How NOT to Pose for Headshots

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Let’s try an experiment: Pull up your headshot and take a good look at it. What do you see? Because your headshot should show you an image of you looking like yourself on your best day; communicate to casting directors the roles that you can realistically play—and ultimately book you gigs. It’s your most important marketing tool.

So after you shell out some serious dough (because headshots are an important investment and ideally shouldn’t be taken by your cousin Bobby who just convinced his parents to buy him a DSL-R), got your hair and makeup done just right, and picked the right photographer, it’s time to get in front of the camera.

But how the heck do you pose? It’s OK to feel nervous. As an actor, you’re used to using your words to communicate feeling. Let’s examine some general rules for headshot posing, and some things you must avoid.

And while editorial and headshot photographer Marc Cartwright says, “I don't really like poses because I think it kills the natural flow of someone showing their personality,” here are some headshot poses actors just should not strike.

When it comes to posing, Cartwright says don’t:

  • Have your hands by your face.
  • Raise your shoulders.
  • Turn your face too far to either side.
  • Lean forward too far, as you’ll lose the length of the neck. However, if you have an excessively long neck, this could reduce it.
  • Tilt your head up too high so we see up your nose.
  • Tilt your head down too low so we see white under the iris of the eye.

If you’re completely unsure how to pose, Cartwright says, “My general rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t do a certain position while having a conversation with someone, don’t do it in your headshot.” That means no handstands, guys!

READ: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting Headshots

Los Angeles–based photographer Michael Roud says that the best headshots “are ones in which there is a deep authenticity that allows the viewer to see and feel who you are as a person and as an actor.”

Some best posing practices, according to Roud, are to lower your shoulders as much as you can. “Asymmetrical shoulders always work best for the camera,” he explains. “You can either roll one shoulder forward or back.”

You’ll also want to have your head “slightly forward, similar to ‘pecking’ motion,” which helps you look more engaged. 

Poses to avoid are more straightforward, he says. Actors, don’t:

  • Put both hands at your hips at the same height. This can seem cheesy.
  • Cross your arms, which can feel cold and emotionally cut off.
  • Have your head back or your weight on your heels. This will never result in a headshot that seems engaged.

So there you have it. It’s time to get out there and work the camera, then take your brand new headshots and book gigs! You got this. You’re armed with the right tools, the right poses, and your formidable talent.

Just stay away from Blue Steel and Magnum.

Inspired by this post? Check out our Los Angeles audition listings!

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.

Author Headshot
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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Author Headshot
Michael Roud
Michael Roud is a Los Angeles-based photographer and writer-director. His photography has been published worldwide and featured in major museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art. His directorial work has been featured at film festivals around the world and has garnered tens of millions of views on TV and YouTube.
See full bio and articles here!