Today we’re going to discuss – you guessed it – headshots! Specifically, what their intended purpose is. I’m going to do an update in the future that intends to be a deep analysis of what a headshot is, but for the time being, I’m going to focus on much overlooked aspect of what a headshot should be doing for an actor.

Most actors looking for new headshots are doing so because their old ones are either crap, out of date, or they simply fancy a change. Choosing a headshot photographer is a tricky business, as there are so many around. Choosing a headshot photographer is not just about choosing one whose style you like, but it’s also whether or not you agree with their headshot philosophy. Lots of headshot photographers have very different approaches to their headshots, and I’m not going to cover theirs, as I’m not in a position to comment, but I can outline mine, so without further ado…

Headshot Philosophy

My headshot philosophy is pretty simple. It subscribes to the same principles found in the base level of advertising photography. When I create a headshot, my main intention is to shoot my subject in a way that appeals to a casting director on a personal level. In my opinion, this is the simplest most effective possible headshot an actor can have. This is, in some ways, pretty obvious, as most evocative photography will resonate in a personal fashion some way or another, but I think in headshots, some of the portrait essence is lost (more on this in another update).

Let’s say you’re a 3rd year student just about to graduate, and you’ve been lucky enough to land a decent agent directly after your showcase. You’ve likely got no professional credits, and very little amateur credits. On what basis are you going to land an audition? A casting director can’t see your talent on the basis of your credits, because you don’t have any. The only thing they can really go on is your headshot. Now, let’s break this down into an analogy:

You are interviewing people for a job.  You have two applicants. During the interview process, one of them is friendly, funny, very easy to talk with, and displays relaxation, confidence, and a connection with you personally, they are also fully qualified to do the job. The other applicant is very serious, you don’t hit it off in any particular way, and in all honesty, you really struggle to talk to him. The latter is more qualified though.

Who gets the job?

On first glance, it might be fair to assume the second applicant gets the job based on skill. But what is this person is going to be working with you every day. What if this person has to fit into closely knit team?

Suddenly, the first applicant is starting to look very attractive. They resonated with you on a personal level. That bond and connection cannot be overlooked. Both people can do the job, and you know you’ll be spending 8+ hours a day with them. You know the first persona is going to be easy to work with. You know they’ll slot right into the team and be great fun to have on the job. You’re now thinking about what a laugh they’re going to be at a Christmas party. Most importantly, they can also do the job. The second applicant is now a distant memory, and you’re already thinking of inviting the first guy round for Christmas.

This is precisely the effect an actors headshot should have on a casting director. You need to be that first guy in it. The one who looks like they’re going to be easy to get on with, easy to talk to, chilled out, relaxed etc.

So what should a headshot be?

A headshot should be friendly! That’s it! It’s no secret, but so many people seem to get it wrong! So many headshots are bland, vague, serious, or all three (or, even worse, happy). A headshot should be friendly, relaxed, show you comfortable in your skin, confidence is a by-product of these three things, and with an easy confidence in yourself, whoever looks at the shot is going to have that same confidence in you, too.

The motive here is sneaky. It’s contrived, and it’s cynical in nature, but kind of in a good way. It’s exactly what we do in advertising photography: create an image that appeals to the viewer in a way that makes them want to be part of the narrative you’re trying to convey. In a headshot, we want a casting director to look at it and instantly see the most important thing: That you’re easy to work with!

At the lower level of the industry, where you’re not getting auditions based on reputation or credits, it’s all based on the headshot. More than anything, what a casting director needs to know when they look at your headshot, what they need to intrinsically feel, is that you are easy to work with. Nothing else is going to better that.

A lot of actors worry about their “range” when getting their headshots. They’ve got to show their range, it’s important that the photographer capture their range, etc. That’s all great, but just concentrate on looking like you’re good company, that you’re friendly, confident, relaxed, comfortable in your own skin, and I promise you an exponential increase in auditions!

I’m going to open further on this, and give a slightly deeper analysis in another update.

Headshots London