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Image Credit: Seattle Actor Photos | Talent: Zac Dunning

What are you saying with your headshot?

Your headshot’s job, if you are an actor, is to get you auditions. The image has to be compelling, but also specific. It should be “selling” or suggesting a certain side of your personality, or a character type. Some actors hate the idea of type or typecasting, and many think that they can play any part. While this may be true for some, in the beginning, and especially while you are “in development,” the more you can nail down your types, and show casting what roles you can and want to play, the better.

Is the Seattle Scene "Lazy" with Type/Brand

Yes. 

Year after year, I hear agents telling their actors, “You need a commercial and a theatrical shot.” If the talent is of a certain age, the agent might be willing to also offer, “Oh, and a corporate shot.” I don’t know why agents here are so generic with their advice, but thankfully they often connect their actors with me or a few other headshot pros in the region, so we can get a bit more specific about the whole thing.

Now, before you blast me for being frank about reps in the region, I will tell you this: We are a far less competitive market than Los Angeles, and the 2-look, (Smiling) commercial, and (Serious) theatrical headshot package has worked for years and years. But, it might be time to adapt.

For stage actors, and for youth/tweens, a two-look session might do the trick. Go get your smiling commercial/comedy shot with bright colors or backdrops, and something else a bit more serious with darker tones. Do you. Share your soul. Connect with the camera. Make an impression. Shoot with a headshot pro, not with any old photographer. Do this, and you will probably be okay.

But, if you are a serious actor who wants to work in film/TV, and especially if you are planning on competing with other actors in larger markets – actors who have AMAZING headshots that are CHARACTER specific, you might want to get serious about your looks and think not only about what you tend to get called in for, but what roles you want to get called in for, and how, exactly, to design your styling and session around those ideas and goals.

Modeling photos? Well, that’s not really my thing. If you are interested in modeling, check out Heffner Management, SMG Model Management, and TCM Models & Talent.

How to Choose Your Looks

Actors, it is your job to choose your looks, and communicate your ideas to your photographer. Or, at least have some semblance of a plan or agenda when you come to your headshot session. Below are a few thoughts that should help.

LOOK #1: The look/type you are usually called in for or end up portraying. Are you currently working or at least in class? If so,  you probably have a bit of data about what roles/types you are booking or working on. “How you are usually cast” is definitely a look you want to capture in your headshot session. This is your FIRST LOOK. And it’s probably a theatrical (film/TV casting) look. If you are not auditioning, booking, or training yet, well, you might want to wait on headshots… Just a thought. As an photographer, acting teacher, and actor, I think it’s important to get to know yourself and the craft a bit before you just dive into a headshot session or an audition. 

Assuming you have been cast in a few parts, or you are training or have some experience, you should have an idea of where you usually land, as far as casting. Even if all the information you have is, “I play the mean girl a lot,” that is helpful. This antagonistic role, the Mean Girl character, can certainly show up in a headshot. There’s an energy there, and attitude. She’s edgy. What she might wear depends on her age, but it’s probably a confident wardrobe look. And an facial expression that says something like, “Yeah, I did do that. What are you gonna do about it?”

Of course, we can think of other character types without too much effort: Soccer Mom, Jock, CEO, Car Salesman, Class Clown, Nerd, Casual Dad, Street Types (drug dealer, prostitute, junkie, addict, etc.), Bully, etc… And, we have other ideas to consider, things more along class lines: Blue Collar, White Collar, “Fancy” or “Expensive” casting looks, etc. We can even think about qualities that might show up: Intelligence, Mischief, Tenderness, Openness, Intensity, Innocence…

Okay, so aside from identifying and capturing that first look what else should you be considering? Well, LOOK #2 might want to be your commercial look. And if your commercial look is Midwestern Mom, this might also work for a second theatrical look (Sitcom Casting). In the PNW, your commercial look is usually one of your 2-6 total looks, but if your essence leans bright/fun/positive/funny, then you might have a few looks that can be used for both commercial and theatrical casting purposes.

To develop a few more looks, I am going to combine my advice with some wisdom from my friend, Maritza Cabrera, who is a talent manager in Los Angeles. She’s great at her job, and just launched her own management company, Limitless Management.

Look #3: Watch film/TV. Look for “You.” Meaning, when you see that actor, they kinda look/feel like you, and when you watch them work, you say, “I could do that.” Now, look at them. What are they wearing? Can you ID the character type? How are they behaving? Can you describe them? Use adjectives. Write it down. Take notes. All of this is homework that you will bring to your next headshot session.

Look #4: This look is similar to Look 3, but it might be a role just out of your sweet spot or comfort zone. The actor playing the role is similar to you, not a dead on match like what you found in Look 3, but there something you connect with. Your essence and theirs matches up, maybe. Now, look at that role. It’s a little outside your reach or range. Design it. Maybe you need to shop for that wardrobe (buy and return?), and do something a little different with your hair and makeup.

Look #5: This might be a type that is really outside of your core types. Something you have always wanted to try, a character that only emerges when no one is watching. Can you design that look? Try it. It might be fun.

Look #6 and beyond: If there are any other roles or looks you can design, go for it. After all, if you shoot it and it doesn’t work, scrap it. We are on look 6 now, so we are really pushing to the edges of our range here. Reminder: If you are working with a headshot pro, they want to collaborate with you, and they will be thrilled by your specific, detailed, and creative ideas. You might want to reach out to them first, and most will be more than willing to hop on a call with you before your session date.

Now, you may not need 6 looks, and many actors just getting started do well with three: Theatrical (with type), Commercial (possibly with type), and Character (alternate theatrical type).

If you need more ideas, check out my article about Marketing Types, and please reach out to and communicate with your headshot photographer before you arrive at the session. Your headshot is your most important marketing tool, and your headshot session will be fun and effective with good communication and through planning.

Break a leg at your next audition!
~ David

Thinking about a new headshot or potrait?