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DIY Actor Headshots? Why Professional Headshots Are Essential

Jeremy Bustin
20 May 2023
10 min read
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Can Actors Take Their Own Headshots?

Did you know that 90% of casting directors say that headshots are the most important factor in deciding whom to call in for an audition? If you are an actor, this means that your headshot could make or break your chances of landing your dream role. But how do you get a headshot that stands out from the crowd and showcases your talent? The answer is simple: hire a professional headshot photographer.

Headshots are an essential tool for actors looking to break into the industry or advance their careers. A well-crafted headshot can convey professionalism, personality, and versatility, capturing the attention of casting directors and agents. While some actors may consider taking their own headshots to save money or for convenience, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of working with a professional headshot photographer who understands the specific requirements of the acting industry. In this article, we will explore why actors should opt for professional headshots and how doing it themselves can hinder their career prospects.

1: The Industry’s Expectations

The acting industry has certain expectations when it comes to headshots. Casting directors and agents receive thousands of submissions per role, and they rely on headshots to make quick decisions about whom to call in for a first round of auditions. Headshots must accurately represent an actor’s appearance, showcase their range, and capture their unique essence. Hiring a professional headshot photographer who understands the industry ensures that these expectations are met, increasing the chances of making a strong first impression.

Some of the specific requirements that casting directors and agents look for in headshots are:

  1. Clear lighting: The lighting should highlight the actor’s features and avoid harsh shadows or glare. Commercial headshots are usually more bright and airy, while theatrical headshots can have subtle shadows and texture to add drama.
  2. The right background: The background should not distract from the actor’s face or clash with their clothing. Neutral colors like white, gray, or black are good for theatrical headshots, as they create contrast and make the actor stand out. More colorful options are good for commercial shots and can give your headshots an extra pop. Simple textures offered by hand-painted canvases can also add to the overall look and create an environment.
  3. Appropriate clothing and makeup: The clothing and makeup should match the actor’s type and the roles they are aiming for. They should also be comfortable and fit well. The clothing should not have any logos or super bright colors that draw attention away from the face. Patterns are acceptable as long as they fit the type of role the actor is targeting. Unless otherwise needed for a specific look, the makeup should be minimal and natural-looking, enhancing the actor’s features without changing them.
  4. Eye contact and expression: The eyes are the most important part of a headshot, as they convey emotion and personality. The actor should look directly into the camera lens with confidence and approachability. Actors should showcase a variety of expressions during their photo shoot to capture a range of character types. A great actor’s headshot photographer will know how to coach this.

2: Current and accurate representation

The headshot should reflect how the actor looks right now, not how they looked a few years ago or how they wish they looked. The headshot should also be honest and realistic, not overly retouched or altered.

3: The Risks of DIY Actor Headshots

While it is technically possible for actors to take their own headshots, doing so comes with several risks. An actor shooting their own headshots may lack the objectivity and perspective needed to capture their best angles, expressions, and moods. Without proper guidance, actors may end up with headshots that appear amateurish or fail to meet industry standards. Such headshots can be detrimental to an actor’s career, as they may convey a lack of professionalism and awareness of industry expectations.

Some of the common pitfalls of DIY actor headshots are:

  1. Poor quality: Using subpar equipment such as a smartphone camera, a webcam, or a cheap tripod may result in images that lack the desired clarity, sharpness, and professional look expected in the industry. The lighting may also be inadequate or inconsistent, creating unwanted shadows or glare. The resolution may also be too low for printing or uploading online.
  2. Wrong format: Using the wrong format for headshots such as landscape instead of portrait orientation, full-body shots instead of close-ups, or selfies instead of self-timer shots may confuse or annoy casting directors and agents who expect a standard format for submissions. The format may also affect the cropping and framing of the image, cutting off important parts of the face or leaving too much empty space.
  3. Inappropriate style: Using a style that does not suit the actor’s type or the roles they are seeking such as glamour shots instead of natural shots, casual shots instead of professional shots, or artistic shots instead of realistic shots may misrepresent the actor’s image and marketability. The style may also clash with the industry’s expectations and preferences for headshots.
  4. Lack of variety: Using only one or a few shots for all submissions may limit the actor’s opportunities and potential. Casting directors and agents may want to see different aspects of an actor’s essence and range such as different expressions, moods, and poses. Having only one shot may also make the actor look boring or unoriginal.

4: The Role of Professional Headshot Photographers

Professional headshot photographers specialize in capturing headshots that showcase an actor’s unique qualities and marketability. They understand the nuances of lighting, composition, and posing that work best in the industry. With their expertise, they can guide actors through the process, providing feedback and suggestions to create headshots that maximize their looks and potential. Engaging with a professional photographer ensures that actors receive high-quality images that stand out from the competition.

Some of the benefits of working with a professional headshot photographer are:

  1. Expert advice: A professional photographer can offer valuable advice on how to prepare for a headshot session such as choosing the right clothing and makeup, finding a suitable location and time, relaxing before and during the shoot, etc. They can also help actors select the best shots from the session based on their type and goals.
  2. Creative direction: A professional photographer can direct actors during the shoot such as telling them where to look, how to tilt their head, how to smile or frown, etc. They can also adjust the lighting, background, camera angle, etc. to create different effects and moods.
  3. Technical skills: A professional photographer can use their technical skills to produce high-quality images such as adjusting the exposure, focus, white balance, color, contrast, etc. They can also edit and retouch the images to enhance their appearance and quality without altering their authenticity or realism.
Intimate portrait of a woman with short curly hair, gold nose ring, and a contemplative expression, wearing a burnt orange collar shirt layered under a black top, set against a muted gray background - Premium Atlanta Headshots Photography

5: Maximizing the Essence

One of the key advantages of working with a professional headshot photographer is their ability to capture different aspects of an actor’s essence. They possess the skills to bring out an actor’s personality and showcase their versatility through varying expressions, moods, and poses. By working closely with actors during the shoot, photographers can create headshots that truly represent the actor’s unique qualities, increasing their chances of getting noticed by industry professionals.

Some of the ways that photographers can maximize the essence of actors are:

  1. Asking questions: A photographer can ask actors questions about themselves such as their hobbies, interests, goals, etc. to get to know them better and understand their essence. They can also use these questions to spark conversations and elicit natural reactions and emotions from actors during the shoot.
  2. Giving scenarios: A photographer can give actors scenarios to imagine such as being in a certain situation, character, or mood and ask them to act out how they would feel or react in that scenario. This can help actors explore and express different facets of their essence and range through their eyes, face, and body language.
  3. Playing music: A photographer can play music during the shoot to set the tone and mood for each shot. They can also ask actors to choose their favorite songs or genres and play them to inspire them and bring out their personality and energy

6: The Importance of Equipment

If an actor is serious about their career, they need to invest in the right equipment to be taken seriously. While a professional photographer will have the necessary gear, actors who choose to take their own headshots should consider investing in a high-quality camera, appropriate lenses, and professional lighting equipment. Using subpar equipment may result in images that lack the desired clarity, sharpness, and professional look expected in the industry.

Some of the essential equipment for taking headshots are:

  1. Camera: A camera is obviously the most important piece of equipment for taking headshots. A DSLR or mirrorless camera is recommended as they offer more control and flexibility over settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. They also produce higher resolution and quality images than smartphones or webcams. A camera with a flip screen or remote control is also useful for taking self-timer shots. You can buy a prosumer camera that has these capabilities for under $1,000.
  2. Lens: A lens is another crucial component of taking headshots. A lens with a focal length of 85mm - 135mm is ideal for headshots, as it creates a flattering perspective and a shallow depth of field that blurs the background and focuses on the face. A lens with a wide aperture (such as f/1.8 or f/2.8) is also recommended, as it allows more light to enter the camera and creates a softer and smoother bokeh effect.
  3. Lighting: Lighting is one of the most important factors in creating a professional-looking headshot. While some actors may prefer natural light for its realism and warmth, most industry professionals now favor studio headshots for their cleanliness and consistency. Studio headshots are taken with artificial light sources that can be controlled and adjusted to create the desired effect and mood. Studio headshots also eliminate the distractions and variables of natural light, such as weather, time of day, location, etc. Therefore, it is advisable to use some lighting equipment to create studio-quality headshots. For example, a flash or a continuous light can be used to illuminate the face and create contrast and depth. A softbox or an umbrella can be used to soften or shape the light and create a more even and natural look. A backdrop can be used to create a neutral and simple background that does not draw attention away from the face.
  4. Tripod: A tripod is a useful accessory for taking self-timer shots, as it stabilizes the camera and prevents camera shake or blur. A tripod also allows more freedom and flexibility in choosing the camera angle and position. A tripod with a ball head or a fluid head is preferred, as it enables smooth and precise adjustments of the camera orientation. A tripod with a remote control or a smartphone app is also convenient, as it allows triggering the shutter without touching the camera.

These are some of the essential equipment for taking headshots that meet the industry standards and expectations. However, having the right equipment is not enough; one also needs to know how to use it properly and effectively. That’s why hiring a professional headshot photographer who has both the equipment and the skills is the best option for actors who want to succeed in their careers.


In conclusion, although actors technically have the ability to take their own headshots, it is not recommended for several reasons. Hiring a professional headshot photographer who understands the industry’s expectations and knows how to capture headshots for actors is crucial. DIY actor headshots may save money in the short term, but they can hinder a career before it even takes off. Professional photographers possess the skills, experience, and equipment necessary to create headshots that truly represent an actor’s essence and increase their chances of success. Investing in professional headshots is an investment in an actor’s future and a step towards a promising career in the acting industry.

If you are looking for a professional headshot photographer who can help you create stunning headshots that tell a story, look no further than Jeremy Bustin in Atlanta.

With more than 220 5-star Google reviews, Jeremy is an actor himself and knows the industry very well. He approaches every actor headshot session based on the individual actor’s goals and uses prompts and coaching to bring out headshots that showcase their personality and potential. Jeremy believes that the story is the most important part of actor headshots, and he knows how to capture it in a way that will get you noticed. Don’t settle for DIY actor headshots that may harm your career. Book your session with Jeremy today and get ready to shine!