Why does the thought of taking headshots send so many actors into a state of anxiety? Is it the fact that the actor’s most important marketing tool needs to look just like them, convey their true essence, create interest and intrigue, all while showing confidence, talent, and marketability?
The problem is that actors never really learn the art of having their headshot taken. It’s a process. And just like learning every other aspect of the business, it gets easier in time. But if you know what you’re doing, not only can you become successful at it, the process can even be enjoyable.
As an image/headshot consultant, I see actors making the same mistakes over and over throughout the process. It doesn’t matter where they are in their careers, the level of their acting abilities, how long they have been doing it, or their age…actors continuously make five of the Worst Mistakes when having their headshots taken. How many are you guilty of?
- Not knowing who you are and how you fit in.You would think that every actor knows their type, but it amazes me how “off” most are when asked. If you don’t know who you are or how you fit into the marketplace, how do you expect an agent or casting director to know what to do with you? You as an actor must know your type (physical/emotional/ability), your brand (what is unique and special about you) and your marketability (the roles you can be cast in today)…and you must present all of those specific aspects in your headshots. If you are unsure, it would be in your best interest to get out there and find out. The way to do that is by asking people…and in people, I don’t mean your mother, or husband, or girlfriend, or even your “bestie” …they have all been programmed to tell us that everything we do is wonderful. People who can help are those who are knowledgeable and who can be truthful; agents, managers, consultants, and acting teachers. Fellow actors you see once a week in classes are also a great source since they know you and your abilities but aren’t actually friends. Oh by the way, an actor’s type and brand are ever changing…so for you thirty-five year old guys wearing hoodies and that fifty year old woman still rocking “The Rachel”…keep up…life changes.
- Picking the wrong photographer. As you all know, there are hundreds of photographers out there. Anyone can buy a camera and set up a website, but that doesn’t make them a good headshot photographer. Charging huge sums of money also doesn’t guarantee a great shot. Many photographers are more concerned with their own egos and creating their own stylized shots. Those shots only get the photographers more work, not the actor. Recommendations are a great way to find a photographer, although what works for one actor doesn’t always work for every actor. Agents and managers all have a list of preferred photographers, however, you have to ask: When did they last update the list? and Why are they preferred? Far too often, actors give over all control to the photographers thinking they know best. They may know what lens and light to use, but they don’t know you. You must know exactly what you need and want from your headshots before you even meet your first photographer. Find a photographer who “gets” you and understands the importance of bringing out your unique individuality
- Not putting in the necessary work.This is by far the number one worst headshot mistake actors make. If you think getting your clothes together, having your haircut, and showing up are all you have to do…then don’t question why your shots look so generic. Actors put more work into their scene study class then they do into their single most important marketing tool. When I work with actors, I have them fill out worksheets in order to identify their type, brand and marketability. We then translate those aspects into specific headshot looks or set-ups unique to each actor and the roles s/he can or should play. But the work doesn’t stop there. The entire headshot session should be treated like an audition or acting job with each look or set-up as specific scenes. Next I coach actors in the art of connecting with the camera while creating interest and intrigue within each specific scene…oh, and do all this while looking comfortable, confident, and exactly like you on a good day. All this prep work must be done before the actor even shows up to the photographer’s studio! Remember, we are talking about your career. Are you willing to put the work into getting amazing headshots, or do you want to put all control into the hands of someone who doesn’t really know you or your abilities?
- Picking your own headshots. Come on…you all know we only pick pictures of ourselves where we look great. Unfortunately, those are usually not the best shots. With casting directors receiving over 2500 submissions per role, a headshot needs to be so much more than an actor that looks great. There has to be that spark, that something intriguing that makes an agent or casting director stop and take note…something so unique that they want to know more about that actor. Picking the right picture is extremely important. You need to seek help…. and once again, I am not talking about your dad, or your wife, or your roommate. Agents and managers are not known for picking the best pictures, however, they do know how they are selling you and what roles are out there for your type. Acting teachers are also a good resource since they might see glimpses of your unique abilities or personality rather than how great your hair looks.
- Over-processing the final picks. Step away from the Photoshop! Yes, there are certain things that need to be airbrushed…stray hairs, a zit, something odd in the background, but that’s about it. I once coached a very talented disheveled heavyset comic. He was right on point with knowing his type, specific about his brand, and talented up the wazoo, but just wasn’t getting out there. I had him bring his old shots to our first meeting and almost fell out of my chair. The picture looked like a porcelain doll. Everything unique and memorable about this cute chubby scruffy-looking funnyman had been blended away to look like Nicole Kidman’s more attractive sister. Our flaws are differences that set us apart from others. They make us who we are…learn to embrace them…to embrace you. Every line tells a story, every freckle a secret. Your acting is unique and different from all those other actors out there, so is your face. Don’t make it generic and forgettable.
Tom Burke, working model and actor, teaches seminars and gives lectures on the importance of headshots and discovering an actor’s image. He is currently consulting and coaching at Keep It Real Acting Studios in North Hollywood, CA where he also teaches the exclusive classes: Headshots A to Z and Not Just a Pretty Face.