The Actor's Guide to Headshots

Are you looking to get acting headshots done, but don't know where to start? Here's all you need to know about getting acting headshots done the right way.

Table of Contents

  1. What is an Acting Headshot

  2. How much do Acting Headshots cost

  3. Can I take my own Acting Headshots

  4. What is a Type, and how do I find mine

  5. What should an Actor Headshot look like

  6. What to wear for Acting Headshots

  7. How to Pose for Acting Headshots

  8. Acting Headshot Examples

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What is an Acting Headshot?

Acting headshots are the most important marketing material in an actor's toolkit. They are used by casting directors so they can determine if you look the part for the roles they have available. Without acting headshots, you'll be hard-pressed to actually get called for an audition. Acting headshots are typically printed in an 8x10" format and captured in color.

​What Do Actor Headshots Cost?

The typical going fare for an acting headshot is going to range from $150 to $600, but some photographers charge even more. The prices are typically dependent on the knowledge and experience of the photographer and the amount of looks you want captured during the session. Some particularly popular photographers will charge even higher amounts.

You shouldn't spend less than around $150 on a quality acting headshot because beneath that threshold you're going to be booking with photographers working for such a low rate will likely lack the experience or know-how to take a good headshot of you.

Can I take my own Acting Headshots?

Unless you are also a photographer and have access to your own lens and camera, it's generally not advised that you try to take your own acting headshots. That's because professional headshot photographers often have dedicated lighting for these types of photos, and a knowledge of posing and guiding clients into capturing flattering, confident headshots. In any case, you should always prepare accordingly for a headshot session.

What is a Type, and how do I find mine?

A type can be explained as "what you look like to other people". Everyone has a type. If you're totally ripped and have a defined jawline, you'd probably be more likely to be cast for a role as a police officer or a soldier than a high school nerd or a doctor. In the acting industry, stereotyping is not only acceptable, but in fact relied on to sell believable characters to audiences. You should absolutely know the types you can cast for before your headshot session. If you're not sure, ask some people close to you what they think.

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​What Should an Actor Headshot Look Like?

A quality acting headshot will show you clearly, have a good expression, and look like you spent a little bit of money on it. Furthermore, you should be showing off the type of character you play.

You'll want to avoid using low budget, unprofessional quality headshots because casting directors will see this as a reflection of your dedication and commitment to your acting career.

Let's go a little deeper on what an actor headshot should look like:

Smiling or Serious: Ideally, you'll want to have one of each. In the acting industry, smiling photos are called "Commercial shots" and they will be used for getting friendly or comedic roles, as well as roles in commercials. If you're insecure about your teeth or wear braces, it's best to smile anyway. Yellow or crooked teeth can be corrected in post-production, and casting directors will want to know if you wear braces.

Conversely, a more serious look is known as a "Theatrical shot" (but also sometimes referred to as a 'Film Shot' or 'Legit Shot'). This look should highlight your ability to appear confident or aloof, and can be used when applying to more serious roles or films and TV shows.

Indoor or Outdoor: Generally, this won't matter much to casting directors, so it's entirely your preference. Indoor headshots are usually done in a studio with a flat, solid-colored background (usually with neutral colors). Outdoor headshots can really be anywhere, but the background should not be a distraction and remain relatively blurred and featureless.

Specific or Generalized: Many actors mistakenly believe that a generalized headshot would be the best choice, but in reality you'll have a much better chance of booking a role if you shoot a few specific type headshots. The acting industry is very competitive, and you will be competing with other actors that look the type for the role they are trying to get. So elevate yourself by focusing on a few specific looks that fit the type you're trying to be cast as and submit those to the most relevant audition.

Shoulders up or Waist Up: When it comes to acting headshots, a chest-and-up type headshot is preferred. That said, a waist-up headshot is acceptable too in most cases. Generally, tighter shots (chest and up) tend to perform better as casting directors look at many headshots at once and they are very small, so tighter crops will show off your face more than a wider crop would, increasing the odds of them clicking on yours and reading the rest of your submission.

Horizontal or Vertical: These days, acting headshots are captured almost exclusively in vertical format. While you can shoot in horizontal, most casting websites have a preference for vertical shots.

Natural or Studio Lighting: This one is up to you. Most casting directors don't care as long as you're lit well and they can see your features clearly.

Hand Placement: Keep your hands out of the shot. They typically should not be featured in an acting headshot. The same goes for jewelry and accessories, with glasses being the only exception.

Cropping and Dimensions: Acting headshots are exclusively printed in 8x10 format. You can submit this format to casting websites as digital files as well. It's also common to leave little negative space above the head or even crop in to the tip of your hair, so if your photographer does this, it's normal.

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What to wear for acting headshots?

Generally, it's recommended that you bring outfits that fit the roles you are auditioning for. Most actors and actresses have a few types that they cast for, so bring attire that matches the type. For example, someone who casts as a biker might want to bring a leather jacket for their acting headshot session.

It's not uncommon to bring multiple outfits to an acting headshot session. Like with most headshots sessions, it's a good idea to wear solid colors and avoid logos and patterns that can be distracting. You won't need to worry about pants or shoes since they won't in the frame unless you need a full body shot as well. If you need some inspiration, check out my guide on what to wear for headshots.

How to Pose for Acting Headshots

One thing I always tell my subjects is to think of the emotion and mood they want to convey to their viewer during their headshot photo session. It's that mindset that's key in taking a quality, eye-catching headshot photo. In other genres of photography, such as portraits, we can partially infer mood and emotion from the setting, the posing, and other ambience in the scene. But with a headshot, it's really just you. Headshots lack the type of storytelling context that other photography genres innately have, so the viewer can only infer emotion and mood from your eyes, lips, and other subtle facial expressions. This is what makes headshot images such powerful tools for showcasing your brand.

When you are getting acting headshots done, you want to make sure you get a good commercial shot and a good theatrical shot.

Acting Headshot Examples

The following are examples of some commercial shots and theatrical shots. Remember to practice these in the mirror before your session. After getting these shots down, you can work on getting additional expressions that will demonstrate your range as an actor.

Commercial Shot Examples