Bad Headshots, Good Headshots

It’s official. This has been the most difficult column I’ve ever attempted. Yup. In over three years with Back Stage West and just over two years here at Actors Access, I’ve come up with what has been the most stressful topic EVER: headshots.

That makes like NO sense, right? Well, let me back up and explain how this topic came about and then maybe you’ll understand why I’ve spent the better part of three days trying to figure out how to get the best information to my readers while respecting the rights of actors who choose to submit really bad headshots.

I put out a breakdown last week. With every breakdown, I always get headshots that are really great, really bad, and really just okay (that last category makes up the bulk of the submissions; so it’s like a bell curve). I’ve noticed in the past couple of years that something is missing in actors’ headshots. First, it started out with a half-inch off the top of an actor’s head. Then cropping began to creep south on actors’ faces until this time around when — I kid you not — I received dozens of headshots in which actors had no foreheads whatsoever. And that’s not enough, apparently! As if cropping is the new “it factor” in hot headshots, actors are losing an ear here, a chin there, an eyebrow or two… I know you probably think I’m exaggerating for effect (and, oh boy, do I wish I were) but I’m totally serious here! Someone is amputating actors’ features and calling it “stylish.”

Now, before you try to assure me that what I’m seeing is the fault of the online casting services and their inferior cropping tools (I hear that a lot from actors, when I mention that their headshots are cropped far too tightly), let me explain that I have called actors in for auditions, trusting that they are telling the truth when they blame the thumbnail version of their headshot for the missing body parts and sure enough the hardcopy headshots they bring to the preread match the online thumbnails. Missing hairlines. Missing earlobes. Missing cheekbones. Missing goatees. And why? I get that photographers need to have a “signature style” in order to compete for the major actor headshot business in Hollywood, but here’s what I don’t understand: Why are actors paying for headshots that market the photographer’s brand when what the actors should be paying for are headshots that market the actors’ brand? Your headshot is often the ONLY thing that will get you past the first round of the filtering process with agents, managers, and casting directors. If we can’t tell whether your hairline is receding or not, we may just move on to the next actor, whose hair is included in the photograph. And if I think you’ve submitted an overly-cropped headshot because you don’t want me to see your Botox scars, is that okay with you?

Okay, so back to why this issue snowballed into a virtually impossible column to write. I wanted to use real examples of seriously disturbing cropping, headshots of the TMI (Too Much Information) variety (I never need to see an actor’s nipple), way too character-y (with props), and overall BAD headshots that are out there, landing in casting directors’ hands every day. Well, I can’t do this without risking embarrassing actors who may just be well-intentioned newbies, right? Fine. So I decided I would only use the headshots that were submitted by agents, figuring at least these photos won’t really embarrass actors, since there are representatives who are supposed to be guiding them along and, c’mon, they’re the ones who should keep actors from even selecting such awful headshots, right? Augh. So then I’m picking a fight with agents and managers. Okay, I don’t want to do that. Hmm. Maybe I can put a black bar over the actors’ eyes like they do in Cosmo‘s “Fashion Don’ts” or something. Yeah, but an actor’s eyes are so vital to the overall success or failure of a headshot that even a total rule-breaker of a headshot can be a winner sometimes, and that’s important to show here too. Crud.

Well, maybe I don’t need to use photos at all, I pondered. I mean, I can just write about the crimes of cropping and other awful headshot trends and actors will get it, right? Maybe, maybe not. Seriously, one actor friend couldn’t even believe the cropping I described until I showed her a few of the headshots. So, the visual image was going to have to be shared for effect, otherwise people may think I was exaggerating. And I’m totally not. I blogged about this issue and the stress it was causing me. I emailed a group of actor and non-actor friends for advice and we brainstormed some great, though time-intensive, options. I even put the word out through my mailing list that I was looking for actors to volunteer their best and worst headshots for this column. I used all of my Photoshop skills to create “line drawings” out of the headshots, since what I really wanted to show was the cropping and it didn’t, therefore, matter who was in each photo. Ooh, so maybe I could just draw and scan “stick figures” to get the point across. Then I decided that what I really need to do is BE a photographer (or get a photographer friend who doesn’t mind taking some REALLY bad shots for the point of a column here) and get my actor friends to pose “in the style of” these headshots I want to show to you. But all of that misses the point: These are headshots that were submitted FOR REAL. So, that meant two things: They weren’t sent to me with the intention of having them shared here AND if I recreated the headshots in some other way, they still wouldn’t be the same thing… and that’s a photo that someone thought was GOOD to send out for an audition. This is where I gave up and decided to write a column about something — anything — else.

So, if I decided to write about something else, why are you reading all of this? Great question. As I looked through the headshots that actors sent me after I pleaded for help via email, I realized that I have some really great examples of BAD and GOOD headshots. Better yet, I have some really fantastic BAD and GOOD headshots from the same actors, giving a wonderful peek into what a difference a good headshot makes for the same person. Yippee! And, wow, some fantastic thumbnails that show how cool it is to be “highly clickable” in that tiny format. Ooh, this could work! Perhaps I could share some headshots that were sent to me for the purpose of sharing, here, and get PART of my point across while asking for more sharing from my readers.

Therefore, in the spirit of facing my demons and soldiering on (and using as many clichés as possible), I shall present to you a quick selection of BAD and GOOD headshots. My commentary is on the caption area of each strip below. Further, I ask that those of you reading who would love to share your overly-cropped, TMI, or flat-out BAD headshots with me (and the GOOD ones too) for next week’s column please do so (but use ONLY the email address below). Thanks in advance! Just based on what I was able to pull in from actors in a quick email request, I can only imagine how much more I’ll have to choose from for next week’s column. Let’s have fun with this! Are you game?

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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