Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Actor Headshots: The Variety Pack Approach

I need new pictures. Now.

After deciding to grow out my hair last July, I got a new round of headshots to show off my longer locks. You can view them by clicking Headshots above. Pretty pictures, right?

Wrong. These headshots are killing my career softly with each passing day of my phone not ringing.

They’re lovely photographs, yes, but they’re way too generic for my acting career. Where’s the picture that shows I can play an earnest medical student with a perfectionist streak? Where’s my dorky office worker who tries to hard? Where’s my cynical best friend who’s covering insecurity?

In other words, where’s the variety?

Unless a casting director already knows your work, headshots are their window into your range as an actor. Gone are the days of getting two contrasting headshots to be made into 8x10 pictures. Also gone is the notion that smiling shots are commercial and non-smiling shots are theatrical. Casting directors want to see a variety of headshots that show your range.

That doesn’t mean you need to spend hundreds on several different 8x10s. Nearly all casting is now done electronically, which means you can showcase a wide variety of looks without having to reproduce any of them into hard copies.

Here’s a further illustration of the specificity needed in headshots these days. (Disclaimer: I don’t know these actors. I just stumbled across their resumes and thought they proved my point beautifully.)

Take this actor: http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/175077-566925

He's wearing different clothes in each picture, but essentially you’re looking at the exact same head. Same eyes, same energy, same expression – same character. Average guy.

Now look at this actor: http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/117381-394181

Just start by noticing all the different looks he has wearing the same business suit – district attorney, stern cop, sexy detective, easygoing office guy. His energy is slightly different in each picture. He also has several different casual looks, both dramatic and comedic – cute boyfriend, young dad, fun college dude, serious off-duty cop. Even the first and last headshots in this pic above are different – the first is a courtroom lawyer, the last is a police detective.

Bottom line – a wider range of looks in your portfolio means you or your agent can make your headshot submissions more specific, which helps your picture stand out from the crowd. Case in point - which actor would you call to audition for a hard-nosed Wall Street executive?

Now look at my pictures again –

They’re all the same! Crap!

I need new pictures. Now.


  1. Great blog and great topic!

  2. My agent told me a couple of years ago that things were getting this way. Crazy how CD's need to be hit over the head with specificity now...

  3. This was an eye-opener for me. My mind is still wrapped around the idea of two different head shots like you mentioned - One Commercial and One Theatrical ( Even some of the books tell you that too ). But what you pointed out makes sense, and with the internet and web one can just share all different types of looks in one place.

    So does that mean one can choose which head shot to submit to CD based on the role? How about having to choose that one head shot to represent yourself as an actor? Is there such thing as that one look to attract others to hire an actor?

    Thanks a bunch Teresa!


  4. @latinlover17 - CDs are so overworked these days, a headshot that does part of their job for them will always rise above the crowd. Just another way our business is getting so competitive!

    @Julian - Yes, each time you or your agent submits, they can select a specific picture from your portfolio. If you look at my resume link - http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/teresahuang - you'll see I have a slew of picture for my manager to choose from.

    And despite all my talk of specificity, I should have mentioned that getting one amazing shot that captures your essence is still a worthy goal in a headshot session. It's just not the only goal. A solid all-purpose shot can be your main headshot and be the default choice for your submissions.

    Plus it's still good to have one great shot for 8x10s. I've only reproduced one picture into hard copies and I bring it to every audition. After they've met you, the hard copy is just a reminder.

    Thanks for reading all!

  5. Thank you Teresa! Looking forward to what's next. Hopefully if I ever get the chance to come down to LA I can come to you for advice and tips in this industry :)

    Can't wait for new posts!


  6. funny enough, even back in '97 i switched my 'all american' smiley shots (with dyed dark hair) for my commercial agent to a rather serious, edgy shot with no smile and my natural silver hair and immediately started getting the right kind of COMMERCIAL auditions. i can't tell you how frustrating it's been with commercial agents since then who all want me to dye my hair dark and get happy smiley shots and have to go through this whole story with them. i've discovered what works for me already...let's not reinvent the wheel every time.

  7. Curt - Yes! You hit on the other part of getting the right headshots - making sure your agent is on the same page with you. I've had agents in the past push me to get teeny bopper headshots to go out for Disney stuff, and I had to keep telling them, "I know I look young, but I don't sound like a teenager!"