6 Ways to Look like a Professional Actor in your Headshot

It's All About Collaboration!

      If you want to be a professional working actor in Los Angeles, you better look like one in your headshot.  Your skill must live in your eyes and in that single frame you must convey the presence of an artist who can craft character and create emotional resonance. But even the most gifted actor can look amateurish with the wrong photograph.  Your headshot is your first impression, so it stands to reason that it should look professional. Here are 6 ways to look like a professional actor in your headshot.


     1. Hire a Professional Photographer. It’s important to remember that your headshot session is a collaboration.  In the very simplest of scenarios, your photoshoot is a dance between you and your photographer, an exchange of energy.  It’s a creative volley, a trust exercise, and a partnership that creates a little piece of art that introduces your unique spirit to the industry.  When choosing a photographer, you’re choosing someone who has the potential to elevate you to a higher level of professionalism. A collaboration is only as good as it’s weakest partner—so choose a photographer that is a better photographer than you are an actor.  Simply put: level up.  

     To extend the dance metaphor, you should choose a photographer that is a strong lead.  Someone who will give you meaningful direction and watch out for obstacles along the way.  They should be able to do the heavy lifting, effortlessly executing the technical aspects of the shoot while guiding you through the emotional waypoints as well. 

     2. Show up as a Professional Artist. Your role is just as important as the photographer’s in creating a set of headshots that make you proud.  You can take turns leading, by contributing your ideas, finding nuance, and being vulnerable enough to let the viewer see beyond your physical attributes.  If you want to be the star, you’re going to need to shine a little.  Be present, and let your presence radiate through the camera. 

     3. Book a Professional Makeup Artist. A professional makeup artist will understand the nuance of color and texture for the lighting of the shot and will be able to apply the makeup flawlessly.  Plus, when a makeup artist is on set, you are free to concentrate on your shoot and not your eye shadow.  The photographer won’t have to split his attention either—he’ll be able to give more energy to bringing out the best in you.

     Remember that you makeup artist is another collaborator in your shoot.  Make sure to discuss your objectives and maybe bring some of your own favorite makeup or examples of the kind of makeup you like.  It’s okay to have an opinion, especially when you are articulate. 

     4. Curate Your Style. Get a great haircut or have your hair styled before the shoot.  Also, consider buying some new clothes or collaborating with your agent or manager or even a stylist for clothing choices.  Enlist the help of those who know the system so you can look polished in your photos—not unlike yourself, but the most professional self-product you have to offer.  Your style should be inconspicuously curated and thought out.  

     5. Consider a Professional Retoucher. Don’t send it to your cousin or the friend from college who “knows a little Photoshop.” Hire someone who can remove distractions without creating new ones, and knows when to stop.  A great post production coordinator can punch up your photo with subtle enhancements that will give your photo another layer of professionalism.  A bad retoucher can destroy a great photo and create a distracting barrier between you and the casting director. 

     6. Add a Video Element. The internet has ushered in new ways to market yourself as an artist.  Why not leverage the investment of your shoot and your collaborators and create some multimedia to accompany your photos. Take advantage of the fact that you’re already in a studio, with a makeup artist, a curated style, and an excellent photographer. It takes only 7 seconds to record a Slate Shot, so if your photographer offers it - go for it! Not only will the Slate Shots look professional, they will appear coordinated with your headshots and make you look like you’re brand is organized, professional, and cohesive.  

     If this kind of self documentation is organic for you, you can also take some simple video of your photoshoot to post on your webpage and social media. Be sure to check with your photographer, but most will allow or even help create a quick video behind-the-scenes clip, especially if you offer to tag them in the video.*

     Again, you’re only as good as your weakest collaborator, so as you assemble your team, make sure everyone is at the top of their game. Casting directors look at your headshot and immediately size you up, imagining you in their production and judging if you can look the part and handle the complexities of the role.  If your headshot already looks like a full scale production, it’s easier to imagine your face in that multi-million dollar project.   

     You may have heard the expression “dress for the job you want.” The same goes for your headshot. You should look like someone who is already working; an established actor.  Established actors collaborate with established artists. Anything less is inertia at best.

*Slate Shot details: https://www.breakdownservices.com/index.cfm/main/slateshot