It’s the simplest thing in the world but most actors get it wrong. And photographers get it wrong and ironically, many headshot photographers working specifically with actors get it wrong.
What’s the secret?
Nothing. Doing nothing. All you have to do is be yourself in front of a camera. Simple. And yet very difficult for most actors who are incredibly shy when it comes to being themselves. If they can’t focus on being another character- something we all spend years learning to do as actors- then there’s confusion, insecurity, fear and tension which makes for a lousy head shot. Adding to that is the frustration of most photographers I’ve met or worked with who don’t know how to get an actor to RELAX. So they say things like “Relax, chill, be more calm, stop biting your lip or squinting your eyes!” or “Relax your forehead-there are lines and wrinkles where you’re frowning, lower your shoulders, breathe!” The list goes on. The result? An actor gets more self-conscious, upset, more nervous and more tense. It’s a downward spiral. What to do?
Five Easy Steps To a Great Headshot
1- Choose a photographer that you feel comfortable with not the “trendy” hot guy to whom every actor goes. “Oh, if only I had a head shot with this top guy I would be successful, too!” No, not true. Better to work with an unknown photographer but someone who is able to capture you, someone with whom you can relax and have a great rapport. Ideally, find someone who is technically brilliant and then bring along to the shoot your career coach/art director who can talk to you, focus you, keep you centered and real. Then, you can get really great pictures!
2- Go over your “type” and range-the kind of roles in which you will be cast and play before you decide on the wardrobe. There’s nothing worse than a generic headshot, one with an actor dressed in a boring white shirt or a black sweater with a phony smile. Know your roles: Doctor, Lawyer, Businessman, FBI agent Spy, Mom, Dad? Dress it or suggest it. Wear your favorite colors-solids are generally better than prints. Another mistake? An actress wearing too much jewelry, make-up or choosing outfits that are more suited to a disco, a beach party, baseball game or just hanging out at a bar. That’s OK if that’s what you’re selling as your brand. If not, casting directors are confused about how to cast you or call you in for a role, so they don’t! (Get the advice of a Career Coach if you don’t know your type or what to wear).
3- Explain thoroughly or show the make-up artist and hair stylist exactly how you look every day. All too often a stylist will do your hair they way they see you not the way you usually look so you end up with photos that don’t accurately represent you. This is especially true for women but may apply to men with longer hair that can be altered with mousse, spray, a curling iron. For women with curly hair-if that’s how you look don’t straighten your hair just for the headshot unless you want to do that everyday of your life henceforth. Casting Directors want to see the real you not how you “could be”.
4- Bring a CD or several with music you love. Create your own “space” and place within the studio. Bring water or your favorite juice, snack, food. Bring your favorite photos of your pets, children, family or partner so you are thinking about positive images and memories. Focus on just being comfortable.
Then, take a half hour or even 15 minutes to sit still and just be- yourself. Don’t arrive late and rush into a shoot with the stylist fussing, getting dressed, photographer clicking, lights blinking. All that creates tension. Relax before you sit in the chair or stool on which you will be photographed.
In my experience with over a dozen top headshot photographers in as many years, the best shots I ever obtained were taken by a photographer who was a part of a husband/wife team. He greeted you at the door and offered refreshments leading you to a peaceful dressing room where you could unwind with soothing music. She sat and talked/laughed with you for a full half hour before you heard a click from her camera or saw a flash of light from the strobe. Of course they knew lighting and were skilled in the art of photography but their success as a team was understanding the psychology of relaxation and harmony for their actor clients. Brilliant!
5- Use your acting “technique” while you are being photographed. Think Fun thoughts (your subtext or inner monologue). Talk about your life. Tell a story about your family or your travels. Let the relaxation of just talking show on your face. That’s being You. Talk, tell a story and then let it go. Sit still and “glow” in the memory or the laughter. Then, you are giving the photographer something to capture. YOU. Your energy. Your joy of living. The joy of being YOU. And that makes a great head shot!
Gwyn Gilliss is the Founder and Executive Director of TAM, The Actor’s Market, a marketing firm for actors. They provide monthly FREE seminars/teleseminars, FREE weekly marketing tips as well as access to top photographers, graphic artists and videographers who provide every marketing tool an actor needs. Gwyn’s acting career spans several decades during which time she appeared on and off-Broadway, in classical roles in American Repertory companies in over 18 contract and recurring roles in Daytime/Prime time TV, Films and dozens of network commercials/V.O.’s. As the foremost Marketing/Career Coach she is available to work One-on-One with ready-to-succeed actors.