6 Tips to Ensure Headshots Are Age Appropriate

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I recently spoke with a mother who felt her 12-year-old daughter wasn’t being seen as her proper age. People felt she looked older and therefore she wasn’t getting called in for the right roles. I asked to see her daughter’s headshot. In it, she had a stern look, was dressed in all black, hair in a tight bun, standing against a dull muddy background—not the normal visual that comes to mind when I think of a 12 year old. She looked 15 or older.

A headshot is a marketing tool, and many times a first impression. One of the elements considered when looking at a headshot is age range. Before a headshot session, actors will sometimes tell me they tend to photograph younger or older than they wish to. Here are some important tips to help properly portray your age range in your headshots:

1. Research. Before your headshot session, Google the types of projects for which you’d like to audition. Take a look at how actors on the shows (within your type and age range) are marketing themselves. You can indirectly benefit from these actors who, many times, have a PR team guiding their look to appeal to their (and your) demographic. I’m not saying copy someone; you want to exhibit your own authentic qualities. However, taking a few visual cues from your working competition can prove invaluable. It will also give you wardrobe ideas for your headshot session.

2. Color. Do an online image search for “television drama” and then one for “children’s shows.” You will see the very different color palettes that appear. Color is very important when it comes to age perception. Overall, darker and earthier tones feel mature and grounded. Lighter shades, and brighter, more colorful tones give a youthful and vibrant feeling.

3. Wardrobe. You want to pay attention to the style of your clothing. Is it age appropriate? Would the characters you want to portray wear what you are wearing in your headshot? For example, most college students don’t wear suits or fancy dresses, so keep that in mind if you plan to pitch yourself to projects within that demographic. Dress shirts or blouses with high necklines can come across as more mature. T-shirts or spaghetti-strapped tank tops can come across as more youthful.

4. Hair. A hairstyle can add or take away 10 years. Here is another opportunity to research what is current and appropriate for your face shape. Not every hairstyle looks great on everyone. You want to make sure the amazing haircut you want to get is not limiting your castability. You also want to be sure that your hairstyle isn’t borrowing from an age group that doesn’t belong to you. Certain up-dos or hair that is overly styled can make an actor look older. Hair that is well maintained but effortless can look more youthful.

5. Background. When it comes to color and brightness, the background in your headshot can be just as important as wardrobe. Again, darker tones are going to give a more mature feel. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you tend to photograph older than you wish to, try livelier tones in your background. You don’t want colors that are going to take away from you as the subject; you just want them to pop a little to give the headshot some vibrancy. Just because something has color, doesn’t mean it is vibrant, so you want to work with your photographer to achieve a nice balance between color, saturation, and vibrancy. Depending on skin tone, hair color, and wardrobe, you could also try brighter backgrounds to introduce life into the headshot. On the other hand, if you want to come across as more mature, try some muted or darker tones. Be sure the hair and wardrobe don’t blend into the background.

6. Emotional energy. The vibe and personality you are giving off in your headshot is going to have a huge influence on perception of age. In general, younger people tend to have less life experience to think about. The weight of the world hasn’t rested on their shoulders yet. There is an innocence that is created behind the eyes. Because of this, an actor can be 25 and look 17, but when you place them next to an authentic 17-year-old, the difference becomes obvious. Be mindful of this when taking your headshots and establishing your age range.

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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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