6 Factors to Consider When Retouching Your Headshots

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You just had great headshots taken and you want to retouch them to make them perfect. Retouching can make a great headshot into an amazing headshot, but it can also make a great headshot into a cartoon caricature. Your headshot should not portray your wishful thinking. Yes, it can portray you on a great day, but it must authentically represent you. When casting sees your headshot, they want that person to walk into the audition room.

Anyone that has experienced online dating knows the disappointment and waste of time an overly retouched picture can create. Here are a few things to think about when having your headshots retouched.

1. What types of characters is your headshot targeting Sometimes the character type you are portraying in your headshot will determine the level of retouching you want. If your goal is to get cast in roles that portray trashy criminals or people from economically challenged backgrounds, you might want to see all the flaws to help with the illusion. Of course, you still want to be professional. Your retoucher should work with you on striking a balance between what looks character driven versus what looks like you don’t care. On the other hand if, for example, you are going for the upscale business look, you may want to clean the shot a bit more to give a feeling of impeccability.

2. Blemish removal. Unfortunate things like pimples or shaving accidents can be removed from your headshot pretty easily. You should stay away from removing things that are part of your natural character. Things like excessive under eye circles if you didn’t rest well the night before, a bruise, or subtle skin discoloration are acceptable to be retouched. You want to be careful when you start to remove permanent features on your face, especially if they can’t be covered effortlessly with makeup. Furthermore, your unique features can separate you from the competition. What you may see as a blemish, others may see as appealing.

3. Wrinkles. I give wrinkles their own category because they are the things people tend to overly retouch the most. Skin has texture. Even the smoothest of skin. Skin gets more texture as we age. The first thought that pops up when I see a headshot with overly retouched, plastic-looking skin is, What are they hiding? Something feels off. In overly retouched photos, casting can’t trust what the actor will look like, and therefore won’t waste time calling that actor in to audition. The age of a character is one of the most important factors in selecting actors for a project. Think about your age range and work with your retoucher to make sure your skin looks realistic to your authentic perceived age.

4. Removing distractions. When looking at a headshot, what first catches your eye? The person’s inviting expression, his wrinkled shirt, or that shiny button at the bottom of the photograph. Make sure any elements in the headshot that distract from the face are removed or diminished.

5. Ask for a second opinion. Once you get your retouched headshots from the retoucher, seek a professional opinion if possible. Friends may not always have an accurate view of what will work in the entertainment business. Actors can forget that headshots are not fashion photos. They need to be an accurate depiction of your looks and character. Fashion photography and retouching tends to be about creating an illusion; headshots need to help you understand and recognize the person within them.

6. Communicate with your retoucher. Make a list of the concerns you have with your headshot and discuss them with your retoucher. Also, be open to suggestions about things you may not have considered. Retouch revisions can get expensive if you aren’t clear in the beginning about your expectations.

The casting director is on your side. That is why they called you in to audition for them. They want to fill the role just as much as you want to book it. You want to get called in for projects that are right for you. This doesn’t happen if you are deceiving the casting director with headshots that don’t look like you.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Marc Cartwright
Marc Cartwright is an L.A.–based photographer who has lent his experience and expertise to various aspects of the entertainment industry for over 25 years.
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