An LA Headshot Coach on the 5 Worst Headshot Mistakes Actors Make

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It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, the level of your acting abilities, how long you have been doing it, or your age.... Actors tend to make the same five mistakes over and over when it comes to headshots. Let’s identify them and learn how to avoid them in the future!

1. Not knowing who you are or what you are selling. As an actor, you’re out there selling a product, yourself, and headshots are your No. 1 marketing tool. If you don’t know specifically who you are in the eyes of the industry (your type and marketability) and what you have to offer that other actors do not (brand), how can you translate that information into successful headshots? There are far too many actors competing in every category for a generic or pretty picture to grab the attention of any casting director, agent, manager, or director.

2. Choosing the wrong photographer. Anyone can buy a camera, set up a website, and call themselves a photographer, but that doesn’t make them a good headshot photographer. Charging huge sums of money doesn’t guarantee a great shot. Some photographers are more concerned with their own egos and creating their own stylized shots. Those shots only get the photographers more work, not the actor. Also, not every photographer works well with every actor. Just because your friend in class got great shots from one guy, doesn’t mean you will. The photographer must be the perfect fit with the actor, but remember, you must know exactly what you need and want from your headshots before you even meet your first photographer.

3. Not putting in the necessary work. If you think getting your clothes together, having your hair cut, and showing up are all you have to do, then don’t question why your shots look so generic. Actors put more work into their scene study class then they do into their single most important marketing tool. The entire headshot process should be given as much weight as an audition or acting job. Headshots need to target the roles that you can book, read your specific type and branding, look exactly like you on a good day, and show confidence and a true connection with the camera. This takes a lot of prep work, all of which must be done way before the actor shows up to the photographer’s studio!

4. Choosing your own headshots. You all know we only pick pictures of ourselves that make us look great. Unfortunately, those are usually not the best shots. With casting directors receiving up to 3,000 submissions each role, a headshot needs to be so much more than an actor who looks great. There has to be that spark—that something intriguing that makes an agent or casting director stop and take note. Something so unique yet specific that they want to know more about that actor. Picking the right picture is extremely important. You must seek help…and I don’t mean from your mother, husband, girlfriend, or even your best friend. They’ve all been programmed to tell us that everything we do is wonderful. You need an objective eye who understands the business.

5. Over-processing the final picks. Step away from the Photoshop! Yes, there are certain things that need to be airbrushed like stray hairs, a zit, or something odd in the background, but that’s about it. I once coached a very talented, disheveled, heavyset comic. He was right on point with knowing his type, being specific about his brand, and was extremely talented, but just wasn’t getting out there. I had him bring his old shots to our first meeting and almost fell out of my chair. The picture looked like a porcelain doll. Everything unique and memorable about this cute, chubby, scruffy funnyman had been blended. Our flaws are differences that set us apart from others. They make us who we are. Learn to embrace them, to embrace you. Every line tells a story, every freckle a secret. Your acting is unique and different from all those other actors out there, as is your face. Don’t make it generic and forgettable.

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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.

Author Headshot
Tom Burke
Tom Burke is an image consultant, headshot coach, and acting teacher. After transitioning from a successful print model to an accomplished on-camera actor to a proficient on-set acting coach, Burke focused his wealth of knowledge and keen eye to become one of L.A.’s premier image consultants and headshot coaches, and creator of the Castable Actor, a series of workshops, seminars, and advice designed to help actors open doors to a successful career.
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