD shots.

  11. Jaime Powers says:

    #GoodStuff Amy, Thank you :)

  12. Ryan Charles Bennett says:

    Any recommendation for photographers in Charlotte, NC?

  13. Ajay Jhaveri says:

    Great Tips Amy. I have been shooting and reproducing Headshots for 30 years in LA. Most Actors don’t have this valuable info your are giving them. I see hundreds of headshots a day. Great advice.

  14. Kenzo Lee says:

    Amy,

    Thank you so much for this! As a working actor, and now acting coach and headshot photographer on the side, I keep telling actors this information but never as clearly and concisely as this. It took me 8 years to find the headshots that actually work for me because, let’s be honest, I had no idea what a real good headshot was FOR ME. Now that I have a set that finally works, I’ve been auditioning much more consistently and booking. Each actor is different bc the headshot needs to sell the actual actor and their strengths etc, and looking like your headshot, showing your essence, and grabbing an audience are so critical. Thanks for this!

  15. Tempast Wulf says:

    Dear Amy,
    I hope your weekend is a great one. I have tried different approaches to getting the “marketable” headshots. Another problem I have ran into is over priced photographers who might get you a “ok” headshot then turn around and sell your pictures without your permission. (Happens allot in Atlanta Georgia). How can I avoid paying for pictures I can’t use?

    • AmyJoBerman says:

      You need to vet the photographer more carefully. If they don’t have spectacular headshots on their website, that’s a clue. You can also ask for references. And ask for their policy about reshoots in case you’re not happy.

    • Kat Palma says:

      As a professional shooter in Atlanta, I run into this all the time. I battle against photographers who have a portrait reputation and feel that somehow it translates to actor’s headshots. And they charge an outrageous price. I tell my clients at the get go that the one thing they cannot do is sell my shots. But I also tell them, if they get the opportunity – call me! I’ll never stand in the way of anyone getting paid. We just have to share the wealth. Same goes for me – If a source wants to use any of my photos, I contact my client and figure out a revenue share. My husband is a commercial actor. We’ve been through this. (Also, if clients’ aren’t happy with their photos, I reshoot.)

  16. Latonya Scott says:

    Amy,
    My daughter wears her hair braided all the time because she plays sports. She has long hair but I just want to know do I need to take her head shots without the braids?

  17. Xan Dunn says:

    I get about 2-3 auditions a week. I just joined your webinar for Wednesday, because I haven’t landed any roles since March. I look forward to hearing what you have to say ,as well as fixing any mistakes I may be making. I want to put myself in the best possible position to succed! Do you have a few tips you can share with me here? Thank you!

  18. Curtis says:

    Fantastic article!

  19. Shelley Starrett Actress says:

    I always look forward to reading your emails Amy. My career has been soaring since joining your email list.
    All of the knowledge in the world won’t help unless you put it into action. Thank you for everything!

  20. Wil Bowers says:

    Been on both sides of this, and it’s amazing how many people especially violate the “vibe” rule you discussed.

  21. Mina Delić says:

    Thanks so much for the tips! Any photographer suggestions for Vancouver?

  22. Kate M. Romero says:

    Got a GREAT question for you Amy Jo. As actors, we pay photographers to take our photos so we can make money as actors. I recently allowed a magazine to use a photo I paid my photographer to take and he blew a fuse. He said he owned the copywrite to my headshots even though they are photos of me and i paid him handsomely up front. Does the photographer get to/have the right to sue us when we use the photos for the purpose intended when we hired the photographer to take our headshots? Can’t wait to hear your answer to this one. Thanks!

    • Steve DePino says:

      Hi Kate, So I think the big issue here is the usage of the image. Yes your photographer does still own the copyrights to your images unless you had a complete buy out clause. Technically if the image was used in some form other then its initially agreed upon usage they could possibly sue.
      I know that doesn’t seem fair because you paid your photographer “handsomely” for the shoot but unfortunately you didn’t buy the all the rights to the images.
      You hirer a photographer for a headshot. If they would have priced the job much differently if the photography to be used advertising or editorial work. Personally I charge up to $20,000 for my commercial work because the usage is some much different then a headshot client.
      To put this into actors terms. You do an off Broadway show and it happens to get great reviews because of this the director hires a film crew come in and record one of your performances. The performance is now picked up by a much larger company and they begin sold as DVD’s. Would you be cool it they never compensated you for the sale of the DVD?

      • Kate M. Romero says:

        Thanks for that Steve. I totally get it. People have got to eat. And, my photographer of nearly 20 years has never told me he owns the rights to the photos I was purchasing from him. Had he told me this up front, I could have had the option of going to a different photographer who would offer me a buyout, and I know my photographer wanted my business so it would not serve him to tell me this before the shoot. Therefore, it feels a bit like bait and switch to me. And, being our tools of the trade can be very expensive, having to pay additional hidden costs after the fact can be a real hardship, I will be asking for a buyout for my next photo shoot.

        • Steve DePino says:

          Yes your photographer should have educated you a bit more as to the extent of what they considered proper usage of the image. This day in age photography has been undercut with so may ways of “sharing” images the photographer loses a lot of control once the image is out of there studio.
          I’m not a huge stickler on usage as long as I see an images being used for its original purpose. Once it get used by a secondary source thats when things get hairy.

        • Geoffrey Donne says:

          No legitimate professional shooter who knows their business will EVER sell you a “buyout.” They will grant you unlimited rights to use their work to promote your career, and that’s all you need. It’s like Craig’s List “deal” photographers. They will be the most expensive shots you never book with. Go to a real pro, who understands not just the craft of a great technical shot, but the challenging skill of getting your authentic casting embedded in your images, so your picture can solve a Casting Director’s problem.

  23. Yucel says:

    What’s the place of the headshot that actors use for social media branding v the casting?

  24. Tressielynn Kincannon says:

    Amy,

    Thank you so much for these tips! Headshots have always been that mythical unicorn to me. Always seen, but never captured! Not by me, anyways! Even in the stage world (of which I haven’t done anything professionally enough to need a headshot) most of the CD’s knew me and cast me regardless or asked me to play a part, so I never got around to investing into GREAT headshots.

    I have a bit of a chameleon look and can really look different based on a few subtle changes. How can I help avoid that or not fall into that trap? I’ve always been worried about that!

    • AmyJoBerman says:

      Check out my blog series on Branding, Tressielynn. That should help clarify. I also have a pretty awesome class called Unstoppable Headshots that dives deeper into this. You may want to check that out as well.

  25. Shon Wilson says:

    My headshots are consistently getting me called in for L.A.-based work that I submit myself for and for network and major studio gigs my agent who reps me for Atlanta submits me for. (Two auditions per week on average total.) But I haven’t been called in for anything through my L.A. agent’s office in the 3 1/2 months since they signed me. Any insights on that?

  26. Richard Rosario says:

    I have been getting auditions using my Facebook profile photo.

  27. Clinton Brandhagen says:

    Along with my Headshot Preparation pages, I’m adding this as “required reading” for all of my headshot clients when they’re getting ready to come and see me! Thank you, Amy Jo, for putting this into an article! Brilliant!

  28. Siarra says:

    Hey Amy,

    Question: I’m thinking about cutting my hair short. Does that hurt my odds? I notice most females have medium-long hair in their headshots. If the character has long hair does that automatically excluded me?
    Just wondering if I’m hurting myself by changing my hair.

    Thanks so much!
    Siarra

  29. Cassidy says:

    Hi Amy! Thank you so much for the info! I have a bit of a dilemma….I took new headshots last year with shoulder length hair but I REALLY want to chop my hair into a pixie cut/ shorter style. My question is, do I have to take new headshots? Especially since I don’t know how long I’m going to keep this particular hairstyle? Thank you so much in advance!

    Cassidy

  30. Eulaine McIntosh says:

    If your photo paper size is 8×10, than what dimensions will the actual photo need to be to fit the “Industry standards” for a headshot?

  31. Michelle Kane says:

    Hi Amy! I am 37 and going gray. I am using a non permanent color to cover the gray with purple at the roots and the middle and bottom are still dark brown with hints of purple. Do you think this will hinder my ability to get work? How would you list hair color on my resume?

  32. Eva says:

    I am having one tomorrow and I so had no idea of how its done, thank you Amy. Am Evelyn from Uganda. Really helpful information.

  33. Yemi says:

    I wear my hair in braids all the time. Will i get cast or should i change my hairstyle

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