What to Look For in a Good Headshot

Ahhh. This is an interesting element to being an actor. And its odd that the resources out there to help us navigate the chaos are little.

Knowing what a good headshot is is like knowing when to shelve those high-waisted mom-jeans. It is a trend that is as changeable as any you read about in fashion magazines. Black and white shots? Or color? Horizontal framing? Or traditional vertical/portraiture framing? Full-body shot? Or 3/4? OR tight in at the face? Glossy printing or Matte? Border or no? Name on the front?, etc., etc.

And how much should you be paying for said photography? What’s expected of you in the session and what should you expect from the photographer? Do you go for a glamourous shot of yourself or a more candid, snapshot? Knowing what to do once you’ve taken that photo and have the print/disk in hand can be equally illusive and frustrating. Do you get postcards? Do you choose one photo or go for 3? Do you put one image on the final print or 4?

Today (early 2010) a good NY headshot should be in color, clean, simple, head and shoulders, with bright, clear eyes. I say NY, because the demands seem to differ slightly between NY and LA. So, as I am an NYC actress, I am going to stick with what I know and let the LA readers provide any alternate info through comments.

Now, regardless of what style you go in for, one of the most important factors in a headshot is that it looks like you. I know that must sound pathetically simplified. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand this fact. If you run out and get a make-up artist to completely glam you up like you were going to the Oscars, and sit in front of a photographer who over/under-lights you, then you finish up by having a retoucher remove EVERY blemish you have and over air-brush your skin, then your photo is not going to look much like the person who walks into the audition room. This is a number-1 pet-peeve of all casting directors and agents. It completely defeats the purpose of a headshot. All a headshot really is is a quick, visual reference for the casting director or other industry person. If they come across your photo and like what they see, how do you expect to get to the next level with them if you walk into the room looking like a completely different human being. Trust me. It is a complete waste of EVERYONE’S time. Not to mention your money.

Here are some pointers I’ve learned from personal experience that may help you the next time you are in the position to get a new pic:

Do your research!

Don’t just go with the first photographer you see. Or the one with a celebrity on his/her website. That doesn’t mean anything. Look at your friends photos. If you see one you like, ask your friend about their experience. This is important. Primarily because someone can have a pretty good shot, but it took 4-hours to get and the photographer was distracted and unprofessional. Look online at as many photographers as possible and mark down the one’s that you like in your gut. When you have it narrowed down to say 3 or 4, make an appointment to meet them. You can tell a lot by meeting them face-to-face. If you have ANY reservations at all, they’re probably not the photographer for you. In general, as an avid bargain-hunter myself, one of the most helpful things you can do to secure the best overall experience when you purchase any big-ticket item, is to CROSS-REFERENCE! Ask around. If you are in a class, ask people about the photographer. Google them for reviews. Luckily today there are reviews about everything so chances are you’ll get a good idea of whether it was a good experience to work with a given photographer. You can ask other industry professionals, but beware that some agents and such get a commission (percentage of sales) for everyone they send to a photographer (same is true for acting coaches, vocal teachers, classes, etc) so they might not necessarily be 100% objective.

Lastly here, photographers range from $200 – $1600. The old adage “You get what you pay for” does apply when it comes to photography. But so does the fact that actors are some of the most exploited people on the face of the planet. It costs a fortune to be an actor. But, just because a given photographer comes with a high rate doesn’t mean they’re any good. And, on the same note, if you find a photographer that is your dream artist but comes with a hefty price-tag you should save up every penny and go for it. If they’re good, then you’ll spend less on retouching and the picture itself may last you anywhere from 2 – 5 years.

So. You have your dream photographer. What next?

How to Start Auditioning

Auditioning is a process you should master a habit of today. This will be something you will have to do over and over until you reach the point you no longer have to be prescreened. A-list actors enjoy this perk stemming from their success. There are ways you can start auditioning like a professional yesterday. Auditioning is your job as an actor.

Before you even begin auditioning you should figure out the medium you want to work in. As an actor there are so many places of employment available doing a range of many different types of roles. If you’re into film and voiceover work, it’s best you have your journey in LA (That’s were most “Studios” are located). Commercial acting odds are increased in either LA or NY. New York City is still the Mecca of theatre.

You can pursue any genre in LA or NY but your chances are increased for the medium if you go were the majority of work is for that medium. It only makes sense. Some professionals may argue that. Like theatre, although you can pursue it in LA, NYC would be the place to prosper. Every sector has a prosperity zone, go live in that zone were the odds are increased.

Another plus to theatre actors is that they have the world, there are traveling theatre groups, cruise ships as well as Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway in NYC. Television Actors you have a choice, daytime television LA or NY, Primetime television LA or NY. But Film, film is still prosperous in LA. LA can tape year round ‘on location’, so it only makes sense. So step one would be living in the zone where your medium of choice is more prosperous and plenty.

Now that we have this figured out the next step is to have a professional headshot and resume. You should have a headshot that shows you off on your best days. Try to keep it simple with clothing and make-up choices. You want to come off as an intriguing blank canvas to be used in a production. Attract casting directors, directors and executive producers to you with a headshot that turns heads. Be the best ‘You’ in the headshot.

There are plenty of photographers in your town or near your town. Do you have a friend with a good ‘eye’? Well have them take a nice photo of you and get it enlarged to a 8×10 [nothing larger or smaller than a 8×10]. Since your just starting out, there is no need to go crazy and get a glamour photo session. You just want to get ‘started’.

So let’s assume step two would be to get a headshot of you to start marketing. What’s the next step?

Now… you have to get work. If you have no prior work, get started! Join a theatre group; you can start in your local theatre house or community center, most theatres host independent acting classes and theatre groups, visit them and find out what they offer. [Soyouranactor.com has a free directory of theatre groups in NYC] You can also get started by doing extra work. Join websites like actorsaccess.com, NYCasting.com and actorsfirstny.com.

Actorsaccess.com is a free to join site [pay per submission] that hosts casting breakdowns for LA, NYC, Toronto, Texas and more. If you’re in NYC you can join actorsfirstny.com for free casting breakdowns for film, theatre and some industrials in your inbox weekly and/or daily. There is also nycasting.com or lacasting.com that is affiliated with Central Casting, the biggest background-casting agency in the USA.

NYCasting.com also known as ‘Castings Network’ is a monthly subscription site but if you visit a Central Casting office in LA or NYC you can get a free profile on the Central Casting part of the website. The free profile will be mostly major primetime television and film casting breakdowns.

The ‘free’ Central Castings profile will host a digital picture of you; with the pay membership you can post your headshot. A NYCasting.com or LACasting.com profile without visiting Central Casting offices will get you breakdowns for web series, independent and student films and some television; principal and non principal roles.

Please visit centralcasting.org for specific hours you can visit. There are special days for Sag and non-sag, men, women and minors. Craigslist.com under ‘gigs’ in the ‘talent’ section is also a gold mine for major casting breakdowns. Be aware of scams though.

Once you live in your acting medium city of choice, get your headshot taken and reprinted on 8×10 sheets and accumulate theatre and/or film/television/commercial credits you will then be able to tackle bigger principle roles. Start preparing for your principal roles by taking classes for your medium of choice. If you’re into film take film-acting classes, theatre, take theatre-acting classes and so on.

If your not acting, be studying acting and preparing for your principle roles. Do meet ‘n’ greets with industry professionals, seminars, free acting related classes and keep auditioning. The more you do the better your odds of success.

You’re profiles on actoraccess.com and nycasting.com will land you auditions. The more you submit for the higher the amount of auditions you get. Keep submitting, keep submitting and keep submitting. That’s the first step to auditioning. Everything else mentioned in this article is just laying your foundation. Bonne Chance!

Acting Tip: Acting Resumes, Cover Letters, and Headshots, Oh My!

If you want to really stand out as an actor (and I think you do), you will have to make your resume stand out for you.

Your resume, cover letter, and headshot are really the first impressions you’ll ever make. They act as your agent–good ones get you auditions, bad ones don’t…

So, how does one go about standing out from the rest of the crowd? Well, first of all, you have to think like a marketer. What makes YOU interesting and unique as an actor? This is you USP (Unique Selling Point). Your resume and cover letter act as your USP…

In order to make your resume and cover letters really effective, you must follow a few simple guidelines:

For your resume, divide the page into two parts–one part for your actual resume, one part for testimonials (yes, testimonials!). Testimonials should be from former directors, playwrights, etc. and they shouldn’t be hard to get. Just ask! (but be sure to get their permission to use their testimonial on your resume) Include the name and position of the person underneath each testimonial quote.

If you are just starting out, include EVERYTHING acting-related on your resume–list every acting job you’ve ever had–no matter how small or big the part (yes, even the non-speaking parts!). Remember, you are trying to fill out your resume–list as much as you can. As time goes by, pick off the less glamorous acting parts and replace them with the true gems that highlight your best work.

Include a small thumbnail headshot of yourself on your resume. This will ensure that if your headshot and resume ever do get separated, your photo will be forever intact ON your resume.

Actors have little time to spend on marketing themselves–let alone anything else non-acting related. For this reason, you should have two form letters ready to go at all times–one for theater, one for film/television. Keep it short and sweet. Your letter should include a brief introduction, your purpose for writing in, your recent endeavors, and a friendly closing. For example, my cover letter states: I’m writing you today because I am very interested in auditioning for your play (or ‘film’ or ‘project’–depending on what you’re submitting for) . I know your time is valuable, so I’ll make this short: I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to review my headshot and resume and let me know if you’d like to meet with me. Again, your letter should include your most recent or current work (try to include pictures within the body of the letter), what classes you’re taking, etc. Then wrap it up with something short and sweet like: Thank you for your time and consideration. I’d love to meet with you. I can be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I hope to hear from you soon. And then, sign your name to it.

When sending a headshot and resume via email, use the same cover letter used in regular mailings–simply cut and paste it into the text portion of your email (remember, you’re trying to save time, so make it easy on yourself!). Don’t forget to attach your headshot–and make sure to size the headshot appropriately.

Headshots should look like how you look right now. If your headshot doesn’t look like how you look now, get a new one…

You don’t have to spend a big chunk of change on a reputable, big deal, bells-and-whistles photographer to get a nice headshot. Just look around and find someone who has a pretty good portfolio and low prices. I got my headshot done by a photographer who was just starting out. I got a great deal on my headshots and she used my images in her portfolio. A win-win situation!

Get an 8″ x 10″, black and white headshot (which is standard).

I recommend keeping it simple–your clothing, jewelry, etc. You want YOU (not your clothing and accouterments) to stand out.

That wraps up our section on resumes, cover letters, and headshots. I hope this section has inspired you to make your HS/resume kit brilliant!