Get Headshots That Show Your Type

You can’t really call yourself a professional actor until you get headshots. Whether you’re just thinking about becoming an actor, or trying to book auditions, you’ll need a good picture of yourself. With today’s advances in digital photography, getting a good headshot is becoming easier and easier, not to mention, cheaper.

We always recommend using a professional to get your headshots taken. But if you have a friend who’s a really good photographer, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to help you out. I myself have taken great headshots for many actor friends. One of the reasons I think they were so good, is that I had been an actress myself. I knew what the agents and casting directors were looking for, and I knew how it felt to be the actor or actress on the other side of the lens, so I knew how to direct actors to get their best look. If you can, find a photographer who’s been an actor or model themselves. They seem to work very well with actors, and you’ll like their energy.

So if you’re the type to wear a grungy old T-shirt, and have disheveled hair, then make sure that’s what you do in your picture. If you don’t wear lots of make-up, then don’t in your picture.

I also recommend getting someone to help you out with hair, make-up, and clothing selection. Most photographers will know someone who can do all this. And often, they'll have ideas for clothes that you would never think of yourself -- sorry to say it, but actors usually have pretty terrible fashion sense, even if they think they don't. That includes me!

Remember, headshots aren’t about looking your best. They’re used for casting purposes first and foremost -- meaning, they must, absolutely must, look exactly like you do on a daily basis -- especially how you’ll look when you walk in the door to audition. So if you’re the type to wear a grungy old T-shirt, and have disheveled hair, then make sure that’s what you do in your picture. If you don’t wear lots of make-up, then don’t in your picture. By all means, do not, I repeat, not, get a glamour shot that makes you look any better than you normally do (unless, of course, you are a super model, and you always look perfect!) This being said, don’t go too much in this “natural look” direction or your picture will look dull and boring.

You also don’t want to be so interesting that you look like a silly character out of a sit-com. Just because you may be unique looking or quirky, or maybe you’re a comedic actor, this doesn’t mean you should have bunny ears on in your picture, or a silly outfit, with funny props. Do NOT take wacky looking pictures. Even if you have the silliest looking smile, or the funniest biggest nose, do not use props or do silly faces in your pick. These kinds of pictures turn off casting directors and waste their time.

What agents and directors want to see is a clean, clear picture of your face, in particular, they want to see your essence, and that means, the way you’d be cast -- no backs of heads, and nothing so close up that you can’t see the whole face or the eyes (do not wear sunglasses in your pic!)

If you think you’d be cast as a bimbo, you might want to dress a bit in that direction. If you think you’d be cast as a killer, you might want to look a bit scary. But you don’t have to go overboard. (You know, don’t hold a toy gun in your picture!) The main thing is to look generic enough that you could be adapted to play any kind of role, while looking enough like you do every day to be taken seriously.

The worst thing that can ever happen is to have pictures taken of you that have brushed out your freckles, acne scars, or wrinkles, or photos that make you look thinner than you really are. If you’re overweight and have a double chin, then show it. If you’ve got wrinkly eyes, let them be seen! A strange birthmark? Show it!

Be proud of how you look, even if you’ve been embarrassed in the past. Because it’s the uniqueness of YOU that will get you cast in a film or TV show. If you have frizzy big red hair, get color pics, and make that hair big! If you have funky tattoos, show them. If you’re very short, take a pic that shows how short. If you’re in a wheel chair, and have no legs, show that in your picture.

Casting agents cast from reality more often than not, and they use headsets to find those real people. TV and Film is not theater. On the stage, young people play older, or pretty people play plain. Not true in TV or Film. If they’re casting a grandmother, they’’ll be looking for someone who looks older with white hair. They don’t care that you’ve got a white wig, they want the exact person for the role. And they’ll find that person!

This is the good news for everyone: no matter what you look like, there’s a part for you. For an example of this, you might want to rent the movie, “Little Children” with Kate Winslet. In this film, there is a very unique looking actor named Jackie Earle Haley, who plays a child molester. He is far from traditionally good looking, very skinny, and has a pock marked face. But guess what? He was up for the Oscar last year, for “Best Supporting Actor!” And this very same year, an overweight actress named Jennifer Hudson wouldn’t let anyone break her spirit. She won “Best Supporting Actress!” for “Dreamgirls” and got lots of attention from American Idol, and the rest is history.

We don’t all have to be a skinny, perfect, super models to make it in Hollywood. We can even be odd, bizarre looking, one of a kind types, and learn to make a wonderful living from our unique and powerful self-awareness! What we do have to be is sure of ourselves, accepting about who we are, and honest about how we look.

As far as color or black and white photos for your headshots? Go with what you can afford first, but I’d recommend color these days. That way, if you need black and white, you can always have the lab process your color pictures into black and white. And if you’re looking for great photographers, I’d recommend going on-line to find a photographer in your area. LA is full of photographers, but if you’re not here in LA, then go to Google or Yahoo and type in “headshot photographers” then your town or city. If you can’t find one this way, another great option is for you to call your local wedding photographer or newspaper photographer and see what they’d charge. They’ll know all about how and where to get your prints made. You might also call a local college or Art School, and see if they have photography classes.

Good luck, and I'm sure that "You'll Be Great!"

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City