WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HEADSHOTS

When searching for headshot photographers, remember it is the headshot that is the most important thing. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers to help you find the right photographer and detail how to get the best out of your headshot session.

- Philip Duguid-McQuillan

  • What is a good headshot?
    • Professional headshots are one of the most important investments for actors, performers and some other professions. A good head shot is critical to get you through that first stage of any audition, casting or interview process. Your headshot is your calling card, a key marketing tool and must create a great first impression. Here are some top tips to help you find a photographer that is right for you and how to get the best results from your session.

      Your headshot should look like you on a good day! It should not over-glamorise you or convey aspects that are not really you. Casting Directors or Interviewers will expect to see what your headshot portrays when you walk in the room, and will be disappointed if the reality is different. A good headshot will capture expression in your eyes and show off your unique features to their best advantage, even if you think they may be flaws, such as freckles or a crooked nose. Headshots should be current and reflect who you are now not what you looked like five or ten years ago (however good you looked then!), so they need to be renewed every couple of years.

      There are hundreds of photographers to choose from; offering a range of packages and styles, so finding the right one for you can be a daunting task.

  • What should I consider when choosing a Photographer
    • Price – The cost of a photographic session can range from £90 up to £400, so you need to set a budget. Packages vary so make sure you know what you will get for your money, e.g. number of final shots, time with the photographer, changes of clothes or looks, hair and makeup.

      Time – If these will be your first headshots or it’s been a long time since your last headshots were taken, you will need to allow a reasonable amount of time for your session, ideally at least one and a half to two hours. Similarly, if you are uncomfortable or nervous in front of the camera you will probably need a little longer. Headshot Hunter can help you narrow down your choice of photographers using all these criteria and then enable you to compare your favourites side by side. You can then contact your chosen photographer from this website.

      Location- There are excellent photographers all around the UK although many are based in London and the South East, so you need to decide how far you are prepared to travel. Headshot Hunter can find photographers nearest to you or in a specific city or county.

      Style – Do you like the style of headshots a particular photographer takes, and importantly does this style suit your particular casting e.g. classical, urban, dark, quirky, etc.? You may have a preference for outdoor shots or studio shots. Some photographers only shoot in a studio, others outdoor, and some do both. Look at the headshots photographers have taken and decide what you think will best suit you. Alternatively ask the advice of the photographer. The clearer you are about what you want, the easier for the photographer to deliver headshots that fit your needs. Always remember you are selling a product i.e. yourself! That should dictate your style choice. Of course, you have to live with your headshots so you should go with a style you actually like.

      Headshot Hunter can help you narrow down your choice of photographers using all these criteria and then enable you to compare your favourites side by side

  • How should I prepare for a photographic session?
    • For your photographer to create great images, you will need to arrive at the session looking and feeling your best. Therefore eating well, taking exercise, avoiding alcohol and late nights in the weeks prior to your session will all help.

      If you are an actor, think about what your casting options are or what you would like them to be so you can brief the photographer at the start of the session. This will help your headshot photographer capture the appropriate variety of poses, expressions and moods in your shots.

      Ask your photographer for advice about what to bring in terms of changes of clothes. Select a range of clothes, especially tops in different colours, necklines, formal and informal.

      Consider colours that suit your skin tone and eyes, and avoid large necklaces and earrings, loud patterns, stripes and logos as they all detract from your face, which of course is the focus. Generally speaking, white tops are not recommended by photographers as white creates issues with lighting.

      You may want to try different hairstyles during the session e.g. hair up, tied back or loose. If there is no stylist available during the shoot make sure you practice beforehand. If you are a man you may want shaven and unshaven options in your shots, so you will need to ensure your facial hair is at optimum length on the day of the shoot, and don’t forget to take shaving equipment with you (consult your photographer about facilities available).

      Browse through Headshot Hunter to get an idea of the effect different clothing styles and hairstyles have on headshots.

  • How can I get the best results from my headshot session?
    • Arrive in good time so that neither you nor the photographer are rushed or stressed. Try to look as natural as possible, don’t overdo the makeup, more can be added if required and remember any small skin blemishes can be touched out by the photographer if necessary.

      If you have prepared well you should be able to relax and enjoy the session.

      Share with the photographer what you hope to achieve. If you have had headshots before discuss with the photographer how they have or haven’t helped with your career.

      Go with the suggestions made by your photographer, who will probably take 2-300 shots and it is their experience that will help create the right variety for you to choose from.

      The more relaxed you are the more likely it is that the photographer will capture the essence of you. Remember the photographer wants great results as much as you do!

      All the photographers on Headshot Hunter have outlined how they approach headshot sessions and what is included in the price, so you can take that into account when selecting your photographer.

      If you have prepared well you should be able to relax and enjoy the session.

  • How do I create a portfolio
    • Generally after your session your photographer will select between 100-200 shots from which you will choose a small number depending on the package, usually between 2-6 shots. These will be the headshots that you can use on your CV and in your portfolio. This choice can be difficult, get other people’s opinions, especially your agent or your tutors if you are training. A mix of black and white and colour shots are the current norm but an all colour portfolio is a growing trend.

      Quality rather than quantity is the key to a good portfolio. It's all about range. Do my headshots each show a different me or do I have same expression but in different coloured tops? Casting Directors will generally look at only one headshot that comes up on the casting website, so it is important to have up to, say, six or seven quality shots that portray your range in order that you or your agent can select the appropriate one to send to the Casting Director. You can include one or two performance shots in your portfolio, but ensure that you are the main focus of the shot and you are clearly identifiable!

      Casting websites, such as Spotlight or Casting Call Pro, will allow you to present your total range of shots and are very good exposure.

      Make sure to review your shots regularly and refresh when they do not reflect you as you are now, or the casting you looking for.

      Remember that just because you have used a photographer before it doesn’t mean you have to continue to use them, especially if your headshots aren’t getting the results you want, i.e. getting auditions! Use Headshot Hunter to browse through what other photographers have to offer.

      It is important to have up to, say, six or seven quality shots that portray your range in order that you or your agent can select the appropriate one to send to the Casting Director

  • What are the latest trends in headshot or casting photography?
    • Until only a few years ago Black and White was the main choice for UK actor headshots. Including colour shots is now the norm and a growing number of portfolios are comprised completely of colour shots.

      A growing trend is to include performance shots in your portfolio. This helps add a casting suggestion that sums you up or perhaps adds something that might not be obvious from your headshots. Full length performance shots can also add more information about you.

      A new phenomenon is the moving shot which a small number of photographers are offering. This is a movie clip lasting just a few seconds, showing you from different angles, helping the viewer see you move from pose to pose, giving a more rounded view of what you look like and your personality. It is a cross between a headshot and a show-reel. If done well can be a useful tool to market yourself.

      How can I get a Show-reel?

      Show-reels are very important to the modern actor, essential in the TV and Film casting world, and sometimes even used in Theatre casting. Casting Directors advise that it is best to use quality footage and a maximum of 2-3 minutes in length. It is preferable to include professional Television or Film footage. It is best to use a clip of a scene between you and someone else to show how you act and react rather than a montage of random clips set to music in which a Casting Director cannot actually see you acting.

      If you don't have footage it is worth investing in a company that specialises in show-reels. You can, if you are confident, film yourself.

      Four top show-reel tips;
      1. keep it short.
      2. Keep it simple.
      3. Do something that shows who you are.
      4. Remember quality is everything.

      If you don't have footage it is worth investing in a company that specialises in show-reels

  • WHAT IS A BAD HEADSHOT?
    • With a vast range of styles and genres of headshots/ portraiture out there, it’s very difficult to set in stone what actually makes the best headshot however it’s a lot easier to tell if it’s a bad one.

      The headshot style you should choose depends on who you are and what you need headshots for. The headshot needs of an actor will be different from that of a Model or Dancer, and different again from the needs of business people. Even within the acting world there are many different styles, some very simple & plain, some more modern & cinematic.  None of them are wrong. Some styles fit some people and not others, it really depends on how you want to market yourself and who your target audience is e..g. (TV casting, theatre director, large corporation).  

      However if your headshots are bad none of this matters.

      Here are 10 ways of spotting and avoiding bad headshots, something to consider when choosing your photographer:


      A Face out of Focus  - It might be stating the obvious but if you can’t see the person’s facial features, as artsy as the headshot might look, it’s not selling them at their best.

      Over Photoshopped - People naturally lean towards over retouched photos of themselves as we all aspire to look the best we can however when an image is retouched more than it should it loses the reality of the person. This may be appropriate for photographic models  but for performers and business people it is critical that when they walk in the room they are recognisable from their headshot.  If you don’t look like your headshot, you simply won’t get the job.

      Over lit/ Under lit - If  you can’t see the face because the image is too dark, as moody as it might look, you can’t tell what the person actually looks like.  On the other hand if the image is lit very brightly, so much so you can’t see the person’s features that’s just as bad for the same reason.

      Being Upstaged by the Background - It’s your headshot... not the buildings/walls or trees/cars in the background.

      Blending into the Background - Again might seem obvious but casting directors quite like being able to make out where your head ends and the background begins.

      Distracting Clothing - There isn't a ‘one rule fits all’ here but we want to engage with you, not the flower pattern on your shirt. A good photographer won’t let this happen.

      Head Chopped Off - Can we see the whole of the head and shoulders? No? Why not? If you are going to an audition with half your head missing...fair enough.

      Image Quality - Does the image quality/resolution look professional? If you don’t think it does, a casting director won’t either and (surprise, surprise) if that’s the headshot you offer them they’ll assume you are as unprofessional as the quality of the headshot, that goes equally for showreel quality as well.

      Looking Tired or Dishevelled - It’s your job to get sleep and rest the night before, so if you turn up after a night out drinking...shock, that’s what you’ll look like in your photos. You should be well groomed, that doesn't mean you NEED to have a make-over on the day but it’s your responsibility to turn up on time, looking your best, not sweaty, with a bag full of creased clothes.

      Not Looking Engaged - This usually shows in the eyes!  If you don’t look engaged and alive, the viewer will assume that this is your disposition, and so unless they are looking for a disengaged character you will be cast aside.  It’s both the photographer’s and your responsibility to help the camera capture the look you want.  Work with the photographer to bring out the mood or intensity you are looking for.  You may also have this conversation with your photographer ahead of time.  Consider how you want to market yourself so that on the day, you don’t just look vacantly down the lens. Preparation is everything.