How to choose a headshot photographer
Our guide to choosing the right Actor Headshot Photographer for you.
Our unbiased guide to choosing a photographer that can create the best headshots to help your career as a performer.
Find the right Actor Headshot Photographer for you
So, it’s time to get new actor headshots taken but where do you start and what is the right choice in choosing the right headshot photographer that will help you get your foot in the door with a casting director or agent. A quick search in Google will bring up hundreds of photographers that are either specialists in headshots or offer them as part of a range of services. However, choosing the right place to spend your hard-earned money can be tricky. In this article, we will hopefully help you to make the decision that little bit easier.
How important is a professional actor headshot?
As an actor, you may have had amazing training, great talent and the highest level of professionalism but for 99% of the time, the first contact you have with an agent or casting director is through your headshot. Whether it’s on Spotlight or a 10X8, your headshot will be what creates the first impression. It is vital to have a great image that represents you and creates interest with anyone that may be in a position to offer you a contract.
We all know that there are thousands of actors and performers going for every job and the vast majority of us fall into a very common category. Unless you are 7 foot with blond dreadlocks and three legs, you can be pretty sure that any casting will be oversubscribed with others that match your playing type. Therefore, having a great headshot that stands out for the right reasons is a must for any working or aspiring actor.
Do you need a professional headshot photographer?
The real question is of course whether you need a professional photographer to take your headshots. After all, we all have amazing cameras in our phones. Surely, they are good enough? In reality, you can get a great headshot from a phone or an entry level camera but that is only one part of the equation. I have the same frying pan as Gordon Ramsey but apparently that doesn’t make me a Michelin Starred Chef!
Like in any area of specialism, it’s the person behind the tool that can make a huge difference to the final product. A professional headshot photographer will have a great understanding of light, posing and relaxation methods that will bring out the best in you and bring that little something extra to your headshot that will allow you to stand out just enough to be called for casting.
Do you need a specialist headshot photographer or a generalist?
There are many generalist photographers out there that do a decent job in many disciplines. They may shoot some weddings, portraits and even commercial and headshot work. Many wedding and portrait photographers will offer headshots as it can keep them shooting during the week with weekends open for weddings and portraits.
From personal experience, there is a huge jump in quality when someone specialises. I was a wedding photographer for 12 years and concentrated solely on being the best wedding photographer I could be. When I knew I wanted to change specialism to headshots, I spent a year dedicating myself to almost relearning my skills to be as good at headshots. This of course is an ongoing process and I will probably never be happy!
Even though I was a successful wedding photographer and you would think that photographing people in different environments shouldn’t be that much different, I have been on a huge journey over the last few years to make the move to headshots. The differences may be subtle but may be the difference of you getting called for audition or not.
How much should you spend on your actor headshots?
There are a huge range of budgets to consider. If you keep an eye out, you will sometimes see a headshot photographer that is starting out or wants to test new equipment and will offer headshots on a TFP (Time for Prints / Skills swap) basis. There are also photographers in London that will charge upwards of £600 for a session and just one image!!!
The best advice here is to choose a photographer that style you like, personality you click with and is within your budget. Typically spending more in life gets you a better product. I think there is a certain level of spend with photographers when you know you are getting a professional. Its easy to work out their hourly rate to see if they have enough to not only survive but also to invest in training, equipment, insurance, tax etc. A full time professional will have to factor all these into their pricing.
We of course are unusual in our pricing in that we only charge for the images you love. No prepaying for a package in advance. Our actors typically buy our 5 or 10 image packages which while still offering you great value, also allow us enough to run our studio, survive as a business and reinvest in the best training and equipment. (advert over!)
Choosing a photography style that suits you and your playing type
If you have had a good look through the Internet and waded through endless portfolios’s, you will see a huge range of styles in actor headshots. From bright and breezy to dark and moody, pastel colours to super vibrant, colour or Black & White, the styles are endless. My advice is to think about your playing type or at least what you would like your playing type to be and go for a style that suits that. If you are a triple treat musical theatre professional then maybe the dark and moody shots are not the ones that will represent you best. But then again they may be! You may be great at playing the villain or the temptress and the moodier headshots will convey those little character traits that will get this part of your personality across.
Essentially, this is down to personal taste. If you like a photographer’s style then that’s great. They will bring out the best in you in their photographic style. Some headshot photographers have a very fixed style while others will offer a real range in their shoots. It really depends on what you as a performer are drawn to.
How many images do you need from the shoot?
Spotlight and many other casting websites allow you to upload multiple images. This is an amazing opportunity to showcase your diversity as a performer and show some different aspects to what you can portray (careful that your headshots are not too character driven). Of course one killer headshot could be enough to land you that great audition but it would be a good idea to have a range of images online.
Between 5 and 10 seems to be the number that most have online. This of course is down to budget and the range that the photographer provides you with. If you have just changed your hair or grown a beard then one image from a session may well be enough to add to your online collection. If you are starting out then I would recommend a minimum of three images in your online portfolios.
How long should a headshot session be?
The amount of time you spend with a headshot photographer can vary hugely. Some range from an hour right up to half a day and beyond. When we shoot at a drama school, we typically offer a 30-minute session with about 4 looks. It really depends on your personality and that of the photographer.
Many headshot sessions are 2-3 hours. For me, I work at a swift pace and love the one-hour sessions that we do. Our sessions are quite high energy with changes every 10 minutes or so and it suits our clients that want to get a great range in a short period of time. I am not quite sure what I would do with three hours! Maybe its my wedding photography background where we were always under pressure to produce a great range of images in a short period of time.
You may well want to have enough time to settle into a session and get used to being in front of the camera. As an actor, being photographed as yourself can be a daunting prospect so more time may help. Speak with your prospective photographer and get their advice and see if you think you and they match when it comes to the pace they work at.
Do you want studio or outdoor images (or both?)
Many headshot photographers shoot outdoors using natural light and others including myself have a dedicated studio. Having a studio doesn’t make you more professional, its simply down to preference. Although I would say that a studio is warmer in winter and the wind doesn’t mess with your hair! Look through the portfolio and see if the style of the photographer matches what you are after. That is the key. You may well get a photographer that offers both indoor and outdoor shots which is great for variety.
Do you need professional hair and make-up?
Actor headshots should look like you (albeit on a good day with lots of sleep and water) so ideally hair and makeup should reflect this. A great makeup artist can create a very natural look that will just give you that glow while still looking like you. There are headshot photographers that offer hair and an MUA (Make Up Artist) as part of a package. You can of course go to a professional before the shoot which gives you a wider choice of who to use. 95% of our performers choose to do their own hair and makeup with us helping a little in editing.
With the recommendation to get updated headshots every couple of years, it can be a daunting prospect to find the right photographer. However, find a style and personality that you connect with as well as one that’s within budget and you are off to a great start. Travel to the right one if you need to. Actor friends are a great source for recommendations and finding out the truth about what a photographer is really like. Bring way too many clothes and have fun with the session.
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