Louis E. Catron.  A Primer for Actors--Headshots for Actors
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      "A Primer for Actors" offers you information about helpful books,  constructing your résumé, getting appropriate headshots, making your own website, and preparing for auditions.  You'll also find tips that are designed to help you become more effective.  Throughout there are websites you'll want to visit for additional insights.  I hope you'll find at least some of this information useful.

        Here we talk about headshots for actors.

Links to the parts of 
A Primer for Actors.

Home page of Primer for Actors
Books for Actors
Your Actor's Résumé
Creating Your Personal Actor's Professional Website



        For lawyers, real estate agents, insurance salespeople, the business card is a vital tool.  For actors, the headshot is comparable to a business card.  It also is a mnemonic to help directors and casting directors remember you.   I'm a firm believer that "if you've got it, flaunt it" is excellent advice for actors, so let your headshot show your best qualities.  Still, while it is tempting to glamorize the photo, do remember it has to look like you--you don't want those shot-through-gauze 1930s sort of pictures. 

       The picture will be an 8" x 10" photo, shot against a neutral background that compliments your appearance, with careful lighting.  Be sure your picture looks like you so the casting director will be able to put you and your photo together during post-audition casting sessions.  Film actors (movies, TV, commercials) may want a three-quarter body shot.  To avoid wasted space and to increase the dramatic impact, the picture should be without white space margins--as they say in New York, it should "flush" or "bleed," or as they say in LA, it ought be "borderless."

        Color or black and white?  Until recently, I recommended black and white photographs.  However, a recent (May 27, 2005) e-mail from professional photographer Mark Robert Halper corrects that.  He writes, headshots do not need to be black and white.  In Los Angeles, at least, the standard has become color.  Certainly his excellent sample pictures on his website (link) prove that color is a dynamic choice.  (While you're browsing his site, note the illustrations from his new book.)   If you work with an experienced theatrical photographer, ask him or her if color or black and white would be best.   

        Business cards and postcards.   Not all pictures are 8" x 10", however.  Some actors find that a photo business card or postcard can be helpful.  The former has your picture on the front and contact information on the reverse.  The postcard is a regular-sized postcard with your photo and name and contact info on the front, and the back is blank for the mailing address.  Postcards with your picture are great to send to directors or agents when you're performing in a production you'd like them see. 

        Professional or amateur photography?  Your headshot is your opportunity to catch the eye of the casting director and a major business tool, so if at all possible you’ll want to invest in professional photographs.  Yes, this will be expensive, but your headshot is so important you should brace yourself for the costs.  If you're desperately strapped for cash, you can find a friend or camera bug who can take viable photographs but there's a limit what can be achieved without a photographic studio environment where the background and lighting can be controlled, and few amateurs know how to coax great poses from their models.  If an amateur takes the pictures, search diligently for a non-distracting background (a wide roll of seamless white paper is effective) and carefully set up the area.  Soft shadows are preferable to bright sun that makes you squint.  Casual snapshots of you enjoying a picnic on the beach just won’t cut it.  Avoid the "high school/college yearbook" sort of picture!  You want your picture to be theatrical. 

        Clothing.  There are no specified rules about what you wear, but select your clothing carefully, for it speaks loudly about your personality and image.  For example, if you're typically cast as a power executive, consider wearing a suit.  Avoid "busy" clothing--patterns, frills, those sorts of distractions.  Jewelry, too, can be distracting.  Take with you a variety of outfits so you can make changes.  

        The picture, defined.  Your headshot will be a head-and-shoulders (say, mid-chest up, although some are just the head), 8" x 10" photo, shot against a neutral background that compliments your appearance, with careful lighting.   If you're dark-haired, a dark background isn't a good idea because your hair will disappear; if you have light-colored hair, a light background will make you look wan and washed out.  Virtually every headshot shows the actor looking directly into the camera and the key to a good headshot is a lively, warm appearance--and that comes from the eyes.  (Tip:  Borrow the trick used by experienced TV announcers and newscasters.  You don't look at the camera lens but instead you look past the camera lens, into the camera.  You aren't looking at a piece of equipment but instead at a human...and a human you like.)  You want to project high energy.  Hand props are likely more distracting than helpful.  

        What to expect from a pro.  A professional photographer will arrange a studio environment, advise you about poses, make suggestions about costume, help you with makeup and hair, arrange lighting, create a neutral background, take a large number of pictures, and show you proofs so you can select the one you think is best.  The photographer should ask you what you consider your "good side" and what poses you'd like, but the pro will have ideas and suggestions you should follow.  A good pro knows how to coach a great picture out of you, and you will want to relax fully and follow the photographer's guidance.  For best results, the photo session may be two to three hours long.  Some digital photogs offer retouching.  You then have the pro make a number of 8” x 10” glossy prints.   (Tip:   be sure to make arrangements with the photographer for ordering additional copies in the future, even by mail, because you may be in a distant city and need more pictures.)  Some photographers give you the negatives and prints are up to you.  Depending on various factors, expect to pay $50.00 to $1,000.00, although both the low and high ends are rare and $300.00-$400.00 is probably the average.  Those who charge more will probably shoot two rolls of film (72 shots) or a wide range of digital photos, giving you a nice choice.  If you deal with a film photog, you'll be shown contact sheets (small pictures) from which you can select; a digital photog will show you the pictures on his computer monitor.  (Tip:  an established pro photographer in a theatre city may have contacts with agencies or theatre professionals.  You may get a good contact or even a referral.  Ask!)  If you're female, you may feel more comfortable if you have a friend come along.  (Tip:  considering asking the photog to print your name on the bottom of the border because your picture just might get detached from your written material.)  

        Finding a professional photographer.  In the major theatrical cities like Chicago and New York, the phone company's Yellow Pages will have many listings for these specialized photographers, although you will want to check carefully to be sure the photographer actually specializes in theatrical headshots (versus cute baby pictures and the like).  Film actors will find dozens of photographers in the Hollywood area, and you may want to consider Mark Robert Halper, mentioned above (link).  Look, too, in the advertising pages of  theatre newspapers like Backstage and Variety.  Even better will be using the Internet (see below) because you have a good chance of finding websites that display the photographers' work.  But your best recommendation will come from a show biz vet who has dealt with photographers:  ask friends, agents, actors you meet at auditions, and carefully record contact info in your Actor's Journal.  Before you sign up for the photo session, ask to see the photographer's collection of headshots and be very careful to be certain you have a complete understanding of the services.  Read the contract carefully.  No, read it very carefully.  If there is any passage you don't understand, get it clarified before you sign it.  Remember that a contract is an agreement between two parties--just because the photographer's contact is printed, you do not necessarily have to accept all of the terms.  Feel free to negotiate.  Visit at least half a dozen photographers to get a better idea of which one you want to select.  Certainly it should be someone you're comfortable with; if you feel tense or insecure around that photographer, that negativity will show up in the pictures. 

      Internet sites to help you find a photographer. The 'Net has resources to help you look for a pro; try a search for "actor resume headshot" and "headshot."  TVI Actors Studio offers links to some 30 New York and 30 Los Angeles photogs, and you can view a gallery of headshots at the Studio (link).  For a sample professional photographer, see New Yorker Mark Rubin's site (link ) where you'll find a number of pictures, his description of his services, and rates.  Also in New York is Trevor Oswalt, a specialist in natural lighting (link).   Chicago actors may want to look at National Talent Pool's links to fourteen area photogs, each with websites that show off their work (link) .  The Acting Depot offers a map of the U.S. with links to photographers by geographic areas (link). 

        Look at other actor's headshots.  Using the Internet--use Google or your favorite search engine to look for "actor résumé"--you can find head-and-shoulder photographs of other actors and evaluate them for your use.  Pay attention to the "image" the photograph projects, then see how that image is achieved with lighting, background, costume, and pose.  You'll see, too, how some actors are looking past the camera lens.  As you look at various pictures, select the aspects you think best for you.

        Illustrations of headshots.  For examples of headshots you can find on the 'net, notice how the background, lighting, poses, and costume create a clear persona for television actress Eden Riegel (link); see how those factors combine to give a quite different image for movie actress Kim Dawson (link).  Note the tilted head pose for singer-actor Bjorn Ollsson (link) and the intensity of actor Paul Logan (link).  The powerful effect of a closeup is shown in actress Janine Pibal's headshot (link); notice the difference in another picture which is further way and note, too, the way she combines photographs with her résumé.  Terry Ike Clanton elects to use a full body photograph and a costume to enhance the image of a western actor (link). Finally, see how Jan Leighton uses characters for his headshots to illustrate he is a "man of 3,000 faces" (link). 

        More examples.  In the "Primer for Actors" discussion about websites (there's a link at the top of the page) we give URLs for sample actors on the 'net, and those links will allow you to see more headshots of other actors.

~  ~  ~  ~

        After all of that time and expense, then you put staples in the beautiful (and expensive) picture of beautiful you?  Yup.  You attach your résumé to the back of your photograph and you're ready to hand it to the director.

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