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?