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Below is an FAQ. I keep adding to it. Question you think should be on it? Email me here.
- Do I even need a headshot when everyone has a smartphone?
- Virtually every actor I shoot these days goes to the audition, plops down their headshot and resume and then sits there in the waiting room. When they walk into their audition, an assistant shoots a picture of them with a smartphone. Why do they need a headshot?
First of all, if you don't have a headshot you look like a total noob amateur who has invested nothing in their career or themself. That is NOT the impression you want to make.
As your audition/submission package goes through the system from secretary to agent to casting direct to director to artistic director, or however it might travel, that headshot sits on top of that package and functions as a tag - it is an identifying mark of you. Your resume is a bunch of words. It could be menu for a restaurant or a laundry list. Your resume will never catch someone's eye at a glance, not like your headshot will.
Headshots get copied, fax'd, snapped with a phone a texted, passed around the table when the decision is being made. Your headshot can sit on a desk and someone can walk by and see it, and be drawn to it. It can pop out of an envelop and delight someone.
Do you want to be a performer? Then you need a headshot. Of course you need a headshot.
- Do I need more than one headshot?
- It depends on where you are with your career.
There are generally three types of headshots. There's a film headshot, which is subtle, generally serious looking, without a smile, somewhat blank looking and intense. Then there is a high energy or commercial headshot, which features a big smile and looks like you're excited about cat-food. This shot is useful for booking commercials and auditioning for musical theatre and comedies, etc. It's big and bold. The last is most common; it's simply a general headshot, which is a good looking picture of you, usually with a smile. It is somewhere in-between a film and a high energy.
- If you're applying to colleges or programs, you just need one good headshot.
- If you're a young actor, fresh from school, you can get away with one, but you probably need two - a film headshot for film/tv auditions and a high energy for commercials, musical theatre etc. When you audition for straight plays, if it a drama you use the film headshot, if it a comedy you use the high energy.
- If you have an agent, they usually have a plan to present you a certain way, so at that point you might need headshots that are sexier, more threatening and evil looking, more ethnic, etc.
- If you're working a lot then you want to accumulate a headshot library so you can craft your submission package specifically to the gig you're trying to get.
- Should a headshot be portrait or landscape?
- A headshot should be shot and printed in portrait (vertical) orientation. Why? Several reasons:
- If it is printed in a playbill then it will be cropped to portrait anyway
- People look skinnier and taller in portrait oriented photos. No, this isn't BS, it is the truth and it has to do with the way the human eye functions. It's why neckties make men look taller and horizontal stripes on a dress are generally considered a no-no.
- A casting director gets a big stack of headshots and resumes, 90% of which are all portrait. Resumes, by the way, are always portrait orientation. When he or she gets to yours they have to twist it to its side because it's landscape. "But that will make me stand out," you might think. Why in the world do you want to stand out because you are making the agent or casting director do more work? Stand out because your picture is a great picture of YOU, not because people have to rotate it 90 degrees
- Landscape oriented headshots are lazy shooting. Honestly, it is easy to shoot a visually interesting landscape headshot because of something called "negative space." Basically, the photo seems to be more interesting because of the way the subject (you) appears against the background. But a headshot isn't suppose to be an interesting photograph, it's a picture of an interesting person. Shooting landscape is a cop out: the photographer isn't working to get a great picture of you, they're taking the easy way out.
Landscape headshots are very useful on your website as what is called a hero image, which is that big picture that many websites have at the top of the page. So, by all means in your session get a few horizontals, but the bulk of the shooting should be vertical, portrait oriented photos.
- Should I smile or not?
- Some people look great when they smile, some people look goofy when they smile. Some people smile and their eyes get really really squinty and small. Some people smile and their eyes look about the same as when they don't smile. And what are those teeth up to when you smile?
It really depends on your face, and on your smile.
In general, people like to look at smiles, so smiling is always good idea. But again, it depends on your face, your smile, and what you need the headshot to do. Another case-by-case basis.
- What is the "good side" of my face?
- Most headshots are shot from a little to the left or a little to the right of center on a persons face, and there are two reasons for this.
The first reason is that most noses aren't straight, they curve a little to either the left or the right. Shooting from one angle will make the nose seem straighter, while shooting from the other will make the nose look really curved. Look at Brian Williams on MSNBC - he his always facing a little towards his left because it his nose looks less curved that way.
The other reason: faces aren't symmetrical, and generally one side of a person's face looks fatter and softer than the other, so often people look better if the soft part of the face is towards the camera and the "harder" side is further.
Other things can effect from which angle you might look best: your eyes, your hair, your skin, scars, etc. You don't have to worry about this unless your photographer doesn't know what they're doing.
- What about piercings?
- Piercings are pretty common these days, but they can cause some problems. Nose piercings almost always make a person's nose look bigger, because they draw attention to it. Even a nostril stud draws attention to a nose. I have a big nose, and I sure don't want it looking any bigger nor do I want people paying more attention to it than necessary.
Piercings are also of this time and of this culture, and if you are auditioning for period pieces they can throw you "out of epoch." Casting directors are not really using their imaginations. They are moving fast and don't have the time to consider how you might look without a piercing or pink hair or some such. They just want to look at a picture and see what you look like.
All that being said, it is really your choice and probably not a big deal unless your piercings are extreme, in which case your headshot might be more about your piercings than you, and that is ok, too. Generally, I think it's best to remove them and then Photoshop the hole away.
- What about tattoos?
- Tattoos are similar to piercings, in that they can be distracting and make it hard for an agent or a casting director to imagine you in a particular role or time period. Body tattoos are one thing, especially if they can be covered by clothing; neck and face tattoos are something else entirely.
If you have prominent neck and face tattoos then really they have to be considered the same as your eyebrows, your nose, your lips, etc: they are part of your overall look, the overall package you present. It would probably be a bad idea to photoshop them out unless you're also planning to cover them with make-up when going on auditions. This is sort of a case-by-case thing - no firm rules here.
- What about shots in different clothing?
- I have a bunch of thoughts on this, and here they are in no particular order of importance...
I have done headshots where we shot 700 pictures with lots o changes and the person is trying to decide between three different pictures, all of which have the same basic facial expression, but one is in gray top, one is in red, one is in purple. At that point, you are no longer picking out a headshot, you're picking out an outfit. That strikes me as dumb. The clothes are always #2, the face is always #1.
I have done headshots where the person brought in something completely awful to wear, like a single bright white shirt, and the headshots came out fine.
I think in terms of looks. Does the headshot need something professorial about it? Do I want the person to look younger, or older? Should they look warm and inviting, or cold and threatening? Do they already have a headshot that looks one way, and they need something that looks another way?
Generally, my sessions have at least two changes. I have shot sessions with five or six changes. I've also shot for hours with the person wearing the same thing the whole time even though they brought a bunch of stuff (it all looked like crap so we didn't use any of it).
Bottom line: I always get something that works really well whenever I shoot and whatever the person is wearing. The more changes we shoot the harder it will be for you to decide on a final headshot.
- What about different color background?
- 90% of the time I shoot in natural light so different color backgrounds is seldom an issue. This is sort of like different colored clothes to me - it misses the point of a headshot. If you're trying to decide between two pictures, and you can't decide if you like the blue background one or the tan background one, then you're picking paint colors at that point, not a headshot. If you are choosing a photographer based on the number of background choices available then you've got your priorities wrong.
- What about that plain white background look?
- This has become a style and on occasion I find it works. Sometimes it can be distracting, depending on the person I'm photographing. The human eye tends to look at whatever is brightest, so if you're in front of a bright white background, that is what people will look at. It's like staring into the sun.
A bright white background presents you in a visual circumstance that will almost NEVER happen in the course of your career. You will generally be on stage, or on a film set, with walls or trees or something there. Almost never will you be performing against a limitless expanse of blindingly bright white. So let's present you as you will be seen.
One last thing: It is one thing to do it using lights in the studio, and it is another thing to do it by cropping out the background with Photoshop and adding the white it later. One is kinda dull but it's at least professional; the other looks like ass and amateurish. Yuck.
- Can I print my headshots myself?
- No. You don't want to do this yourself because chances are you don't have a good enough printer, an accurate color balanced monitor, and the necessary support software to get great prints. The key to great looking color headshot prints is the skin tone, and getting a home printer to accurately nail that is very difficult. It requires fine tuning EVERYTHING, from your monitor right on down to the printing paper, and then it requires maintaining and continually tweaking settings to ensure perfect prints.
Go to a place like reproductions.com and let them do it. They have great printers, use consistent, high quality paper, and their technicians tweak the heck out of everything. Let them do it, and you use your time to work on monologues, book auditions, and move your career forwards.
- Can I edit and retouch my headshot myself?
- Sigh. No. This is a terrible idea unless you have years of experience doing retouching. Most apps and photo editing tools change faces way way too much. Skin ends up looking like plastic, eyes too big and too bright... yuck. The whole idea of a headshot is to make it look like the best version of you. And when we retouch your image it will look exactly like that, and we are also a lot faster. Again, why waste your time? We'll retouch, and you can work on your career. And if you insist on doing your own retouching (or printing) you can't have our branding anywhere on the photo.