You’re an actor, so the brief for a good headshot ought to be simple: it just needs to look like you. And yet in a business where your face is your fortune, but that fortune comes from playing characters who are not you, the concept of “you” gets complicated. So what should casting directors be seeing when they look at your headshots? And how do you go about finding the photographer to get the images that will do the best for your career?
The first thing to get clear is that your key headshots need to be faithful, up-to-date representations of you, with your eyes engaging the viewer. Your personality must leap off the paper or screen, but for a portrait to project a sense of your style and versatility it shouldn’t express any one emotion or atmosphere too overwhelmingly. Only if you’re asked for “US style” headshots should you send an image which is tailored to a specific role.
So you’ll want a portfolio of images with different looks, in both black-and-white and colour: from these, you’ll be sending a casting director four or five which are appropriate to the production and demonstrate your emotional range, while leaving scope for the production team to imagine you in their idea of the role.
Makeup should be light and your clothing straightforward and contemporary, while the lighting should look natural. Working with natural daylight can produce great results but it can be limiting: we live on a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic and whether you’ll get perfect natural lighting is a matter of chance. However, find a photographer skilled with light and you’ll get natural effects no matter what the weather.
Preparing for a role requires concentrated effort and at Studio Grey we believe that good portraiture is performance art too. You need a photographer who is as comfortable on set as they are behind the camera, because our job is to be your fellow-performer, working with your keys and giving you cues to play off, so you can find your most relaxed and vivid self. We’ll also collaborate with you over wardrobe and styling, and we have professional stylists, hair and makeup artists to help.
But how to find the right photographer, out there in the jungle where everyone wants your money? Look at Spotlight’s listings, ask around, read recommendations and reviews, and study portfolios, looking for qualifications and accreditations to professional bodies such as AoP, BIPP or RPS.
Costs are based on the photographer’s time; many start from AoP or NUJ rates, but totally understand that actors are not CEOs, and will offer starter packages or discounts. But since you will want to come away with a portfolio, you’d be well advised to reckon on a 2-3 hour shoot, and the price is likely to be £350-£400. If it’s significantly less, ask yourself what the photographer won’t be doing – and whether it’s the right equipment, or the right skills, that they don’t have.
Of course with your portfolio of images from a good photographer, you’ll also get the confidence that your files are securely stored, and easily accessed – and as your career develops, we’ll enjoy working with you to create new images that continue to express your professional identity.