Your headshot is your calling card and all-important entrée to the business. The composition, the lighting, and the overall professionalism the shot reflects can make the difference in your being called in or not. Because of its obvious importance, you might be tempted to shoot for an exaggerated, glitzy effect, neglecting the highest priority of all: you must look like the person in the photo when you walk through the door at casting sessions.
That means the style and length of your hair should be the same. For men, this means facial hair as well. Take serious note: this issue is one of the biggest continuing complaints of casting directors. They call you in for an interview based precisely on your appearance. It’s your look that matches their idea of the character. But if you come into the office looking much different than the photograph, you have wasted their time.
A basic rule of thumb for photos is to avoid the drastically lit and blatantly shadowy headshot. Such murky effects invariably end up being more of a distortion than an accurate reflection of how you truly appear.
So choose a photographer actually recommended by casting directors or agents—one who won’t be prone to such extreme practices. If, after you get your eight-by-ten done, you decide to cut your hair or substantially change the style, make another appointment right away to get new shots done.
When it comes to touching up photos, be very cautions. If the touch-up work is for some minute detail (such as digitizing out some odd, flyaway hair or compensating for a weird shadow), then you can certainly get away with it. However, far too many actors mistakenly allow computer artists a heavy hand if it makes their headshot more glamorous looking. They allow the artist to remove under-eye bags, scars, blotches, and far too many facial lines. The trouble with a lot of touch-up work is that it looks exactly like that: a lot of touch-up work—especially when you’re sanding in the audition room. When industry professionals see the comparison, believe me, they’re not happy.
Women, when you pose for your headshots, make sure you do not rest the top of your hand directly underneath your chin. Nothing looks more affected and entirely amateurish than that. The actress in your photo should look like a person of confidence and professionalism, not a blushing bride. Your best choice is to keep your hands off your face, period. Don’t let a photographer tell you otherwise.
When finally choosing your photo, don’t let your non-industry friends or your mother help you decide. They’re not involved in the entertainment field, so they tend to pick the glittery, pretentious ones. These kinds of pictures may stroke your ego or dazzle your family, but they’ll rarely impress the people who really count.
Best bet: let your agent decide. Your agent knows you and knows the marketplace. Consequently, he or she will pick the type of headshot that stands a better chance of selling you.