A B C D E
Who, What, Where, When, Why?
You. That's who. Every actor needs
a photo, or "headshot", whether just starting out, or at that point when every
one knows him by the name "Robert DeNiro". Photos are your business cards. They
are usually your first introduction to someone, anyone, who might be interested
in using your talents to further line their pockets with profit.
That someone might be
an agent, a casting director, a director, a producer or some paper pushing account
executive who doesn't know anything about how you function as an artist, but who
is in charge of making an "industrial" (a corporate video) explaining to a dreary
workforce what happens when dirty water enters the storm drainage system of the
town you live in. Yes, that executive will look at your photo and say, "This actor
looks just like someone from the EPA. Clean-cut. Friendly. Wears a jacket and
But because you are a
good actor, and your "headshot" projects that certain clean-cut image, the account
executive never has to know that last year you were serving time in prison for
armed robbery, and the mohawk you had then is now the ivy-league replacement you
begrudgingly cultured to accommodate your new image, and as long as you don't
have to take your clothes off, he won't see the 12" tattooed imagemap of your
ex-wife's body parts on your ass.
Hence the name "headshot",
not "ass-shot". So if you are serious about making some kind of living as an actor,
you will need at least one good headshot to start with, adding more to your "portfolio"
(publicity collection) as you need them. Eventually, you may be asked to have
a "composite" (several photos combined on one or two sides of the paper) made.
a good headshot? Before I answer that one, let me tell you what a good headshot
1) Your high school yearbook picture
2) What you think you look like
3) What your Mom, Dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent, priest
girlfriend or best buddy thinks you look like
4) Something created at Sears, Penny's, Glamour Shots or Willie's Weddings
5) A display ad for Cover Girl Makeup, Fashion Gal, Jim's Jewelry,
Adidas sportswear, Garfield, The Simpsons, Harley Davidson, ad infinatum, etc.,
and so on
A Good Headshot:
1) Really looks like you, as determined by:
(A) Your acting teacher
(B) A professional photographer in the business
of snapping headshots for actors
(C) A professional actor who is not also a
close, personal friend
(D) A total stranger off the street
2) Doesn't hide the dime-sized purple birthmark on the bridge of your
3) Looks like the camera caught you unaware that you were being photographed,
and that you were really thinking about something specific,not just trying
to look good for the camera
4) Communicates your "essence" through your eyes, so that whatever
you were specifically thinking about when the photo was snapped is something that
will attract the viewer of the photo in a powerful way, so that the viewer will
think, "Who is this person?"
Let's look at examples
A-E at the top of the page.
A) This is one of three headshots I currently use. It was picked out by
my agent from about 180 different shots on the contact sheets. The agent uses
this shot to submit me for commercial, industrial and theatrical auditions. This
is a scan of the original. The one the agent uses has my name and the agency name
printed on it at the bottom left and right corner. I don't like it, but the agent
does, so that's that. Get used to it.
B) This is one an agent I had in Los Angeles picked
out from several contact sheets. It was one of my favorites, and I used it for
a few years, mostly for film and television. My concentration was good in this
one, and I feel the eyes show it.
C) This was an early shot picked out by a commercial
agent in Los Angeles. He told me that casting directors "loved that face". What
he meant by that was that everything about the face is warm, friendly and open.
The smile on the mouth matched the smile in the eyes. That happened because I
was happy that day. If you are not happy, and just make your mouth smile, the
eyes won't match. The shot may still work. I see a lot of those kinds of shots.
I call them "phony", but they still work for those actors. A lot of people in
the business don't really pay that much attention. But if you get the right shot,
it will stand out from the rest. It will just pop off the page, and grab the viewer.
That's what you hope for. So be real.
D & E) These are both shots that were used at various
times as part of a "composite". A composite is an 8-1/2 x 11 with a combination
of pictures on the front and sometimes the back of the page. The idea is to show
different "looks" or "types" you can represent, and they are usually specifically
meant to be used for commercial, rather than theatrical submissions. The two photos
were taken on the same day. The photographer followed me around to various places
which I had predetermined. I knew what I wanted before I scheduled the photo shoot.
I even rented a cop uniform from Western Costume, and had the photographer climb
a tree and snap the shot looking down on me as I was rescuing a stranded cat (the
shot was from the imaginary cat's point of view). It didn't work, because there
were too many shadows in the tree. The photographer grumbled all day long about
having to climb the tree, but she did it. She was a good sport. Also, since I
was paying her, and that's what I wanted, it was the right thing for her to do.
Don't forget: It's your money, and you are hiring them. Make sure you know their
limitations, in case you have an active imagination.
you get a good headshot?
are living in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, the appropriate question would
likely be "How do I choose from the hundreds of good, professional photographers
who specialize in actors' headshots?" And the answer would be, "Let your wallet
or purse help pick the photographer for you."
cities, good photographers are a penny a dozen. Some of them are actors trying
to make a living while they are waiting to make a living at acting. Others are
photographers trying to make a living while competing with hundreds of other photographers
trying to make a living while all living within a fifty mile radius of the film
and television studios.
spent as little as $50 for a headshot session, which included several clothing
changes, several rolls of film, several 8 x 10's, contact sheets and the negatives
in the bargain (many keep the negatives so they can make money charging you every
time you need new original prints). And those photos served me well for a couple
of years, working in Los Angeles, Chicago and points around the rest of the nation.
never spent more than $100 for a headshot session. I personally can't justify
blowing more than that knowing that 95% of the printed copies of the headshot
will end up under a pile of garbage at the city dump. That's correct. You read
it right. Most of your "business cards" get tossed if you are not selected for
the part, and in many cases, even if you are selected for the part. Let's face
it, what would an agent or casting person do with 50,000 pictures, many of which
are unsolicited from the hoards of hopefuls in the first place?
are interviewing photographers, ask to see examples of their work. Let them explain
to you what they do, and how they achieve a good headshot session. Are their examples
clearly in focus? Is the actor in the shot prominently separated from any background
objects, such as trees or brick walls (if the shots were outdoors)?
in my opinion, how do you personally feel about the photographer? Does the photographer
make you feel relaxed? Does the photographer listen to you, or try to dominate
the conversation? Do you feel like the photographer is rushed, and trying to hurry
you through the interview? Does the photographer make you feel stupid because
you are new to the business?
look for a photographer who makes you feel relaxed, listens to your questions,
and doesn't rush you. Be wary of those photographers who want to "pose" you in
every shot. Real actors don't pose. It should be the responsibility of the photographer
to snap the actor when the actor is concentrated on something specific that will
make a dynamic headshot. The usual procedure, even with the better photographers,
is based on the concept "shoot first, ask questions later". The hope is that by
snapping several rolls of film in rapid succession, the actor might find one,
two or three good shots.
to the photographers, it is understandable that they might not want to spend all
day shooting an actor, at least not with their camera. Especially if they don't
charge very much for the service. But I would rather take my time and get one
great roll of film, with several good choices, than rush through several rolls
to get one, two or three questionably good choices.
you wear? That depends on the final purpose of the headshot session. There are
commercial headshots and theatrical headshots.
The commercial headshot will show the actor... well... like you see them in the
commercials. Warm, friendly, perfect white teeth, well groomed, well dressed,
ready to sell soap. You may want to bring several changes of clothing so that
you can present different "types" you feel you can represent, e.g."construction
worker", "doctor", "bartender", "athlete", etc. The same principle applies to
men and women.
However, we have seen a trend in the past several years where advertisers are
using "real people" in commercials. And sometimes, they really are "real" people,
literally off the streets. But usually, they are actors who have learned how to
act "real" in a certain "commercial way". There are talent agencies who specialize
in just this sort of commercial actor. And schools who will train the man or woman
off the street with just enough "technique" to keep them from tripping over the
cables in the studio, or looking directly in the camera lens when they're not
supposed to, but not enough to make them look like actors, because looking like
an actor is not what certain ad agencies want in certain commercials anymore.
As a matter of fact, this trend is found everywhere on television these days.
"America's Funniest People", "Cops" and "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" are
good examples of how savvy producers have cashed in on America's boredom with
the same old "acting" on television. Real life is many times much more interesting
to watch than some fiction thought up by a recent graduate of a film school, still
too young to know much about real life, and brought to life by this generation's
"act by the numbers" players.
headshot presents the actor in a more direct way. You may or may not have perfect
teeth, you may or may not be wearing a suit or dress, you may or may not smile
and you don't have to sell soap. You just have to be you. The real you.
The relaxed you. The confident you. The concentrated and interesting you. After
all, in plays, television and film, we find characters of all types. Dustin Hoffman,
Earnest Borgnine and Danny DeVito are good examples of how real looking people
have succeeded in achieving enormous success as actors. The best way to achieve
being "you" is by finding something specific on which to concentrate while you
are looking in the lens: A friend, a pet, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a sunset at
the beach, etc. If you have difficulty concentrating on something that is not
there ("method" actors don't have this problem), you can try multiplying two large
numbers, such as 913 and 274, in your head. If you really try to come up with
an answer, you will be snapped in a state of concentration. When you are concentrated,
the real you usually comes through. This might sound strange to you, but it works.
And you can wear basically anything you like, as long as it doesn't clash with
your skin tone (like a black T-shirt would if you have a light complexion) or
detract from your face (like plaid shirts, or odd designs on your shirt). It's
recommended that women don't wear jewelry. Just a simple, straightforward headshot,
making sure the hair doesn't get in the way of the forehead and eyes.
commercial, theatrical or both? Almost anyone can be a theatrical actor (if they
have the talent), but commercial actors are somewhat limited by certain "types".
I say "somewhat" limited, because there are always exceptions. That pea sized
wart on your chin just must be the perfect look when Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
is mounting their Halloween campaign and need an actor to be a witch, gremlin
or troll. But typically, the commercial actor is the "happy, all-American, guy
or girl next door type", "the business type", or the "model type". Of course,
exceptions apply here also. We've all seen those New York cab drivers, with their
"earthy" attitudes and less than perfect appearance telling us how they couldn't
make it through the day without their Tums for the tummy.
line is, especially when you are just starting out, the agent who shows an interest
in you will decide for you what type you are. Which brings me to another important
suggestion for you regarding your photos.
might suggest to you that you have several 8 x 10 originals made from your session.
The first couple are included in the price of the session, but anything after
that might cost you as much as $15 apiece. My suggestion is to ask the photographer
to postpone printing any 8x10 originals until you have had the chance to submit
the contact sheets (or "proof sheets" as they are sometimes called) to various
agents to get a response. A contact sheet is an entire roll of film developed
on one piece of photo paper. The pictures are about the same size as the negative.
The agent can look at the whole role at once, viewing each picture with a magnifier
called a "lupe". Then the agent will choose which shot or shots s/he wants.
you submit them, you might then take the contact sheets to Kinkos and have several
laser prints made so you can send the laser prints and save the originals. Why?
To save money on extra proof sheet copies, so you can make multiple submissions
to agents without spending all your dog or cat food money. So why waste time and
if you don't live in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago?
and larger cities have photographers you can locate who are skilled at snapping
headhsots for actors. You can call any of your local talent agencies for referrals,
but make sure the talent agency doesn't try to charge you a fee for this courtesy.
You should never pay a talent agent anything but a 10% commission on jobs the
agency helped you get. Be very wary of those "agencies" that want to give you
a "package" deal": Acting or modeling lessons and photos for just $800. Run. Run
fast. Don't look back.
are in a small town that doesn't have a talent agency in it, and you can't find
photographers who deal in actors headshots, then don't get headshots until you
relocate somewhere where you will need them. Actors are working all across the
United States. Phoenix, Denver, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Boston,
Atlanta, Memphis, Miami, Dallas, Detroit and countless other metropolitan communities
use actors for all kinds of things. You don't have to live in Los Angeles, New
York or Chicago to work as an actor. But it's better to live in one of those places
if you are planning to dedicate your entire life to living and working as an actor
whose goal is to be a major film, television or Broadway star, or, for that matter,
a well respected character actor -- the type whose face you see all the time,
but whose name you don't really know.
You'll know when. When you
are tired of just dreaming about doing something, when you are sick of your regular
job, when nothing but acting interests you, when you feel life is slipping by
and that "something is missing" feeling begins to dominate you all day and night,
when you can't watch the Academy Awards ceremony without crying, when you've lost
something in common with most of your friends, when your mom or dad or brother
or sister or aunt or uncle says, "You're crazy", you'll know that "when" is "now".
sure you are ready when you get your chance. And if you apply yourself diligently,
with enormous discipline, you will get your chance.
the "why" question regarding headshots has been answered already. But for your
information, I'll ask you this question: "Why does Robert DeNiro need headshots
when he's already famous?"
for publicity. But at this point in his career, he doesn't have to go far to find
somebody to "shoot" him.