Five Tips for Taking the Perfect Headshot

Great Headshots

In an unseasonably warm Autumn in New York, one can only imagine fashionistas peering shrewishly up at the beaming sun, still wearing last summer’s shorts and t-shirts, frustrated in their desires to switch to that smart new fall sweater that’s gathering moths in the closet. At least they can take solace in slurping down Pumpkin Spice Everything despite the heat.

However, for actors there’s one thing that’s always on the agenda for a fresh change, no matter the weather, and that’s your headshot.

As the calling card for your brand it’s vital that your headshot be up to date, lively, and that it reflects what you really look like. There’s nothing worse than having your hopes dashed (and dashing the hopes of the casting team) when you turn up to an audition having shaved your head since your last headshot was taken, or otherwise radically changing your look. And honestly, when they call you in based on a headshot that was taken in a different decade–even if you simply ADORE the way you look in that shot–your chances of booking the job are next to nil.

That’s the basics of course, things we all should know and put into to practice when it comes time to update the headshot. But here are a few advanced tricks and tips to really make your headshot pop and get you to the top of the pile when it comes to auditions.

1. Rehearse

But…how do you rehearse for a headshot session? All that’s going to happen is the photographer is going to take pictures of you–it’s not like you’re going to be performing, right? Incorrect! While it’s true that a good headshot should reflect what you really look like in terms of hair, age, skin tone and etc., a good headshot is so much more than a static, flat representation of you. If that were the case you could just use your mugshot that was taken after The Unpleasantness that occurred at your last after-party. No, a headshot is a chance to show off your acting skills and how they come into play in the unique vessel that is you, even without words or movement. One thing to rehearse is your smile. No matter how silly it sounds, we often don’t really know exactly what we’re showing the world when we smile. And we smile in a variety of different ways, any one of which could make for the perfect headshot, depending on your type. Even if you feel ridiculous, close your bedroom door, and take out your phone or use a mirror, and practice a full smile, a three-quarter smile, and a smile with your mouth closed. You might be surprised at how much or how little you’re giving! Practice hitting each one at exactly the intensity you want to deliver. Some will seem more natural than others–those are the ones to hang onto and get your muscle memory fixed upon.

2. Actor, act!

Something else to practice is communicating silently with your eyes and facial expressions. As performers we usually have a script, complete with words and a fully built-up character to rely on for the parameters of our characterization. To prepare for your headshot session, your assignment is to get various emotions and messages across using only your eyes and facial expressions. Again practicing in the mirror, use your acting skills to convey a variety of emotions and messages by creating actions for yourself: what is your look when you are trying to seduce? Intimidate? Amuse? Confront? Comfort? It’s great practice not only for your upcoming headshot session, but also for your acting in general to take the time to develop beats between these types of actions–even wordlessly–and getting familiar with how it feels when you switch from one to another.

3. Chill out, man

Even for the most seasoned actor, stepping in front of the camera causes changes, in demeanor, attitude, and even physiology. You might not say that this or that actor “gets nervous” per se, but the reality is we know when we’re performing, and we know when  people are watching, and it comes out in our bodies. Thus it is vital that we find ways to mitigate any trace of unnaturalness or stiffness that the unnatural nature of performing can give us. One great way to make sure you’re relaxed and fully natural right off the bat when you start your shoot is to do some light exercise beforehand. Doing some stretching or yoga along with some deep breathing exercises is a great way to loosen yourself up. Even a quick set of push-ups or a few seconds of jogging in place can do the trick. The main thing is to get rid of any residual tension you’re carrying in your diaphragm and gut so the real you can come out from the first time the shutter snaps.

4. Straighten up and fly right

No, this isn’t another admonition about your behavior at that legendary after-party. This time we’re talking about another aspect of physicality that is vital to bringing out your best in a headshot session, and that is posture. Although the trend these days is for actors to be seen in headshots with their body slightly tilted forward, as it brings out your face and is slimming in terms of your body, it’s important that you keep your back straight as you do so. You don’t want to round your shoulders or slump forward as it creates an impression of fear and lack of confidence. Shoulders back, back straight is the posture to create an impression of an actor who knows what he or she is doing.

5. Body talk

One huge mistake many actors make in their eagerness to adore and be adored by the camera is to face it full-on. These shots usually end up looking weird and not super-flattering. Even tiny adjustments in posture to tilt you slightly away from the camera can have a great effect. Another thing to be aware of is your chin: there’s a reason most selfies are taken from above, and that’s because no one wants to look like they have a double chin–even if they actually do! So assuming the camera will usually be at eye level, practice lowering your chin slightly while still maintaining eye contact with the camera. Imagine holding an apple under your chin. The difference even a subtle tilt like this makes can be tremendous.

Most of all, have fun at your shoot! And make sure you get your headshots posted on NYCastings for the widest variety of agents and casting directors to see!

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