Children's headshots are a lot of fun. In fact, the more fun they are, the better they come out. They're silly. goofy, high energy events, with kids running around, me making stupid jokes and funny noises, and lots and lots of clicking because a lot of pictures get taken.
And they are a lot of work - especially shots of toddlers and children under 5.
So, below is a bunch of advice and guidelines, along with some specifics by age range.
Babies (under 2)
Headshots of babies are a numbers game. I usually shoot A LOT, and hope to get something good. If you need headshots for babies, please contact me to arrange me coming to your home to shoot as I have found that is the best way to shoot really young children - in an environment they're comfortable in, where all the baby support equipment is easily available to mom.
Toddlers (2 to 6)
First of all, I will be blunt, unless you are blessed with a low key, very obedient toddler, the odds of getting your child cast in anything is zip-nada-nothing. Toddlers running around a movie or TV set is terribly unpopular with agent, directors, and insurance companies, so before you even think about headshots, consider your child's temperament regardless of how good looking they are.
Similar to photographing babies, toddlers are a numbers game. Often I let them run around and I just shoot and shoot and shoot, catching moments here and there. Sessions are usually high energy and over quickly, as a toddler quickly runs out of steam, attention, patience, etc. So, the way to success here is shoot a lot and shoot fast.
Kids and Tweens (7 to 12)
There is a lot of variance in the way I approach these shots, depending on the maturity of the child. Typically there is more posing and less running around, and the whole process is more thoughtful and less high energy.
Here is quick bit of advice gleaned from years shooting kids: parents can make or break a headshot at this age. And by that I mean nothing can squelch the natural exuberance and energy of a child like a parent that keeps fixing hair and telling the child to sit up and smile and on and on. It frustrates the child, results in stiff, unpleasant pictures and the whole experience sucks for everyone.
I'm a parent, I totally understand where parents come from, but the show must go on! I've cancelled sessions with overbearing moms and I've kept the deposit. : ) So, there you have it.
Braces are reality of life in the US. If your child has braces then they will have braces in their headshot and they will have braces when they audition or go on interviews. And it might impede their getting cast. I do not Photoshop out braces, nor do I do extreme teeth fixes on finished headshots.
In a shoot, I take photos that both show and hide braces, and then we pick the best photo. If they really want your child then braces won't matter, and their are opportunities for kids wearing braces in TV, commercials and print work.
Neat, simple and clean.
It's really important for little girls to look like little girls, because they will cast little girls as little girls. If your child is ten, she should look ten (or younger) and not like a Jr. Bridesmaid or some such.
Children have very active hair. It likes to stick up and go everywhere, and this is part of the charm of children. Generally, I think hair should be as neat as it can reasonably be, but if there are some bits sticking out or sticking up it adds to the delight of the photo. Remember, these are photos for getting your child cast, not for grandma to put up on the fridge. Parents and relatives want to see a handsome boy, a beautiful girl, while casting people want to see energy and personality.
Bring a bunch of different, solid colored t-shirts. Avoid sports teams, things with writing on them, busy patterns, etc. Avoid things that are too cute, baby-ish or costume-like or conceptual.
T-shirts with crew necks work well in headshots. Pick tops with less saturated colors. A t-shirt that is a bit worn and has been washed so it is broken in somewhat is a good bet.
If you your child has a lot of contrast between hair and skin (dark hair, light skin) you can generally get away with stronger color choices. Bllonds and redheads generally look better in a headshot in something more muted.
Greens and yellows... avoid these unless you're a red head, in which case you can always get away with wearing green. People with blue and green eyes tend to look good in blue and green.
The best color in a headshot is always teal. It works with any skin tone and it brings a nice energy to things.
It is very tempting to dress your child for a headshot like mini-adult - a suit, tie, a gown, hair all done up...
Sometimes this can be really cute and effective. It seems to work better for boys. Mini grown-up girls is kind of bizarre and is more about beauty pageants than getting work as an actor. Remember - they are casting children, not small adults.
Babies and toddlers and kids are retouched the same way adults are: skin is evened out, blemishes and marks are removed, and the whole picture made bright and fresh. Even babies have eye bags!