Tips to Look Relaxed in Headshots

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A headshot can look pretty. The photographer may be talented at lighting, but it is not an effective headshot if doesn’t tell a story. More important than anything is how engaging, marketable, and relatable an actor comes across in her headshot. Having a pretty shot of yourself looking like a deer caught in headlights is not going to help you compete in this business (unless you are auditioning for a Christmas show playing one of Santa’s reindeer).

Here are a few tips on how to help bring out your personality during a headshot session.

1. Create a music playlist. Music is personal and certain songs can set a mood or trigger memories that you can emotionally tap into while taking your headshots. Try to avoid music that takes you out of character. For example, if your headshot is supposed to be edgy, you probably want to avoid Disney music playing in the background.

2. Treat your headshot session as an acting exercise. Performances tend to be more interesting when there is an objective or intention behind them. The most important element in a headshot is the eyes. Eyes tend to reveal truth and authenticity about how a person is really feeling in any given situation. Some actors like to work from imagination; others like to pull from personal experience. Whichever you choose, make sure it means something specific to you. If your thoughts are too vague or meaningless, your eyes are going to tell that story.

3. Engage the camera as you would a normal conversation. Don’t lock your stare at a single point on the lens. It looks creepy and like you are daydreaming. Test it out. During your next conversation, pick one eye on the person you are talking to. Direct the entire conversation to that one eye without looking away. Let’s see how quickly the person starts to wonder if you are a serial killer.

Pick two points on the lens glass with which you’ll engage. It will give some life to an otherwise static gaze. If you aren’t feeling the moment, take some time, not looking into the lens, to reset your objective and intention.

4. Don’t pose and wait for the camera to click. Unless the photographer asks you to hold a position, don’t freeze waiting to hear the photographer press the shutter. The purpose of photography is to tell a story. Your headshot is telling a story about your character. If the photographer isn’t clicking, it most likely means they aren’t find that particular moment to be important to the story. Focus on the performance and emotion behind the picture and leave the freezing of the moment to the photographer.

READ: “How NOT to Pose for Headshots”

5. Don’t hold your breath. Be conscious of your breathing. Sometimes when people are waiting for the shutter to click or are holding a pose, they freeze everything… including their breathing. This makes everything look stiff and again stops the story. Focusing on breathing can also help reduce nervous energy during a photo session.

6. Say a sentence every so often that helps you to stay present and in character. For example, if you want to come across as warm and inviting, before a series of shots, think of a person you admire and say, “I’m glad I met you,” or “You can trust me.”

7. Don’t be afraid of movement. Today’s cameras are really fast at capturing action in front of the lens. It’s much easier to see personality when the subject is moving and feeling free to express. Of course you don’t want to jump around and make focusing a nightmare for your photographer, but if you move as if you would during normal conversation you should be fine. As soon as you freeze everything up, you stop the story and the photograph becomes boring.

Most importantly, have fun! You’ve done the research to find the photographer, wardrobe, and beauty team. Now use your headshot session as an opportunity to focus on doing what you love: performing.

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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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