Written by Josh Orlando
Actors worry about their headshots for a multitude of reasons. The actor’s image is central to their work as a performer. And since directors use headshots throughout the casting process, there is a lot of pressure to keep them up to date and appropriate. This contributes to stigma and fear that actors experience when it comes to headshot culture. And disproportionately impacted are younger actors, actors with less resources or financial privilege, and actors of marginalized identity.
The politics behind the actors headshot are manifold. The entertainment industry has an extensive history that is rooted in sexist and racist ideology. Casting directors have traditionally focused on satisfying a conventional vision of beauty. This vision has been white, gender normative, and slim bodied. A vision predominantly held by men in a male dominated industry. This means that from the start, actors who do not fit this look are marginalized in the world of casting. But with increased representation and more women, people of color, and queer people in artistic positions of power than ever before, this vision is changing. So you don’t have to panic, and you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars. Here are my tips and tricks, the actual dish, here’s your headshot dos and don’ts.
Do show up prepared. There will be so many other actors auditioning just like you. The last thing that you want is to be the only one without a headshot. Headshots are a representation of your aesthetic ability to play a role and create meaning. Headshots should showcase the actor. They should make you look established, palatable, and most importantly, cast-able.
Do start from a place of efficiency. What are your assets? What are your favorite features about yourself? Get to know them so that you can accentuate them. By starting from a place of efficiency rather than an unattainable standard of beauty, you can avoid trying to fit a stereotype that someone else designed. You don’t have to conform with antiquated notions of beauty. It’s 2019, you belong on stage.
Do wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. You want to feel good so that you can relax on camera. Dress casual but semi-professional, something that you could wear to brunch, but not to dinner. Do wear solid colors and with softer hues. The outfits that you wear should compliment your unique skin tone as well as your favorite features about yourself. Remember that headshots are about showing off your face, not your body. Avoid patterns or loud colors that will distract the viewer from your face.
Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on your headshots unless you can afford it. So many actors get caught up in spending hundreds of dollars on headshots, resumes, and acting classes that they probably never needed. If you’re on the artist budget, find a friend with a nice-ish camera who is willing to do a shoot with you. This is a collaborative and mutually beneficial exchange in which the photographer gains practical experience while the actor acquires their headshots. You didn’t hear this from me but if you don’t have a camera, use a smartphone! Most iPhones have a twelve mega pixel camera, which makes for a perfectly acceptable headshot in the right lighting and background.
Remember that you are up against an industry that is dominated by white cisgender men. Know that they are lucky to even get a glimpse of your headshot.