What are Headshots and What is their Importance?

by Aimee Mitchell

Beautiful woman in autumn

Headshots are simply an actor's photo but they are absolutely required when looking for work as an actor.


As the name suggests, a headshot is a photograph of a person's head. Traditionally, a headshot is a photo taken from the shoulders upwards, essentially a picture of your head and neck, with perhaps a little bit of shoulder shown, too. A headshot is designed to give a good perspective, or provide a good idea, of what a person really looks like. Headshots must clearly and accurately present that person's facial features and show clear detail that would otherwise not be present in a full body photo.

A headshot is used for many reasons, but in the entertainment business, a headshot is distributed to promote actors or actresses. Casting directors use these photos as a way to see who they might want to hire for work in their next production. Talent agents use these photos as a way to quickly decide if they want to work with an actor as a client. Therefore, actors, whether experienced or not, need a good headshot to supply to their potential employers, which in most cases is the casting department and talent agencies.

So what makes headshots so important? Actually, headshots are one of the most effective and important tools an actor has in order to get the first break of his/her acting career. Your headshot is your first audition, of sorts. Your headshot is used by casting directors, casting associates, talent agents, directors and producers to simply give them a picture of what you look like before they decide whether or not you are right for the role they have are casting.

Usually accompanied by a resume, your headshot gives a good outline of your personality, looks, features and type. The casting associates will look at your eyes to see if they project confidence, intelligence, and personality. This helps casting directors and talent agents to conclude whether you might be right for a certain part, or not, as the case may well be. Even established actors who have a position in a casting director's office need to send their latest headshot photo along with an up to date resume.

Your headshot forms a very important part of your resume so it is vital that it is professional, of good quality and honest. Honest is key here - don't use a glamour photographer whose use of dramatic lighting and makeup make you look different. Don’t over PhotoShop your headshot either. Your headshot should be a representation of how you really look so it's very important that your headshot presents the real, unaltered you.

Since it is a representation of you, your headshot must be kept current and up to date. Casting directors need to know what you look like right now, not two years ago. Nothing frustrates casting directors more than receiving a headshot in the mail and then meeting you only to discover you look nothing like your photo because you've gained 30 pounds and lost most of your hair. Therefore, you'll need to get new headshots every couple of years if not sooner especially if you are still growing, developing, or have changed in appearance in some way. This ensures that you are called only for those roles which suit your personality and increase your chances of getting good roles.

Of course, your headshot usually is not the only deciding factor whether you get a role or an audition or not. This is usually determined by the script, and the roles available. Moreover, your experience, skills, and past work history play an important role in your being called for an audition. Still, your photo is usually the first thing a casting director sees so it's important your headshot is great.

As stated above, a traditional style headshot is a photograph taken from the shoulders upwards. However, in the last year or so, 3/4 photos, photos taken from the waist up to show a better overall picture of yourself, have come into vogue.

These 3/4 photos have gained in popularity because they show more of your body shape and provide a better overall view of your look. This may be particularly important if a casting director is looking for a certain shaped person for a role.

The industry standard headshot size is 8 x 10 inches. That’s the typical size required when you are looking for work as an actor. However, for open casting calls and for movie extra work, the casting associate or extras casting agency may only require a 3" x 5" photo. This just depends upon the type of job or audition you are attending, so you might want to ask which type of photo you should supply. Ask the person advertising for the audition exactly what photo they want before you send your headshot and resume to them.

If you are starting out with extra jobs, then you do not need to spend money for the larger size headshots. Usually the casting directors look for simple and clear photos. So just get a nice, clean photo of yourself with a neutral background and you'll be fine.

Nevertheless, if you are serious about making a career in movies as full-fledged actor, then you should definitely get an 8 X 10 professionally shot headshot. And if you can only afford to print one size photo or you are not certain which size photo is required for a role, it's best to just stick with the industry standard is 8 x 10 inch size.

Up until recently black and white was the only way to go. Now, color photos have become the norm. You might want to try both B&W and color prints to see which suits you better. The casting director is looking for personality to shine in the headshot, not what color your eyes or hair are (these can be changed). Color photos give a different view and shows your eyes and hair in correct light, but B&W photos still allow the casting director to see you intensely and in some situations can make you look deeper and more theatrical.

By following the industry guidelines and getting a high quality and accurate looking headshot, you are essentially telling the casting director and/or talent agent that you are professional and your image will tell them exactly who you are. At the end of the day, you are trying to sell yourself. So, you aren't going to be considered if your headshot is completely wrong. Any future casting directors who may be determining who he wants to cast might not call you to audition if your headshot is poor. So make your headshot a good one, even if you are just starting out.

As a final word, please remember that your headshot and resume together are the most important tools that you can possibly use when it comes to finding acting work. The more time you spend finding out about how to make your headshot great, the more likely you are to be successful with casting.
Aimee Mitchell is an acting coach, short story author, community theater director and playwright. She has spent the better part of her adult life working with young actors and actresses.

Copyright © Aimee Mitchell. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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