How to Find the Right Headshot Photographer

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Picking the right headshot photographer can be a daunting task. I’ve already discussed four keys for picking a headshot photographer in a previous column, but in order to make sure that you get the most out of your next headshot session, here are four more keys to help actors find the right headshot photographer.

Understanding the business and current trends
It surprises me that many photographers are not aware of how the industry actually works or are not up on the current standards and trends. Good photographers get out there and talk with casting directors and agents.

Because CDs are getting up to 3,000 submissions per role and looking at the submissions as thumbnails, it's important that the actor be the main focus. You might think that's a given, but looking at headshots every day, I’m amazed that some photographers are still shooting in front of brick walls, bushes and trees, or using incredibly busy backgrounds. Right now, most casting directors and agents are looking for clean crisp backgrounds (white/gray/monochromatic) allowing the actor to be the focus while highlighting their specific type and branding. Industry trends and standards are constantly changing—make sure that you, your headshots, and your photographer change with them.

Photographers know lighting and angles, but they don't know you
You've probably only spoken to your photographer briefly over the phone or during your initial meeting. Sure, they can see your type and (hopefully) know the roles that you should be targeting, but they don't know what makes you special within your type/category. Many photographers feel they “know better” or that they know how to bring out your individuality, but end up saying the exact same things to every actor. This is why so many headshots look exactly the same, with exactly the same expressions. The right photographer is open to hearing your thoughts and your opinions, and will happily work with you to bring out those aspects that separate you from the other actors in your category.

Does gender matter?
The gender of the photographer does not make them a good or bad photographer, but it can make for good or bad pictures. It's basically a personal preference. When I was younger, part of my branding and marketability had to do with having a sexual vibe. I felt more comfortable shooting those shots with a female photographer. What’s most important is that the actor feel comfortable, relaxed, and open enough to expose certain aspects of their personality and branding in front of a photographer. Whether that is a male or female photographer is up to you.

Verify referrals
Just because one photographer worked well for someone in your class or at work does not mean that he will be great for you. Referrals are the best place to start, but you have to ask the right questions: Did you like working with this photographer? Would you shoot with them again? Are the pictures getting you called in, or, more importantly, getting you booked? How does the photographer work with actors? Are they up on all industry needs and trends? Is the photographer willing to meet and talk beforehand? Are they open to the actor’s input? Agents and managers are also a great reference since they all have a referral lists. Besides asking the previous questions, you also need to ask them when they last updated their list, and why they are referring these particular photographers.

Headshots are an actor's No. 1 marketing tool. Don’t jump into it blindly. Get out there and do the work, ask questions, and use my 8 Keys to Finding the Right Photographer to make sure that the end results are headshots that work!

Use your new headshots to book one of our film auditions! And get ahead of the game by watching casting director Benton Whitley offering more advice in the video below.

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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Tom Burke
Tom Burke is an image consultant, headshot coach, and acting teacher. After transitioning from a successful print model to an accomplished on-camera actor to a proficient on-set acting coach, Burke focused his wealth of knowledge and keen eye to become one of L.A.’s premier image consultants and headshot coaches, and creator of the Castable Actor, a series of workshops, seminars, and advice designed to help actors open doors to a successful career.
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