I recently worked with a new actress who brought a lab coat and stethoscope to her professional headshot session. It was advice she received online from an acting group.
There’s a lot of chat online and in the market about what “type” of character or actor someone is. And often that kind of talk can push actors to seek a headshot that can fulfill the “type” of person they assume people want them to be or think of them as.
There’s also been some not-so-great advice going around, encouraging actors to “dress up” for their headshot—in a way that feels like a caricature or a Halloween costume, instead of a more grounded “type” of person. It’s definitely advice that’s off the mark and, in my experience, proves a waste of your time and money.
I want to dispel these ideas and spare you from taking some unnecessary and unhelpful headshots. Let’s dive in a little more to explore it further.
A quick disclaimer about wardrobe and how someone should attempt to “dress the part.” By all means, if there are specific character archetypes you get called in for a lot or you or your agent want to pursue more aggressively, then it is definitely fine to have a headshot that suggests that type of character. A lab coat is totally fine if you are going out for industry training videos, but if you want to submit for New Amsterdam or another medical drama, dress in something that merely suggests the character.
If you work with me, we'll spend time before the shoot talking about your type and what you want to show in your headshots, and I'll provide guidance to help you determine wardrobe for those types. But you don’t need to dress up in an over-the-top costume or in a uniform to represent these ideas. Scan around my site to see some successful actors’ headshots or even examples of actors who are brand new but have started finding work off the bat.
Do a Google search of some of your favorite actor headshots, and I guarantee you won’t find any of them wearing costumes or uniforms. In fact, working actors’ headshots are not about their wardrobe or accessories at all. It’s really all about them. Who they are deep down and not at all about them trying to fit into a “type.”
That said, there are exceptions. For example, an actor client of mine is also a real life cop and is often cast because of that. So he does have a headshot in his actual uniform. Usually a casting notice will highlight that they are looking for real police officers, doctors, etc.
Ultimately, the risk you take if you want to “dress up in costume” for a “type of role” is that you will look amateur and far from a real, working, professional actor.
The entertainment industry is in a place where much is being questioned about the casting processes and the thoughts surrounding how the casting decisions get made.
The world is helping us re-examine how we think of people, characters and the actors who portray them on screen. And it has been a wonderful, insightful and revolutionary happening that has produced wholesale change within the entertainment industry.
It has allowed us to ask questions concerning the ways we think about people based on their appearance and their personality. It has given room for a lot of growth in the casting process, allowing a more honest, accurate and widely accepted view of the world and the people in it. And it has helped shape how casting directors, executives, producers and directors choose the talent to star in their projects.
The bottom line is, you must have headshots that accurately reflect and elevate your personality. It must be a powerful glimpse into who you actually are. Not a caricature version of who someone else thinks you should be, or who you think you need to be in order to find work. Some of the best actors look and sound nothing like the characters they play. But they are dedicated, talented, interesting people who bring honest parts of themselves to their roles.
Your headshot should make someone feel like they just met you in person. It is a handshake that instantly tells someone who you are, what your personality is and what you have to offer a role.
Your headshots need to be able to work for a wide variety of different directions. You or your representative need to be able to use the same headshot for various roles in various types of projects. That means that your photos need to show off the strongest parts of your personality that are entirely unique to YOU.
Think about it: a casting director or decision maker doesn’t want to have to decide between twenty actors of the same “type.” They want someone who not only fits the role but also stands out among the crowd. Your headshot should reflect your individuality, your true presence and the strongest facets of your inner character. That is the way you stand out to people. And that is the opposite of playing to a “type.”
It’s my job as a headshot photographer to help you elevate your personality through a single image and to help bring out your more dynamic aspects, so that your headshot can feel full, rich and engaging.
You need to be more than just a happy, charming or dramatic “type” of person. More than a nerd or a bully. A criminal or a cop. A mother or a daughter. You need to come across as you would at your most comfortable, most present and most engaged—the same way you would if you were actually acting.
After all, a headshot is a one-second performance. And a performance is more than just standing there and smiling, frowning or delivering a line.