I’ll lead off with another big thanks to everyone who helped make the most recent Bad Headshots, Good Headshots series possible. That includes the actors who graciously shared their headshots (and remained totally open to the idea that they could just as easily end up on the “bad” as the “good” list), folks who helped me choose which headshots to feature in the examples, and of course the headshot photographers who will this week share some tips on having your best ever headshot session. Hey, tips from the experts? That’s cool! Let’s cut the intro and get right to it!

From Ken Pivak:

One of the things I do with any actor is to first see how their relationship is with their agent or manager. I very rarely shoot anyone without and have turned down jobs after giving them a bit of homework, and they do come back afterward.

What I mainly ask is this: How is their agent or manager marketing them in the next six months? What characters or roles do the agents and themselves see them playing? Who are the actors working today that they see themselves as or want to be (a wish list… gives me a good insight as to what appeals to them)? Do they understand that my work is to get their foot in the door and that it is a tool?

Today we have the Internet dictating to me how the image needs to “grab” the CDs’ attention. And because there are close to 500 or more submissions for each role, the process is being sped up by assistants who sometimes cannot make the jump for an actor’s ability, hence the cropping is important, as you have stated.

I have been asked more now to create images with character, and I see it working. Other CDs are asking me for the same and many agents are now turning toward this concept.

So my main reasons I am addressing you and responding to your articles is that the actors do need to do a bit more homework and learn how to develop a better relationship with their agents and managers. It seems that they are afraid to ask and when the images finally get to them, it’s not what “they” wanted. It can be quiet frustrating from my end, but the homework concept does pay off. I know that agents are really working for the actor and not the other way around but overall a good relationship with an agent and good communication on marketing can make their future a brighter one.

I have taken a few classes and have talked to acting coaches so I as a “still director” can lead an actor to a great shot and not just act as a factory.

From Blake Gardner:

Most actors seem to feel that it is a given that getting your headshots taken is as painful as going to the dentist. It doesn’t need to be. The trick is finding the headshot photographer that you not only like their work, but you will feel comfortable enough to be yourself with. That being said, I always recommend that actors meet their photographer before setting up a shoot. It helps build a relationship with your photographer, which is pretty important when it comes down to capturing a shot that makes you look comfortable. It’s also good in case you don’t connect with the photographer, you may decide to go elsewhere.

It’s always important to make strong choices. Be bold. I’ve heard plenty of acting coaches and casting directors repeatedly preach the power the making strong choices in the audition room which applies for an actor’s headshot shoot as well (since technically your headshot is your first round of auditions, if the CD isn’t convinced of your acting chops in a headshot, they’re not going to care to see you in person). I’d rather an actor make a hot choice that can be molded than only give 50% in fear of making a bad choice.

From Mark Atteberry:

I have been shooting headshots well over ten years now and I teach “How To Shoot Headshots” at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops in Venice, so I feel like I am an expert in this field. Plus, I have won several awards for my work including “One of the Top Ten Headshot Photographers in LA” as voted by the readers and staff of Backstage. Blah, blah, blah… enough about me, let’s get to the meat of the matter. What are the secrets to a great headshot? First, and Bonnie hit it right on the nose, know your type and go to your photographer with a clear idea of what it is you’re looking for.

How do you know your type? Ask! Ask your agent, casting directors, acting teachers (good ones only please), and people who know the business. Write down all the types you can think of (best friend, mom/dad, victim, cop, attorney, comic relief, etc.) and then hand out that list to total strangers in a mall, or a public place like City Walk, etc. Ask them to circle the ones they think you are. Believe me, total strangers are really honest! Do it with a friend. Have your friend hand out the list and even without you saying a single word to them, they will be dead on. Do this and you’ll likely get the same reaction and first impressions that casting directors will get the second you walk through the door. Get as many surveys as possible for more accurate results. Then, tally them up and see what rises to the top.

Next, watch TV shows, commercials, and movies and see which actors embody your types. Notice how they dress, what roles and shows they get cast in and what lines they are saying. When you go to your session, dress like you would dress if you were going out for those roles. Use the actors you just observed as an example of how to dress if you feel not sure what to wear.

While you’re shooting your shots, imagine being on those shows in those roles. And, most importantly, say the lines from those shows in your head. And if you feel like you’re getting locked in a mood or pose, look away for a second and refocus on what you are trying to say. Talk with your photographer about your types. Tell him or her what you want. Don’t just wait for the photographer to tell you what to do and how to pose. On a side note, I personally believe that it is nearly impossible to get a great headshot when a photographer meticulously moves you around until he/she finds the perfect pose and then asks you to smile, etc. How can you possibly be relaxed enough to be “you” in that situation? Good photographers know how to relax an actor and get them to have fun rather than tense them up by moving them into an awkward position.

Casting directors always say that great shots are in the eyes. What exactly does that mean anyway? All it means is that you have something going on in your head, you are connecting with the camera (or photographer), and the photographer catches that moment with good lighting. Have fun; make your session an acting assignment! Remember, headshots are only about one thing: getting cast. Their purpose is to show your physical look, your personality, and your talent/charisma. They are not about how hot can you look or how dramatic you can be.

Your physical look is extremely important. And, there’s only one thing that matters in this regard: Make sure you look like your shot. That’s only been said about nine billion times in this town. Enough said!

Personality is the critical factor that most people forget. How do you show your personality? By just being you. Bring your favorite music to the session (stuff that brings you up not down, for Pete’s sake. DO NOT bring the CD that you played for two months straight to help you get through your last break up)! Bring a toy, a sentimental item, or something that reminds you of who you are, and stick it in your pocket. Touch it from time to time to ground you. Plus, you get to keep your own little secret from the photographer, they’ll never guess why you have a little grin on your face, but they’ll sure love it.

Finally, the best advice I can give an actor is to come with lines in your head. Don’t depend on the photographer to bring each type out of you or to change your mood for you! Most photographers aren’t directors and are clueless in this regard. The final thing that people need to see in your headshot is whether you are talented. How is that possible? Have lines and characters in your head. For example, if you’re going for the CSI shot and you definitely embody “the cop type,” come prepared to play the part. Those guys are really driven. You ever noticed? They are going to solve the case if it kills them and nothing is going to stand in their way. Personalize it. Think of it as your acting career. Look right into that lens and tell whoever it is you need to tell that you are going to make it as an actor, come hell or high-water. “Oh, I’ll make it. Watch me!” say to yourself. If we see you looking right into that lens and your eyes show us what you’re thinking, “Wow, that person has talent!” Just make sure it is a type you will likely play.

There are three words that I hear over and over from all the agents who I shoot for. The words are “real,” “natural,” and “likeable.” Just be real. The glamour days are long gone. Watch commercials, especially. They’ll show you where casting is going. Just for fun, my wife and I played a little game while we watched the Golden Globes this year. We counted how many commercials there were with plain, regular people and how many there were with glamorous actors or beautiful models. And, keep in mind, this was a show that featured beautiful gowns and suits. It was all about who they were wearing! We counted ten plain people commercials for every one glamour commercial. Looks like real and natural is in!

“Likeable” is also a very important word. I think casting director Stephen Snyder said it best when he said, “The second I look at a headshot I have to think, ‘I’d love to hang out with this person.'” You got to be likeable, even Hannibal Lecter was likeable. How do you do that? Easy, just have fun! If you’re having fun, we’re having fun. Trust me, we’ll like you. If you show up to a shoot and the photographer is clearly not “in the mood” and is likely going to drag you down, reschedule right there on the spot. It’s not worth the wasted money. Your headshot session has to be fun, bottom line!

Most actors miss the boat when it comes to getting great shots. I am of the belief that it is far more the actor’s responsibility to get the great shot to happen than the photographer’s. That said there are a handful of great photographers out there who know all about types and how to get them. If after you try the ideas I’ve mentioned above and you still have questions about what types you are, there are some good classes out there that might help. Forgive the shameless plug, but I offer a popular one called, “Know Your Type, Act Like Yourself.” You can find more info at www.BeAWorkingActor.com. What separates great actors from the rest of the pack is [that] great actors know who they are and they bring it to their work. There are others out there as well — like Sam Christensen — who teach similar classes. Check them out.

Here’s to a very successful next shoot!

Awesome stuff! Yay! Now, let’s wrap up with a few final emails (some that I received along with the headshots actors offered up for critique, others that came in after the columns ran) from actors, one agent, and one more photographer. (Please note, in the case of these “name drops,” while I agree more strongly with some photographer recommendations than others — and there are many photographers whose work I love who aren’t mentioned here — that each of the photographers mentioned below had photos featured in “good headshot” sections. As always, I recommend that you visit the websites of headshot photographers you’re considering AND go visit with them in person, flip through their portfolios, and see if you connect with them.)

Hi, Bon! Just wanted to send you my headshot for your article. I’m hoping it’s an example of a good one! The photographer is Brett Williams.

I’ve actually gotten some great responses with this one… and yes, this actually looks like me! Dana Patrick is the photog… not sure what her rates are since it was couple years ago… www.danapatrick.com.

Since getting these headshots, my audition rate has quadrupled. I’ve received fabulous feedback both from casting directors and from my agents regarding these shots. Anyway, I hope you’re doing well! Your columns are refreshing. Thank you for them. The photog was Kevyn Major Howard.

I just wanted to recommend my photographer: Jeff Lorch. He shoots in film and these are some of the best photos I’ve taken in over seven years! Granted I met with him beforehand and told him specifically what I was looking to capture. He got to know me and my style and how I work best (and vice versa) and we had a really easy and fun shoot. He was in the mid-range when I shot with him last year (about $475 for 4 rolls.)

I recently took new headshots by Kenny Pang here in NY. Hope you like them.

I just want to add a bit about the shoot itself as well. I am 15, and was 14 when these were taken. It’s all digital now, so the terrific photographer Fabrizio (yes, just Fabrizio — how LA of him — even in Austin, Texas) and I spent three hours taking about 350 pictures. I had five outfit changes, and took a break after an hour and a half to change my hair. The cost was $225, and included a contact sheet of all of the pictures and a low quality picture CD. I am able to purchase a high definition version of whichever I want headshots of for $15 each, which I also upload to my computer to send electronically.

You are super! I wish ALL my actors could get a copy of this! I will definitely be referring them to your site. I discovered a wunderbar, amazing photog about two and a half years ago and have not used anyone since. He is obviously in Toronto (where I am). www.chrisframpton.net He captures PERSONALITY! Most of my client’s pics are done by Chris so I trust that they are good! Thank you for doing this. You are fantastic! Keep up the good work! Samantha Rose www.rosegrouptalent.com

One of my clients just sent me the link to your article saying you chose the shot I took of him as one of your “excellent headshots.” I wanted to say thanks for the recognition and appreciation. My goal is always to catch actors as they really are, relaxed and themselves in a really great headshot, so it was great that you stated this photo as capturing exactly that. Just wanted to say thanks! Felle FellePhotography.com

Finally, I know I’ve been bubbling over with gratitude in this series, but I have to extend an extra special thanks to Julie Inmon, Robin Navlyt, Sean Spence, and Naomi Vondell for their major help in putting this set of headshot columns together! THANK YOU, ROCKSTARS!


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 http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000686.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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