Headshot Photography – Everything You Need to Know

Almost everyone is going to need to have a headshot taken at some point in their lifetime, and there is far more to headshot photography than just the typical glossy, black and white photos that most people associate with actors and auditions. From choosing the right photographer to planning your poses and deciding what type of headshot you need taking, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about headshot photography.

What are Headshots?

A headshot is a portrait style photograph of someone’s face, usually taken from the chest up with the person as the main focus of the photo. It can be taken from a variety of different angles, and can be edited in full colour or changed to black and white depending on its purpose.

Not to be confused with portrait photography, the majority of headshot images are used in a professional context, and taken to capture a certain impression of a person that often relates to their career or aspirations. There are a variety of different styles of headshots however, ranging from photos that are taken for a corporate or business websites to creative images that a dancer may submit when applying for a role in a company.

Why do People Need Headshots?

Headshots are used in a variety of different contexts, but in the majority of cases they are used as a way to capture your individualism and your personal brand, and are often the first step in selling yourself to a potential client or employer. As well as serving the basic purpose of showing someone else what you look like, a headshot also makes a lasting impression and can be the difference between being remembered or not.

Having a headshot that is up to date also sends the message that you are authentic and honest, so it is important to get more than one set of headshots taken throughout your career.

Types of Headshot Photography

As previously mentioned, there are multiple types of headshot photography that serve different purposes, depending on who you are and what industry you work in. Different kinds of headshots may require photographers with different sets of skills, so it is important to know what kind of headshot you want taking and what you want it to convey before you book a shoot.

Business Headshots

A business headshot is perhaps the most standard type of headshot, showing an individual from the chest up in front of a plain background. These images tend to be used for resumes, online profiles, like headshots for LinkedIn, or job applications and may be requested by a potential employer.

The biggest purpose of this kind of headshot is simply to show what you look like, and capture an air of professionalism. You might choose a specific approach or emotion in your photos, such as smiling to appear friendly and approachable, or keeping a serious expression if you want the headshot to look more professional and controlled.

Your photographer will be able to help you find the best way to convey your personality and intentions through your headshot, by suggesting different poses and expressions or even shooting the image in a particular location. It is good to end up with a few different business headshots, in case you have to use them in different situations that require a different first impression. Most photographers will offer this type of commercial photography, even if they specialise in family photography, a quick search of photographer’s websites will show which type of photo shoots they offer.

Actor Headshots

When most people think of headshots, they think of acting headshots, which are photos of an actor or actress that will be given to a casting director or agent before they audition for a part. It allows the casting director to immediately assess whether the individual looks right for the role, and also acts as a reminder of each person that auditioned for both stage and screen,

As an actor, your professional headshot is the most important way to sell yourself and your talents to potential directors. It can be the difference between securing a part or losing it. If your headshot is memorable then you will be too, which is why getting headshots taken by a trained, professional photographer is so important. Building your actor headshot portfolio is important, achieving the right look and feel that will get you a successful casting call.

There are set standards for actor headshots in every country, and you should take time to study the headshots of others in your line of work, so you know what you are aiming for when you have your headshots taken. While classic actor headshots were always in black and white, in recent years companies have started accepting colour headshots as well, so it is good to have both in your final selection of images. Do look at well known performers headshots such as Dame Judy Dench, Colin Firth, Idris Elba, Emma Watson etc to see the range of styles and how they portray themselves through their actor headshots.

If you are an actor then you will be used to conveying emotions and moods through your facial expressions, and this will be very important in your headshot. Think about the kind of parts you want to be considered for, the type of industry you are looking to get into and what you consider your personal strengths as an actor to be. Then think about how you can show these through a photograph.

If you are at drama school, you should get advice on all these aspects, many drama schools will require you to have a good professional headshots portfolio before you graduate.

Presenter Headshots

A presenter headshot is very similar to an actor headshot but is used by those who are specifically looking at going into a role that involves presenting, whether that is on the news or as part of a television program. Presenters don’t tend to need to convey the same range or complexity of emotions as an actor will do in a headshot, so these photos tend to be less dramatic and involve a shorter photo session..

The kind of headshot that you will end up with will depend on the kind of presenting role you are aiming to secure, so you will need to think about this before your shoot. Suppose you are hoping to become a children’s television presenter for example. In that case, you will want to choose your outfit, location and expression accordingly. In contrast, if you are applying for roles as a news presenter you will want images that are a lot more formal and professional.

Presenter headshots tend to be head and shoulders, although some more creative images might have more of full body shots..

Dancer Headshots

Dancer headshots are again similar to actor headshots, in that they are used to give the first impression to a company or creative director in an audition and ensure that you will be remembered afterwards. A dancer headshot focuses much less on conveying a certain expression or emotion and instead is about giving the right impression, depending on the kind of dance role you are looking for.

As a dancer, you will likely want to give the impression that you are warm, committed and professional in your headshot, as well as emphasising that you are a dancer through your posture and clothing. Dancers who are just starting in their careers may want to stick to a more conservative style of photo in a neutral position, with a neat hairstyle, whereas more mature and experienced dancers may want an image that is a little more dramatic.

Some dancers may request full-body portraits in certain positions or locations depending on the style of dance they work in, and the dance companies they are looking to apply for. Some will include additional images from event photography of shows and performances they have been in but in general a dancer headshot will just tend to be a head and shoulders portrait, capturing the essence of a dancer’s personality.

Corporate Headshots

Corporate photography headshots are quite similar in style to business headshots, in that they are professional-looking photographs often just from the chest up. However, these headshots are most commonly commissioned or taken in house by companies of their employees, for use on business social media, websites, in brochures or other marketing material.

In a corporate headshot, it will be very important to look professional, reflect the ethos of the company, and most companies will also want you to appear friendly in your photograph. What you wear will depend very much on your job, but in most cases, a corporate headshot will be taken of someone in a smart or formal outfit. Corporate headshots are often taken after you have secured a job, there is less of an emphasis on conveying your personal brand in an image to make an impression. Your headshot may be used to sell the services you offer as part of your company, however, so it is useful to check beforehand if there is a certain mood or expression that the photographer will be trying to capture.

Musician Headshots

In most cases, a musician headshot will differ from every other kind of headshot because your face will not be the only focus of the image; your instrument is likely to be on the frame as well. Musician headshots are often used on the websites of professional orchestras or in the programmes of concerts, showing the members of the company or highlighting a lead musician.

Many musician headshots are formal, and how you incorporate your instrument into the shot will very much depend on what it is that you play. If you are a contemporary musician then you will have more freedom with what you choose to wear in your headshot and where it is

taken, but classical musicians tend to be dressed formally in headshots and pose in a way that looks professional.

Tips for a Headshot Session

It can be daunting having a headshot taken, particularly if it is your first ever photo shoot, so here are some top tips to ensure you make the most out of the experience.

Talk to your photographer beforehand

The best way to ensure that you get headshots that you are happy with is to talk to your photographer beforehand, spend time thinking about about what you want from the session, and ask them for any advice so you are not caught out on the day. Find out whether the photo shoot will be outdoor with natural light or in a studio with studio lighting. A professional headshot photographer will be happy to discuss all these aspects with you beforehand, and this is likely to make the experience much easier for both of you!

Plan what you are going to wear in advance

As you will know by now, what you wear to a headshot session will depend on the type of headshot that you are having taken and what kind of personality you want the headshot to show. An excellent way to find inspiration is to look at the headshots of other people in your field of work and wear a similar outfit to them. If in doubt, go with something simple.

Your photographer will be able to advise you on what to wear if you are still stuck before your shoot, which is why it is useful to talk to them beforehand. You may also want to bring a few different outfits to the photoshoot depending on how much time you have, to get a variety of different images that will be suitable for different contexts. If you wear glasses try some shots with and some without.

Try different poses

It will feel strange being sat in front of a camera first, and you may feel stiff, awkward and not know how you should be posing. It is likely that the first few shots that your photographer takes will just be test images, so try not to get too hung up on what you look like and just go with what feels natural. It is really important to achieve a natural look, that reflects the real you, not a stylised image that will be nothing like you on a day to day basis.

Your headshot photographer will probably direct you into many different poses throughout the session so they can capture a range of different images and composition style. As well as a classic front-on photograph, try sitting on an angle and turning your head, looking into the distance instead of at the camera, or even turning your body away and then looking over one shoulder.

You will likely be given a selection of photos after your shoot, known as a contact sheet, and you will get the best value for money if you have tried a few different poses so that these final shots look different. You will then be asked to select between two to six shots depending on the photographer, who will then provide you with the final retouched images.

Remember to relax

The most important thing to remember in a headshot session is that you are trying to end up with an image that looks like YOU, and so the best thing you can do is be yourself in front of the camera, and let the photographer do the rest. It can be very nerve-wracking having your portrait taken, but you don’t want to end up with images that look uncomfortable or inauthentic, as these won’t showcase you in the best way possible.

If you’re feeling nervous before a shoot, consider practising poses and expressions in the mirror beforehand, so that you feel more prepared. If you have chosen a good photographer they will also do everything they can to make you feel comfortable in front of the camera, to ensure that you both get the most out of the shoot as possible.

For more headshot advice, click here.

Where to Find Headshot Photographers

While it may sound simple enough to take a photo yourself to use as a headshot, it is really important to have a set of photos taken professionally by a photographer who has experience in shooting the type of headshots you need e.g actor, performer , business etc.. They will have access to the most up-to-date equipment and editing software and will know how to position you best to get the perfect photo, and will also produce retouched images that just look better than anything you will be able to create on your own. It is easy to find local headshot photographers online, and spend some time looking through their websites to see whether their work is what you have in mind for your style of headshot. Another great tip is just to ask around for recommendations from other people in your industry, as these will be reviews that you can trust, and you can guarantee that you will be paying for a high-quality service.


The idea of having a headshot taken can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect from a session or what you should be trying to convey in the photograph. The best advice for headshots is to work with a photographer whose work you can trust, even if they are more expensive than others in the field. At the end of the day you want images that show you at your absolute best, and which will make you stand out in whatever context your headshot appears.


How much is a headshot photo?

The cost of a headshot session will depend on the photographer you use and how long that you book a session for, as longer photoshoots will be more expensive and more qualified photographers are likely to charge more. On average however, a typical headshot photoshoot session costs around £100-£150

This can seem expensive, but it is worth remembering that a professional headshot is one of the best investments you can make in your career and is a sure-fire way of capturing your personal brand and making sure potential employers remember you.

What is the difference between a portrait and a headshot?

A headshot is a kind of portrait, but the main difference between the two types of photograph is that a headshot is usually taken within a professional context, whereas a photographic portrait tends to be much more artistic and has fewer limitations on style, composition and subject.

Should you smile in your headshot?

Smiling in a headshot is a hotly contested issue, and in the end it will usually come down to personal preference. If you want a headshot that gives off a serious and professional air, then you might be better to keep a serious expression in your headshot, whereas if you are trying to convey more emotion and seem more open then you will benefit from cracking a smile in your photos.

Do I need professional headshots if I am applying for Drama School?

You do not need professional headshots when you apply for drama school. However, you will probably be asked by your drama school to get them during your final year. This is so that they are available to give to potential agents who may attend your end of year showcase and also for companies such as spotlight who will automatically register graduates from top drama schools. A few drama schools organise this for you but most don’t.

Is it best to get actor headshots in London?

London used to be the centre of the actor headshot photographer industry, and there are very many excellent actor headshot photographers with a London studio. However, in this digital age good photographers can be found UK wide.

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