What is a Headshot? The Basics.

What is a headshot? What is a headshot for?

A headshot is, in most cases, an 8″x10″ photo taken of a model or actor. A headshot commonly encompasses a subject’s head and shoulders, with the focus being almost completely on the subject’s face. However, some “headshots” can often include as much as 3/4 of the subject’s body (called a “three quarter” shot).

If you’re an actor wishing to audition for roles, headshots are an absolutely necessary part of the process.

An 8″x10″ headshot is essentially “a business card for actors” which is presented to casting directors who decide whether a person has the right “look” for a particular part for a role in a movie, tv show, or theatrical part. It is not a “glamour shot”.

A good headshot is intended to market a person “as they are” (you should look your age, for example), but in as positive light as possible, accentuating the subject’s best qualities. A good headshot will often provide the viewer with a glimpse into the person’s character, or show their potential for a particular role a casting director is looking to fill.

Some photographer may claim that their headshots will get you work, but this isn’t entirely true. A good headshots can help you get your foot in the door and called in for an audition, but it won’t get you hired if you can’t follow it up with your acting chops.

A headshot is almost 100{dcffd43726133daeb6db98a6264148e9655107ea582a8464768083791b383b96} of the time the absolute only thing a casting director has to judge you by. And if your headshot isn’t good and grab their attention in about 1/2 of a second, you’ll get passed over without a second chance or a second thought.

What makes a great headshot?

What makes a good headshot?

While there is no magic formula to creating a perfect headshot, and there are exceptions to every “rule”, many of the best headshots have the same things in common…

A good headshot will focus on the subject and only include what is necessary in the photo to show a casting director that you have potential for a part. Nothing in the photo (jewelry, clothing, hairstyle, background, props, etc) will distract the viewer from the main point of interest.

A good headshot will be an accurate and realistic representation of the subject. It won’t make you look younger. It won’t make you look like someone else.

A good headshot will generally “invite” the viewer in and make them want to know more about the subject. This can be done through a combination of lighting, composition, and expression.

A good headshot will avoid overly dramatic (shadowed) lighting. Good headshots are not intended as “fashion shots”. A photo can work perfectly as a fashion shot, but fail miserably as a headshot.

When should you update your headshot?

When should you update your headshot?

You should update your headshot any time your look or, in some cases your personal style, significantly changes from that of your headshot. Your headshot is supposed to be an accurate and realistic representation of what you currently look like. If you have shoulder length hair and you suddenly go for a pixie cut, you need to update your headshot.

How much do headshots cost?

How much do headshots cost?

This is sort of a trick question. Why? Because you can pay a little or a lot for headshots. It just depends on your budget, the quality of the headshots you want, and the number of options you’d like to have, such as: number of “looks”, number of wardrobe changes, number of photos taken, number of hours you wish to shoot, and whether or not you wish to hire a hair stylist or a make-up artist. Different photographers provide different options at different prices.

With that said, for a strictly headshots only shoot, folks should expect to pay between $200 and $400 depending on the photographer and the options provided.

You can always pay less. And, of course, many people want to pay as little as possible for headshots, but truly good headshots are an investment that can easily pay for themselves in the opportunities they create.

You probably don’t buy the absolutely cheapest shoes you can find, so my advice, when shopping around for a photographer is not to pay for the absolutely cheapest photographer you can find either.

Why hiring a professional headshots photographer matters.

Does hiring a professional headshots photographer matter?

If you’re extremely lucky, like to take risks, and can actually find someone who is truly skilled at taking photos and knows how to get the best from the people they work with, then no, hiring a professional photographer may not matter. But for people who are less adventurous and serious about getting great headshots, don’t gamble. Why? Because beyond just getting your photos taken, you should also consider the quality of the “service” provided.

In the very competitive business of acting, any advantage you can give yourself over your competition can be huge.

Who do you think will strive to provide you with better service? The photographer whose livelihood depends on it, or the person who simply has a camera, already has a full-time job, and is simply looking to make a few extra bucks?

Professional photographers who have a name, or are developing a name for themselves, know that reputation and customer referrals are an important aspect of the business. They know that providing a quality service is important. This can mean a lot of things, from looking out for your overall comfort during a shoot to delivering the products you paid for on time.

Don’t underestimate the importance of hiring a professional. It’s not just about having the ability to take a decent photo. A good professional photographer will know how to get you to relax in front of the camera and evoke the best poses and looks out of you, will provide suggestions, and knows how to accentuate your positive features and traits through the lens.

Those who are providing headshots and photography outside of their dayjob typically have much less incentive to give their clients 110{dcffd43726133daeb6db98a6264148e9655107ea582a8464768083791b383b96}.

How to find a good headshots photographer.

How to find a great headshots photographer:

Finding a “headshots photographer” (or any photographer) nowadays is not tricky. Finding the “right” headshots photographer is, and that’s precisely because photographers are so common and the photography field is so competitive.

You can always find “cheap” or “budget” headshot photographers nowadays. And by that I mean photographers willing to provide their services for what seems like a really good super low rate. But be careful. If working with a professional photographer matters to you (and by “professional” photographer, I mean someone who makes a living taking photographs), photographers who charge next to nothing for their work may not be professional photographers at all. It’s more likely that any photographer charging that little for their services has another job, and it’s not photography.

If you’re serious about your career, do you really want to shoot with a photographer who doesn’t value their own work highly enough to charge a reasonably rate for it? Probably not, but it’s entirely up to you.

How to choose a good headshots photographer.

How to choose a good headshots photographer:

1) Find a headshots photographer you believe you will be comfortable shooting with. I firmly believe that being able to “hit it off” with a photographer and develop a good rapport with them can make a huge difference in the way your headshots turn out. When you’re comfortable and enjoying what you’re doing, it’s much easier to project one’s self to the camera in a confident, comfortable, and positive fashion. You’re also much more likely to feel comfortable experimenting with different looks, facial expressions, etc. which can lead to some truly unique, eye-catching, and outstanding headshots. Smiles are genuine, not fake, and expressions tend to be much more vibrant and alive.

If at all possible, take some time to speak with your prospective photographer(s) beforehand to try and get an idea of what their personality might be like and how they communicate.

2) Find a headshots photographer whose portfolio demonstrates that they can take quality, professional looking headshots done in a style that you really like. It should go without saying that you should like the work of the photographer you choose to work with. You may not feel like a definitive judge of what makes a perfect headshot, but it is important that whichever headshot photographer you choose consistently demonstrates in their portfolio that they can take the types of photos you are looking for.

If you love a photographer’s style and the work they have in their portfolio, the chances are very good that you will love the work they do with you.

Photographers’ “style”, what to avoid:

Some photographers work hard at developing a particular “style” of headshots in order to stand out in the very competitive business of headshots. In some cases, this will make no difference one way or the other, provided you like that particular style.

However, there is an increasing trend by some headshot photographers to overly crop a photo. This means to cut off or exlude certain features of a subject, such as hair, foreheads, chins, ears, etc. In some cases, this is perfectly acceptable. But in other cases, extreme cropping is a sure sign that your photo will end up in the casting director’s “rejected” pile.

Basically, if your headshot is hiding a particular feature from a casting director that they feel is significant, then your photo has been excessively cropped. Overly cropping an actor’s hairline can lead the casting director to believe you may be bald. Maybe the ear that is conspicuously left out of the photo is disfigured? Maybe you have a huge scar on your chin. If it’s not in the photo, they won’t know.

Over-cropping is bad. Avoid it.

“Celebrity” Photographers:

Whether it’s a photographer who is a celebrity or it’s a photographer who has worked with celebrities, keep in mind that it really doesn’t matter at all when it comes to your headshots. A casting director just wants to see a good headshot. They don’t have any idea or even care about who the photographer has worked with in the past. So as much as the photographer themselves may impress you, all that really matters is the quality of your headshot. So be sure to choose a photographer based on the quality of their work and not the celebrities they’ve worked with.

Do you need a hair stylist for headshots?

Do you need a hair stylist for headshots?

The style of your hair in your headshots should be one that is easy for you achieve. And if it’s easy for you to achieve, then hiring a hairstylist for your headshots shoot probably isn’t necessary. With that said, it is important that your hair is presented in a fashion that doesn’t distract the viewer. If it’s unkempt or unruly, then you should get it taken care of (ie cut and styled) well in advance of your shoot.

Do you need a make-up artist for your headshots?

Do you need a make-up artist for your headshots?

Good make-up artists can definitely help hide your flaws and accentuate your features and they can be a vital part of a photo shoot, but headshots should be an accurate and realistic representation of “you”, not a glamourized version. For headshots, you should good, but without looking like you’re wearing make-up. This means that if you feel the need to hire a make-up artist, you will probably want to stick to “natural” looking make-up and avoid heavy eyeliner, eyeshadow, lipstick, etc.

It is very important that if a casting director chooses to review you, based on your headshot, that you actually look like your headshot. If you feel you require make-up, but are comfortable doing your own, then you probably don’t need a make-up artist.

How to prepare for your headshots photo shoot.

Physical preparation:

• Before you get your headshots done, be sure to examine your face, eyebrows, and hairstyle to determine if any minor adjustments may help. I’m not suggesting cosmetic surgery! I’m talking about plucking your eyebrows or possibly getting your hair trimmed.

• Be sure to take care of all hair removal prior to a shoot, but leave at least 2-3 days between when you wax/shave any sensitive areas and your shoot date. This time is necessary to allow for any irritation to disappear before your shoot.

• Although the focus will be on your face, take care of your nails in case they end up in the shot. Be sure that your nails are neat and well maintained. If you plan on posing barefoot, be sure your feet and toes are in good condition.

• If you plan on showing your smile, be sure that your teeth are ready for prime-time. If your teeth are discolored, you may want to consider having them cleaned/whitened.


• Be sure you have worked out all the necessary details about your shoot. You should know where you’re supposed to go, the easiest & fastest way to get there, and what you need to do to prepare for your shoot.

• Please be sure that you know how to get to the location where you are shooting. If you are working with a make-up artist, please be sure that they are aware of these directions as well.

• You should also have a good idea of what items you are going to bring to your shoot.


• Eat healthy. Drink plenty of water. Avoid fatty, greasy, and salty foods prior to shooting. Avoid heavy exposure to the sun. Please avoid alcohol or anything that will make you puffy or bloated. Also avoid anything that may stain your teeth.

• Assemble what you’ll need at least the night prior to your appointment so you are not rushing around in the time before leaving for your shoot.


• Please eat a light meal before you leave. Food is fuel and if you skip your meals before shooting, chances are you’ll run out of energy, lose focus, or become irritable. None of which will improve your photos.

• Please bring bottled water, snacks, and anything else necessary to keep you going, but avoid bringing anything that will stain your teeth.