Headshots can help you compete for casting even when you’re not in the room. Often times casting directors are seeing actors all day for one part and eventually they narrow it down to a few final choices. It’s difficult to remember all of your quirks, fine points, and the way read after hearing sixty other people read for the same part in one day. Simply put, casting directors sometimes can’t remember who their favorite actor from the auditions actually are because often times people look so different from their headshots. After reviewing your headshots and audition tapes several times, if your headshot conflicts with the casting, it can work against you.
Imagine the scenario: the casting director and director are debating over two people for a role in a film and the auditions are both good for different reasons. The role is the sweet, beautiful kind and loving daughter of the lead who gets kidnapped. The two submissions are beautiful girls, but one’s headshot is a little edgy and borderline sexy, while the other has endearing, innocent and less revealing headshots. The casting can’t make a choice after looking at the audition tapes back to back. Therefore, they look at the headshots noticing that one actress represents herself as the character in her headshot which might signify that she can more naturally and truthfully play the part. In the eyes of the casting, why cast someone who could be that character, when we can cast someone who IS the character? In the end, did the casting make the right choice on who can better play the part? They won’t know, but they’re just happy to come up with some small detail to choose one equally talented actor over the next.
This brings up the question, why would you get called in if your headshot’s expression conflicts with the character? One reason is that you’re being cast as a relation to someone already cast. This gives breaks to people whose headshot might be more of a broad match for the part. You simply look like someone’s child, parent, or grandparent who is already cast. Therefore, rule number one is to have a headshot expression for every type of thing you might get called out for. Sometimes this could mean 5-15 shots. It almost always works better then 1 or 2 shots. Ask people who book lots of shows how many headshots both commercially and theatrically they have on the submission sites.
People have falsely said that one headshot type or the other does not work. In my time as a headshot photographer I have shot many different levels of success and people in their careers who have used both general and specific headshots to get auditions and book work.
A better way to look at this is to examine what a headshot does. A general headshot can show without words the appearance of your age, sex, weight, level of fitness, level of health, eyes, hair, skin color, ethnicity, beauty, and force of personality. A headshot can be much more specific than that. If you don’t go for a general look and you want something more specific you can start to suggest more things just by wearing different clothing, choosing proper settings and expressions both with body language such as income level, education, status, attitude toward life, emotional range, occupation, comedic ability, special abilities, or anything else you can imagine that might be helpful for a casting director to understand your persona.
For some actors who never seem to have trouble getting auditions, the first list of qualities seems to be strong enough. These actors usually play something very similar to themselves in real life. They are typically good looking and always seem to be noticed when in a room full of strangers. For the rest of us that make up the majority of actors, often times our general headshot just isn’t enough. We shine while showing off comedic ability, an ability to be viscous or give a very interesting expression that seems to say “I don’t think so!” Whatever it is that helps casting directors understand can be beneficial to many actors who otherwise have a hard time getting auditions. Therefore, don’t rule out either a general or specific headshot – test the market with both by submitting to actual roles and seeing which one gets you more auditions.
So, you have a close friend that owns a nice DLSR camera and has a good amount of experience in photography. They mention that they can take your photos for a drink, or better yet, free. They might even be a professional photographer that specializes in wedding photography, nature photography, architecture, or landscape with a sound understanding of technical elements such as lighting. Does this mean they can take a great headshot for you? Possibly. But in an industry where every booking counts and all it takes is one professional gig to get your foot through the door, possibly isn’t good enough.
Professional headshot photographers are specialists in the technical elements of portrait photography such as lighting, angles and posing. However, an additional key element that a headshot photographer incorporates is a creative eye for your type. For an actor, above all, knowing your type is the most important element before taking a headshot. Therefore, your headshot should be taken by a professional headshot photographer because they know what agents, casting directors and managers are looking for. A headshot photographer with years of experience working with successful clients can help you determine your type and shoot you accordingly.
Within the field of photography, each photographer has his or her own strengths – it’s important to find one that works day in and day out with actors. For the actor, there are too many things outside of your control In the entertainment industry; why not make sure that the things in your control are done correctly by having a perfect headshot.