3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting Headshots

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When going into a headshot session, many times actors aren’t thinking about how they can make the production phase of choosing talent easier for a casting director. I find that actors tend to spend a lot of time thinking of how attractive or confident they want to appear in a photo, ignoring all the other layers of who they authentically are. While looking your best can be an aspect of the headshot, we can’t forget that overall, you are selling yourself as…an actor. To go further, you are selling a relatable, marketable representation of your personality and character. Ignoring this is why some people don’t look like their headshots.

To a casting director, meeting the actor who looks nothing like their headshot feels exactly like the time you met that girl or guy on your favorite dating website. You walked into the crowded restaurant, excited and hopeful about your future together. You heard your name called. Your eyes started to twinkle with that giant smile and confidence you practiced with your best friend before the date. You turned around and they look exactly like their picture…10 years agowhen they had a full set of teeth. You felt lied to. Betrayed! You pretended to get an emergency phone call while running from the restaurant, called your best friend, and swore off online dating forever.

While a bad date can be a funny story to tell your friends, a casting director relies on a headshot to organize casting sessions, pitch ideas to their employers, and do their jobs. You must look like your headshot.

A headshot is a marketing tool that represents your first opportunity to greet the casting director. When you are hiring a headshot photographer, you don’t just want someone who needed some extra money and therefore learned how to set up lights and push a button. Even though a photographer’s website may have very pretty pictures, taking the picture is only 25 percent of the process. A great headshot photographer is going to take an interest in creating the most accurate first impression of you. When viewing headshots on a photographer’s website, you should learn something about the actor’s personality within a glance. A gallery of well-lit people who know how to show their teeth or stare like stoic deer in headlights is not what you are looking for.

Like an actor, a casting director, for the most part, is freelance. Like an actor, a casting director has to network and show the right person, at the right time, that they have a talent for what they do. For any given project, hundreds, if not thousands of headshots can be submitted. In this digital age, headshots come in as a page of thumbnails. If within a quick glance, the casting director learns nothing about you from your headshot, it will get mixed in with the hundreds of other submissions that share your physical type. A casting director simply doesn’t have the time, nor do they owe you the time, to figure out who you are as an actor by staring at your emotionally generic, well-lit headshot.

You will find that most working actors have a certain feel or brand. Even as the characters change, there will be some sort of through line or essence that will follow their characters. When booking a headshot session with an actor, I like to give homework to help discover marketability and elicit emotion during a session. I believe an actor should, at the very least, explore the following three questions with their photographer before a headshot session:

1. What types of projects do you want to audition for? Do you see yourself in romantic comedies? One-hour dramas? Sitcoms? Action films? Indie films?

2. What are five to 10 adjectives that describe your headshot? What words or phrases should come to mind when someone sees your headshot? Quirky best friend? Girl next door? Girl next door with a secret? Be specific.

For example, it’s not enough to say, “leading man/woman.” Are you the handsome, macho, leading man like Chris Hemsworth or the charming, quirky type like Paul Rudd? Are you the sultry, femme fatale like Angelina Jolie or the winsome and approachable girlfriend like Rachel McAdams?

3. What two working actors would you compete with or be cast in similar roles as? You want to think about what’s currently being cast. I’m not saying copy anyone. You definitely want to bring your own unique value to the table. However, if no one is buying what you are selling, you might find it a challenge to get into the audition room.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, now is the time to start discovering. You have to ask yourself, because if you don’t know what you have to offer, why should anyone care?

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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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