There are many components to a powerful headshot—lighting, framing, styling, and environment. However, what separates a good portrait from an exceptional one? Maybe you’ve heard it’s all in the eyes, but you’re not quite sure what “it” is. Intention! Intention is the X-factor that elevates a static boring documentation of your bone structure to a dynamic marketing tool capable of capturing the imagination of your future employer. Intention sparks intrigue as the viewer tries to decipher what you wanted in the moment the photo was taken. Intention helps tell a story that leaves the viewer positively unsatisfied—wanting resolution and anticipating closure. Sound dramatic? That’s the point! Your photo needs some drama!
I want to be clear: drama is not melodrama. True drama is an urgency, presence, and anticipation. It’s a tickle, an interest, but never looks desperate; it looks inspired. So how do you imbue your headshot with that fair spark of inspiration? Preparation! Preparation is essential if you want the most out of your photoshoot. When preparing, it’s important to not only consider what you're going to look like in your photos, but how your going to act in your photos as well (you are an actor after all). Take some time before picture day for preparation, so you can rock an inner monologue that will help articulate your casting.
Talk to your agents. Get a clear sense of how they are submitting you. What types of roles do they see you playing? What television shows or types of films do they see you booking? How would they pitch you to a casting director?
Now spend some time imagining how you would look on those shows—not just what you would wear, but who you would be. Think about the types of shows you’re right for and then the type of roles you would be cast in. Could you be a parent on a sitcom? Or a high-powered lawyer on a serialized drama? A detective on a procedural?
Choose a photographer who knows how to direct actors. Photographers wear many hats. We are stylists, lighting techs, therapists, but the most important quality of your headshot photographer is his ability to direct you through a micro-scene—to get you acting just long enough to snap proof that you're cast-able.
Now the fun part: Collaboration! Collaborate with your photographer. Discuss your submission goals. Your photographer should be able to direct you with specific objectives for the types of roles you’ll be playing. And if he isn’t directing you, ask him to. You’ll both have a better shoot.
Here are some examples: If you’re the parent in a sitcom, your objective might be to comfort and reassure, or you could be playfully reprimanding, or wistfully complacent. If you’re a detective on a procedural, maybe your demanding and interrogating, maybe you're stoic and distrusting, or righteous and proud.
As you're playing real objectives, real emotions are seen and felt. But to be clear, this isn’t some over-the-top pantomime. These are subtle, deliberate, nuanced and intimate beats, created in an authentic moment and documented for proof of concept.
When you’re looking down the barrel of the lens, your photographer isn’t just your director, he’s also your scene partner. Play your objectives to him—what do you want from him in your tiny little micro-scene? What can you do to further your goal and get what you want? Once you have that spark in your mind, the viewers will see the intention in your eyes. Remember the whole “window to your soul” analogy?
All great photos tell a story—including your headshots. Your goal is to walk away from your headshot session with a handful of really great photos that specifically target the kinds of roles you're right for. Help the casting director by casting yourself in a grounded and realistic, non-patronizing photo that helps the casting director believe you as a viable participant in the world they are creating.
Now, put your new photos online, talk with your agent, and see what bites you get!