HEADSHOTS: The Basics

Top 10 Truths About Headshots, or…  
MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
by Hester Schell

Nothing will slow your career down quicker than a bad headshot, except not having one at all.  Along with your audition skills, the headshot is your single most important marketing tool.  There are basic “do’s and don’ts ” about headshots. Early career actors, we hope you find this information helpful.
Before you spend any money on photographers, get some advice. There are several headshot photographers in the Bay Area who really know what they are doing and there are several who don’t.

Good actor headshots are not difficult to shoot well if the photographer knows the basics. An excellent “fine art” or “landscape” photographer will not be your best choice. Find a photographer who knows the specifics of this particular kind of photography. Ask around.  If you are totally “green” to the industry, spend the money for an hour with a career consultant. It will save you time and money in the long run. Because this is a business and you are the product, there is one motto that really applies: “Spend some to make some.”

copy-castingrevealed_amed_ad_jul12.jpgMy students ask frequently whether to do a headshot or a three quarter body shot. The simple answer in: BOTH. The three quarter shot may be a passing fad, but only time will tell. At any rate, the standard 8” x 10” headshot is still the reigning calling card.

Everyone needs to go color. While Black and White was the industry standard, the advent of low cost color printers makes B/W obsolete.  Color 8” x 10” headshots are the gold standard. The 3/4 body shot can be preferable for commercials and modeling. If you are serious about modeling and have the requisite measurements, you will need a composite or “zed” card, which shows three or four “looks” in various clothing and poses.

For film acting, you need a fabulous headshot, and we really mean fabulous. A full package includes one theatrical, one commercial, and one ¾ body shot, all professionally done. We asked around and here are the top ten criteria most agents, directors and casting directors can agree on:

1. Be smart. Non-negotiable: put your name on the front with a current resume attached to the back that includes an accurate telephone number of your agent, or your mobile if you don’t have an agent. Never list your home address. It is dangerous. There are simply too many “wierdos” out there.
sepiafilmstripwave2. Keep it simple. It must look just like you, not look like you just in “certain light” or in “certain make-up or clothes.”

3. Keep it sharp and in focus. Be sure your selected shots are IN FOCUS and have good lighting!! You are the subject of the photograph, not the lighting. Learn enough about photography so you can tell when eyeballs are really in focus. Most professional headshot photographers will show you examples of their work. Shop around!
4. Crop it correctly. A head shot is a headshot. It is not a bust shot, chest and shoulder shot or a 3/4 body shot. It is not a profile or partial profile Eyes should be center.
5. Let us see YOU, your type. Leave out distracting jewelry. Avoid busy clothing patterns. Choose a clean, flattering neckline.  What is your dominant casting type? Dress accordingly. In other words, do you play “dads” a lot, or businessmen?  Are you a romantic young lead or a character comedienne?
6. Avoid distracting backgrounds. Don’t be upstaged by the background. It is just that:  background.
7. Get a professional haircut. A good haircut is a good hair cut is a good hair cut. Your headshot has to last awhile, unless you can afford a new one each time the popular styles change.
8. Commercial Shot – show your teeth. Relax and smile:  In California, it is assumed you have bad teeth if you are smiling with a closed mouth.
9. Avoid heavy make-up. Use just enough to get rid of any shine. A bad make-up artist can distort the natural shape and shadows of your face. Wear what you normally wear to enhance your best features. If you normally don’t wear a lot, don’t over do it in your headshot.
10. Shop around for a reasonable fee. You don’t need to pay over $ 400.00  for a session, which normally includes the photographer’s proof print which you will use for your master.

Arrive at your photo session on time or early with several neckline and wardrobe choices.  Choose clothing you like, that makes you feel good. Be sure to bring your positive attitude.   Pay attention to skin tone and your color choices. Accent your eye color and skin tone. If you don’t look good in a certain color, don’t wear it.

Expect to be in the studio for a few hours. Avoid scheduling yourself to be somewhere right afterward, as this will make you anxious if things go later than expected. And sessions usually do.  Relax and have a good time. If you tend to get nervous, avoid coffee and other stimulants within 24 hours of your appointment.

Expect the photographer to have a proof sheet or a contact sheet ready for you within a reasonable amount of time: about three or four days.Then, study it. Show it to your teacher, your coach, your agent, your friends in the business, anyone whose opinion you trust.

Once you have made your decisions, process your photographer’s print. This is your master headshot. This is what you send to the photo reproduction houses for quantity printing. The more you order, the cheaper it gets. Don’t forget to order a hundred or so postcard sized as these make great follow up contact and thank you cards.  Make your typeface/font and layout selection when you process your quantity print order.  This process usually takes a week or so. There are several photo-reproduction companies with display ads in Backstage West. Or try the yellow pages. Ask your friends where they processed their orders. You will probably want to replace your headshot every few years, especially if you are still growing. The older you get the longer you can go between sessions.

Now, about your resume: find out how to do it right. There are several excellent guides for resume writing in the self-help audition books available in the bookstores. This resume is a lot different than what you would write for an office job. Attach your one page resume to the back of your headshot facing out. Do the flip test: face on one side, resume on the other. Don’t make people lift up the headshot to find your resume. Keep the layout simple and easy to read.Keep it on a computer disk so you can keep it current. Your name should appear at the top, in larger letters.  Avoid flamboyant fonts, as they get distracting.

Above all, never lie on your resume and do not pad the truth. Do not upgrade your role to look better on paper. Casting directors and agents remember who played what and how large the role was. In a business where it is all “who you know”, it is crazy to risk getting caught in lie.wStefan

Under training, list significant teachers you have studied with. List the directors of your various projects. (That journal will come in handy a few years from now.) Absolutely list all the “special skills” you honestly have. If you have unbelievably cute dimples, they’ll be there in the photo. If you can jump out of an airplane with a skateboard on your feet, we might find you in the next air born soda commercial. One actress who listed her “blood-curdling scream” got a great start in horror films. If you have special vocal talents If you work with horses, if you swallow fire, if you are fluent in a foreign language, if you own an exceptional automobile, if your dog can catch a frisbee, if your parrot talks, if you are a twin, anything than anyone would consider a novelty…anything that helps you stand out in a crowd.

Do it well. Do it right. Don’t waste your money. A bad headshot says you’re not prepared for professional work. A bad headshot says you don’t know the basics. A good headshot says it all:  you know this is a business.  You know how to market yourself. We know you take it seriously and won’t waste time.  Above all, it says “hire me! I’m a great person and great to work with.” Remember the headshot opens the door. Be prepared to make an entrance.

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