10 Ways to Improve Your Headshots

Advice from a Headshot Photographer.

About The Photographer
My Work

1 – There is no “pop!” The casting director will go through hundreds, if not thousands, of headshots when casting a role. This means your headshot has mere seconds to grab the their attention before it is discarded. It doesn’t matter how attractive or how talented you are if that headshot doesn’t stop the casting director in their tracks.

2 – No character or personality. The biggest mistake people make when shooting their shots is that they grin like the Cheshire Cat. That ‘say cheese’ smile was great for the high school yearbook, but it won’t do anything to land you the part. The expression on your face should show personality and character. There should be life in the eyes! Let’s say the character you are auditioning for is that of a jewelry thief. Why would that character smile? How might a school teacher respond to a precocious child? What expression would you see on the face of a mob boss or a cocky college student? What sort of looks would be on the face of the President or a cowboy out on the range? Your headshot must show a personality of the type of characters you can play.

3 – What you wear isn’t helping the narrative. Are you the quirky best friend-type or the tough-as-nails detective? Which of those characters is more likely to wear a leather jacket and which is more likely to wear neon suspenders?  Everything from what you wear, the look on your face and even the background should craft the narrative of your character. Think of your finished headshot image as representing a still photo from the set of your next film or television show. Are you on-brand? Remember, it is not about putting on a costume like a lab coat to go for the doctor role. Doctors don’t even always wear lab coats. You could wear a polo shirt and jeans and still look like a doctor. It’s about embodying the (spec) role and choosing colors and outfits that character might wear. Everything you wear should help the narrative.  

4 – There are too many distractions. Your headshot is about… your head; your face; your eyes. That is what your photographer should focus on. The casting director doesn’t need to have their eyes move from your awesome face to your equally awesome Metallica t-shirt. Clothing with intricate patterns, large logos, or distracting designs screams “Amateurrr.” Basically you don’t need anything in your headshot pulling focus from your face or creating any thoughts other than the chosen narrative. Its best to forgo the jewelry unless its for a specific role, a character that would wear jewelry like Mister T, and casting has already notified you and your agent that you are being considered, but it is not necessary. Leave that for the project’s wardrobe department. You can book with the props.

The character we were going for was of a young plucky teen.  The choice of overalls makes her look youthful and rambunctious.  Her pose is happy and carefree.  She defiantly can play a quirky high school student. 

Lola is a actress and comedian.  She had a farmers daughter character in mind for her headshots.  We have a touch of green in the background and a bit of blue to compliment her outfit.  Originally her outfit had a large bow in the back.  We aggregated it was too distracting so I removed it in Photoshop. Here earnings as studs  and are barely noticeable. 

5 – Background is distracting. You need to stand out for the competition and this usually starts with standing out from the background. The focus must be on you and you are the only thing we should be able to make out in the photo. If there is a door, fence or wall behind you, we shouldn’t be able to tell that there is. We shouldn’t be able to count the leaves on the tree or read the titles of the books on the shelf. We shouldn’t look at your headshot and feel that we are looking at your back yard or the nearest park. If people are spending more time looking at the background of your headshot instead of you, then there is a problem. Have your photo retouch artist blur the background until it is unrecognizable. Some photographers will do this as part of their session package deal for you.

6 – Clothing is not flattering or interesting. This one really surprises me. Wear what fits you, what you look good wearing, and what you are comfortable in. You do not want to look unkept in your headshot. I know you are going for the lawyer-type but that oversized suit jacket you are borrowing from your brother doesn’t create the narrative that you are a high-priced Attorney. Ill-fitting clothing will only create the narrative that you don’t care about your appearance, or that you are only doing just enough to get by. You want the casting director to get the feeling that you are prepared and can put your stuff together. Also stay away from dated clothing, unless you are going for a period-look. You don’t have to look like you are a contemporary fashion model but you do want to look like you’re from this decade. Your clothes should fit you like a glove and reinforce the character narrative making you look amazing. If you don’t have a good selection of clothes you can always purchase from Wal-Mart, then return the items later.

7 – Posture or Pose. It is important to exude confidence in you headshots. That doesn’t happen if you are slouching or hunched over. Also you want your headshot to be inviting and create the sense that you are approachable. No one wants to walk up to someone with their arms crossed. You should look relaxed, composed and welcoming. Crossing your arms makes you look defensive, closed off or even angry. Your head too high will either make you look arrogant or way too casual. If that is your brand, i.e. you often audition for and book roles for characters described as defensive or arrogant, then market yourself accordingly.

8 – You look nothing like the headshot. Keep your photo retouches to a minimum. The headshot is your calling card. It is the first thing casting directors will see. They may look at your headshot and call you in. It would probably be a good idea of the photo looked like the You that will one day walk in their office. This means the shots are up-to-date and show how you look NOW. If you just shaved your head don’t bother with the headshot of you with long flowing curls. Did you grow a beard? It should be in your headshot. Gained or lost weight? You need new headshots.

Ladies don’t cover your face in makeup. Your makeup should be minimal and natural. Leave the smokey eye and glossy lips for your night out. The foundation on your face should be there to even out your skin and reduce shine. Your makeup should be natural with natural tones colors and highlights.

9 – You took a great Portrait not a Headshot. Just because you had a photographer take your photo does not mean they took the right type of photo for your needs. There are a lot of photographers who do great work. You may have beautifully artistic images with dramatic shadows and colored lighting. Or you have a sexy glamour shot in a smoking hot dress or in a suit looking like you’re modeling cologne. What you have are great portraits or glamour shots. I am sure they may serve a purpose in your life and have sentimental value, but you do not have a Headshot. While the shots I described can help make a great holiday greeting card they are not going to get you booked in that commercial, movie or tv show. As mentioned earlier, a headshot is a shot of your head. So, the picture of you standing stoically against the light post is a nice photo but it has way too much going on with it to be your headshot.

10 – Lighting and overall photography. This is the most important thing. You can know your character, pick the perfect wardrobe and smile appropriately but none of those matters if the photography is shit. This means the shot is too bright or too dark. It means there are hot spots on your forehead and checks and no catchlights in your eyes. This means there is a dark shadow on the side of your face, a patch of direct sunlight in your eyes or you are literally floating in the darkness of a black background. Terrible photography tells the casting director that you do not want to invest in a photographer, i.e. your career. It tells them that you are trying to get over by putting up the least amount of effort. Basically if you don’t take your headshot seriously, the casting director isn’t going to take you seriously. Invest in a photographer who will capture your awesome.

Edmund here is a well built guy so we wanted to show off the guns.  When showing your physique its important to do it in a way that isn’t posing and seems natural.


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