9 Posing Rules for Headshots

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Headshot sessions can be expensive and, for some actors, a source of stress. It’s important that you go into your session prepared so you come out with as many viable proofs as possible. You want options. Lucky for you, there are specific things that you can do on the day that will guarantee success.

Aside from hiring a wardrobe stylist and solid hair and makeup professionals—and, of course, a top-notch photographer—you will want to prepare yourself for the actual posing that happens during a headshot session. Some photographers are hands-on when it comes to positioning actors, but others are less so. It’s in your best interest to be prepared—to practice different positions and poses at home so that you can have a relaxed and successful session.

Here are nine tips on how to pose for your headshots:

1. Rehearse your facial expressions.
Chances are that you will be doing a variety of facial expressions on the day of the shoot. You want to rehearse a variety of smiles: a big smile, three-quarter smile, half-smile, closed-mouth smile. Perhaps this sounds a bit tedious, but upon practicing in the mirror or using your phone camera, you will see what types of smiles look most natural for you. Use your acting skills to make those smiles authentic. Be on the lookout for too much squinting around the eyes, too much wrinkling of the nose and forehead, etc.

You will also want to rehearse serious, more “dramatic” facial expressions. Again, use your acting skills!

2. Communicate with your eyes.
Regardless of your facial expression, always communicate with your eyes. Your eyes are a window to your personality and must be active and engaging in every single photo.

3. Relax and breathe.
On the day, you will want to feel relaxed in your body posture. Perhaps do some light stretching or yoga in the morning to get prepared. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and that you are breathing from your diaphragm to avoid any stiffness. Always have good posture, and speaking of...

4. Pay attention to posture.  
Even if you are tilting forward slightly in a shot—which you often will be—keep your back straight.  Good posture indicates confidence.

Everything You Need to Know About Headshots

5. Avoid “straight to camera” body position.
Think angles. Think relaxed. Shift your weight to one foot or the other. The shifting can and should be very subtle and slight, but you never want to be 100 percent facing the camera, straight on.

6. Practice chin awareness.
Sometimes the camera will be right at eye level, making it possible for it to appear as though you have a double chin (even if you do not). I always teach my acting students the “orange” technique: Throughout the shoot, even when you are asked to lower your chin, pretend there is a large orange underneath your chin. You always want a space between your chin and your neck. You may feel like a turtle for half of your shoot but once your photos come out, you won’t be able to tell that you were holding the pose. Just stay as relaxed as possible, regardless of how unnatural a position may feel.

7. Relax your hands and arms.
Your hands (and forearms most likely) won’t appear in many of your headshots, but it is nonetheless important that they remain relaxed. Let them drop naturally. If one part of your body is tense or awkward, it will affect the rest of your body and posture.

8. Practice hand placement.
In case your hands or arms will be showing in a few headshots or some three-quarter shots, be sure that you are placing your hands appropriately. Never make fists with your hands, even if they are on your waist. If your hands are above your waist, on your waist, or on your upper hips, your fingers should be directed upwards, and your hands should break at the wrists. If your hands are below your waist, your fingers should be directed downwards. When placing your hands in your pockets, have at least one finger on each hand or your thumbs showing.

9. Use your acting skills, and have fun!
Get into character. Play. Express through your eyes. Act as if the camera is your best friend, your true love, or your enemy (depending on the look or expression you are going for). And most of all, have fun!

*This post was originally published on April 5, 2015. It has since been updated.

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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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Mae Ross
Mae Ross is the Owner/ Director of L.A.’s highly acclaimed actor training center, 3-2-1 Acting Studios. Her leadership has garnered 3-2-1 consistent recognition as Hollywood's premier on-camera acting school for kids, teens, and adults. She has launched hundreds of successful acting careers with her expert on-camera coaching and professional guidance.
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