Monday, February 17, 2014

The All Important, Must Have, Ever Evolving Headshot

The All Important, Must Have, Ever Evolving Headshot


I am often asked:

”… how should my headshot look in order to really be competitive in this market?”

This is a great question, and one that strikes at the core:

Being Competitive.

You have to first ask yourself the following question:

“What is the purpose of my headshot?”

Well, from my point of view having done these for a good number of years for both professional talent and new emerging talent, it is to “sell” you to a client: film, television, and commercial, corporate – whoever can utilize your services.

You are in essence a “product” not very different from any other product that is offered to any market on any given day. You have a service that you offer and your headshot is the visual element used to convey that message. First impressions rule the day…remember that.

So your picture needs to tell a story, convey a feeling, and/or show an emotion that will capture the attention of the intended client. A “nice image” of you is just that: a nice image of you; something your mom would have on her nightstand. But what does it say about your ability to project a character, an emotion, a feeling or simply the energy that your client needs to see to know that you can do their performance or product justice?

Well,” you ask, “wouldn’t I need several photos to cover the range that I have?”

And the simple answer is: Yes.

The trick is to know which one to present to the casting director or director. Find out as much as you can about the part you are auditioning for and use an image that best matches the needs of the project. Do not expect a “nice guy look” to work where they are looking for a “heavy”. Show the client what he/she is looking for … make their choice simple and easy for them. If they see a “heavy” and they are casting for a “heavy”… it’s pretty much a slam-dunk. If you present a “nice guy look” for the “heavy” role - and they have to imagine or guess if you can pull off the heavy - not so easy of a sale to close.

Bottom line: you should have different looks for different assignments. Does this mean multiple photo sessions? No, not if you plan smart.  Schedule one session that allows for different looks to be captured.

“How many looks should I start with?”  This all depends on what sector of the business you are trying to get involved with. For most, two shots can get you in the game. 

The first being a commercial headshot. This shot is the one used by your agent to get you in the door for most commercial shoots. It is the photo that has a high energy feel to it. Something that Coca Cola would use to promote their product. Think warm, friendly and trustworthy. Have a smile and keep it light and easy. Be the “every person” in this image.  The feel of the lighting is a bit on the brighter side and not so dramatic.

The second being a theatrical headshot. This is the photo used by your agent to get you booked for film/television/theatre productions. It is the shot used to show a character, a look, or a personality. Often a bit more serious in tone and feel. Lighting can be more stylized to add to the feeling/emotion of the image you are trying to project. Here you have wider latitude in design. Work with your photographer to achieve the end result you are working towards.


The style of the shot various depending on a few factors. The market you are competing in for one – local vs national. What is trendy in Atlanta, might not be what is “industry standard” in L.A. and vice versa. I’ve heard of a few talent that were told by their agent to “re-shoot” their headshot as “it is not the style of shot we show at this agency”. It might be that the photographer was more interested in showing off his/her talent than showing off his client’s talent. Make sure your photographer understands what you need and the market you are appealing to. Otherwise you were a model for their portfolio …and you paid them to do what exactly? Make sure the photographer is familiar with what is acceptable and what is not – and has some solid experience in this arena. More and more we are seeing people with a nice camera putting themselves out there as a “professional photographer”. A nice camera doesn’t make them a professional… check them out. Look at their website, check them out on Google … and if they are who they say they are, they will have the credentials and you’ll find evidence of it in your search. And remember, you are paying the shooter to make images for you – not for their book.

Commercial shots are a bit tighter in the composition – it is all about the face. Again keep it light and breezy. Theatrical shots are a bit looser in composition and can be vertical or horizontal to capture the feel of a movie still image. You should instruct the photographer to shoot both while you are in front of the camera. Here you can get a bit more dramatic and edgy in tone and feel.

“How often do I need to re-do my headshots?”

Well some basic rules would be: if you have made a major hair change –long to short or short to long, if you have added or lost ten pounds or more, or if you have had your face “re-worked”. You really need to look like your photo when you walk in the agency or the casting call. It is never good to have the agent or director say “Gee, you don’t look at all like your picture” … that is a kiss of death.

Don’t have your images overly retouched. They will look retouched and are often an indication you have something you are trying to hide. Trust me, they know if a shot has been heavily edited. And they will feel like you are doing the “old bait and switch” and “what you see is not what you are getting.”

Another point to consider is this: the more someone sees the same photo the less impact it will have on them. Your audience will tune out after a while. Why do you think companies produce so many different ads for the same products and services if only one ad was needed? How many commercials have been created with the little green gecko telling you about ways to save 15% on car insurance? A lot more than one. And why? … Because they are trying to reach as many potential customers as they can and they know that people react to different ads in different ways. Same with your headshot – some agencies and clients will respond in a positive manner to certain headshots and negatively to others.   The advertising agencies know that they have to change up the presentation to get noticed again. And this, I feel, applies to your headshots and promotional material as well. Create a new interest in yourself. Approach the market from a slightly different angle this time. Show them there is more to you than what they have seen before.

I go back to what I said in a previous post:
If you want to be viewed and respected as a professional … then present yourself as a professional worthy of respect.

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