A commercial headshot is a photograph of an actor that is geared toward commercials. As with other kinds of acting, a headshot is an important part of becoming a successful commercial actor, but the approach is a little different. Here are some things I think should be considered when taking effective commercial headshots.
4 Tips for Commercial Headshots
1. Know your demographic
Commercials are a marketing tool that tends to target specific groups of consumers most likely to want a product or service. This target audience may be dictated by age, gender, income, location, interests, or a myriad of other factors. When thinking about your commercial headshot, start by considering which of these target audiences your look might appeal to. Do you look like the young broke college student who might drive an economy car or the upscale business owner who might drive a luxury vehicle? Of course, the same person could perform both types, but I’d suggest getting two different shots to reflect these two very different consumer targets. In this case, if a casting director is looking for a broke college student, you don’t want to give them a headshot of you looking upscale in corporate attire.
2. Think about personality and what sets yours apart from others
You don’t want your headshot to look like you’re just showing the world that you have teeth. A lot of people in this business have a great smile. I want to feel like I’ve stumbled upon a moment and the person in the headshot is laughing about something or engaging with someone. Furthermore, I want to learn something about their personality. Does the person look adventurous and impulsive or are they reserved, thoughtful, and grounded? Do I trust this person? When taking photos, I always like to have conversations with people about things that spark their passion and then take the photos while they are experiencing their authentic emotions.
3. Consider your wardrobe
Always consult with your representatives, if possible, as different agents and managers have their ideas on what they like. I find colors that are too pastel or powdery tend to wash out lighter complexions and may create too much contrast for darker complexions. I do like jewel tones and colors that pop. Blacks or grays tend to take away from the warmth and energy of a shot. If you only have dark clothing, make sure your background is colorful or brighter. You want to look at what colors go well with your skin tone. Have a conversation with your photographer about how colors relate to their lighting style and background choices.
4. Take care with backgrounds and lighting
Backgrounds and lighting should be bright and non-distracting. I like to consider the character of the subject I’m photographing when deciding on whether to use colorful backgrounds or something more neutral and bright. For example, if a person’s personality is more reserved and calm, a bright electric color may contradict and overshadow the person, or worse, make the subject seem a bit boring amongst all the pop in color. In this instance, I’d look for a tone that is a little more grounded but still bright and cheerful. It’s best that commercial headshot lighting not be moody or have heavy shadows.
Sitcom and comedy headshots
I see sitcom and comedic headshots as a middle ground between commercial and theatrical. A lot of the ideas for commercial headshots can be applied to sitcom and comedic headshots. There are instances when they’re interchangeable. The main difference? The goal of commercial headshots is to safely appeal to an audience with the intention of selling products, while comedic or sitcom headshots are more about exploring a character while keeping in mind the types of shows and films you’d like to get cast in. Characters don’t have to look trustworthy in a sitcom or comedy show. For example, a sleazy car salesman might be hilarious in a comedic TV show, but you probably wouldn’t want to shop at a car dealer that you felt actually hired sleazy salespeople. Car companies know this and most likely wouldn’t hire the sleazy-looking actor for their commercials, unless it was for satire.
Your comedic headshot should hint at the type of humor you do. Are you the sarcastic, dry character or the quirky slapstick type? I don’t suggest a cartoony, over-the-top approach unless your act is really over-the-top. Subtlety can be very effective and read as more authentic, even in comedy.
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