How to Make Your Actor Headshot Stand Out From the Crowd

The Actor Headshot: A necessary — and sometimes painful — first step towards having a serious acting career. As much as we actors love to be in front of the camera, there’s something about going to a headshot session that makes actors tense up. It’s not easy being under the pressure of having to look like your best self. And if for some reason they don’t come out the way you wanted? Well, you just wasted a ton of money and you may not receive the audition spike you were hoping for.

Photographer: Jeffery Hornstein
Photographer: Jeffery Hornstein

So, what is an actor to do? You can’t just not get headshots. And you definitely can not just ask your friend to snap some pictures of you with his/her fancy camera. You must invest all of your time and energy into getting your headshots right THIS time around. And it’s time to stop downgrading the importance of a wonderful headshot. “If the actor does their homework and ends up with an amazing actor headshot, getting auditions becomes a much easier task,” says NYCastings CEO Aaron Seals, “In fact, it’s probably the easiest way to get more auditions. You can read in many interviews with our top bookers that great photos will land you better jobs.”

Photographer: Jeffrey Hornstein
Photographer: Jeffrey Hornstein

So let’s really look into how you can be one of the top booking actors yourself. One of the best ways to assure you have great photos is to make sure that you have a great photographer for your shoot. An easy place to start your search would be to simply Google “Actor Headshot photographers in New York.” But, from there, the process of narrowing down one gets a whole lot more complicated. “It is worth the investment to spend a little more on a seasoned photographer versus getting a cheap deal that does not deliver or capture you the best way possible,” says casting director Kristen Paladino from Paladino Casting, “If the [photographer’s past] work resonates with you, set up a consultation and make sure you have a connection with the photographer and his work.” In fact, choosing the right headshot photographer for you should be as particular and serious of a process as choosing your agent. Your headshot is your first impression to any casting director, so risking having the wrong ones can end up setting you back more than they push you forward. “A great headshot captures a talent’s authentic self through their eyes and smile,” explained Kristen in regards to the casting process, “Feel like yourself, be confident and express in your eyes an emotional connection.”

And believe-it-or-not, it’s not as easy as it all sounds when you don’t have the right teammate by your side! “Make sure that the photographer you choose you can trust and relate to their style of photography. There’s so many different ones out there now. The photographer’s style should speak to you” said New York headshot photographer Jeffrey Hornstein, “Choose a photographer that ‘gets you.’” Jeffrey also went on to say that the right photographer should be someone, “who communicates well and who has your best interests at heart.” And when it comes to choosing someone who’s also afforable, “You might be able to do a little name dropping of their competitors to get a lower rate as well,” chimes in Aaron Seals.

However, as much as having a great headshot photographer is important, most of the work an actor must do in order to get their best headshots possible is on you. Because only you know who you are. And only you can be responsible for taking your career into your own hands. “You have to see lots of them, thousands would be good, so you can form your own opinions on what a great headshot is and isn’t,” explains Aaron, “The more time you spend thinking about what ‘your type’ is the better you can prepare for your photo-shoot.” He even goes on to suggest doing Google searches for specifics such as “Female actor headshots,” “Male actor headshots,” “Child actor headshots,” and even “Famous actor headshots,” so you can get an idea of what different headshots look like and what stands out to you. In fact, another great place to educate yourself on what kinds of headshots book the roles you want to book, is to check out the portfolio of different talent agency’s clients. If you’re looking to be represented by a specific agency, what better way to target them then to see what catches their attention? One way to find agencies and their websites with their respective clients is by going to the NYCastings Agents Directory.

lauren-toub-headshot-2 (1)
Photographer: Lauren Toub

And no one could agree with the need for research before a shoot more than Brooklyn based headshot photographer Lauren Toub: “50% of the work for your headshots is done before you ever step foot in the studio. Before your session, you should have a clear idea of what your type is, how the industry will see you, and what roles you will likely to be cast in.” In the New York market alone there are a few steady streams of television genres floating around. From procedurals like Law and Order: SVU to political dramas such as Madam Secretary to comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, each show casts different types of characters with totally unique tones.

“For example, yesterday I had a really cool guy named Brent come in for a session. He had three types he wanted to hit in the session, styled them accordingly, and nailed it. His types were ‘mid-twenties handsome boyfriend, messy tech geek, young journalist/political analyst/lawyer,’ explained Lauren, “He had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve during his session so I understood how to shoot him.” Even going on to share that this specific actor, “created a pinterest board that he brought to the shoot of actors he wanted to be like and photos he was drawn to.” This way he knew what he was looking for both realistically and goal-wise. And he wasn’t just going to his closet and grabbing a handful of v-neck tees — like every other actor does.

Photographer: Lauren Toub
Photographer: Lauren Toub

But it’s not just about getting the right wardrobe and nailing down your type. How are you supposed to conduct yourself on set? Here’s one tip: You don’t just stand there and smile. “You do want to smile with your eyes, or look like you have a secret. The eyes should look like they’re really speaking to the camera,” says headshot photographer Jeffrey Hornstein, “the shots should look sincere and not fake. We should get a feel of the person’s soul.” In fact, smiling with your eyes can often be achieved when actors produce a slight squint of their bottom eyelids. A move that photographer Lauren Toub accredited to people like Tyra Banks — who often calls that the “smize” — and fellow headshot photographer Peter Hurley — who has publicly referred to it as the “squinch.” “You can make an expression with your eyes, mouth, eyebrows and sometimes neck. If one of these four things isn’t engaged, you are going to come across as blank,” Lauren explained further. The little thoughts and slight type-specific actions that an actor takes while shooting their headshots is what creates the overall life of the final results. Because, in the end, it’s all about having the shots that show casting directors who you are and what you can bring to the table. And as Jeffrey Hornstein blatantly put it, “Casting directors hate it if you don’t look remotely like your photograph.”

So, what are you waiting for? Find the perfect photographer for you, get a headshot that stands out from the rest of the actors submitting to the same projects as you, and advance your career already. Get ready to find who you are, what types of roles you will play, and which shots book you the most roles, because, “If you have lots of different shots you can send them out and keep track of what photos where getting the calls and what didn’t,” says Aaron Seals. Don’t have your headshot get lost in the crowd. Stand out and get your acting career on the road to success

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