Ah, the long-lamented, woefully redundant, ever-exacerbated topic – headshots. Much like online dating – it matters. A lot. Until the person knows you, and then it can be whatever you want it to be. Yes – I love Thomas Lennon’s headshot too, but he’s also at a point where he can do that, and all it does, is expand upon his own brand. When you’re starting out – you’re not there yet. Below are a couple pointers for starting out.
- Think about your audience. Are you sending these out for commercials? Are you sending them out for gritty indies? Are you sending them for a sketch web-series? You should have something that can be used for whatever you’re going out for, a standard, go-to headshot, that represents you well, but in the process of actually shooting the photos – think about specifics. Tailor your headshots to those specificities.
- Commercial – this is where it’s extremely important to know your brand. Yes. I know that you are particularly edgy, and you’re soooo sarcastic. But if you look like a sweet Midwestern farm boy, that’s what you’ll be hired for in a commercial. Give into the flannel, give in to the blue collared shirt, cardigan-ed up with khakis. And for you, you sweetheart with curly hair bigger than your head and tattoos behind your ear – your look is hipster, how ever much you hate that label. I know “hipster” doesn’t capture your essence, but guess what? “Hipsters” get hired. Put on those chunky glasses and strike a quirky app-developer pose, whatever the hell that may be. Or maybe – you’ve always been the class clown, everyone knows you’re just a cool, down-to-earth friend – but those sharp cheekbones look good with a lawyer’s power suit, and you know it.
- Theatrical drama – no characters to hide behind here. I just want to see you. Keep it minimal, with clothing, with accessories, with the background. The focus here is not your look – it’s your eyes. I want to see your depth, and I’m not going to get that with a brightly checkered top. The reason people aren’t usually smiling in a drama photo? So that I can see more of your eyes. The ‘windows to the soul,’ and all that jazz. Yes. I want to see them.
- Theatrical comedy – here’s where you truly get to show your essence. Again no characters, just the truest version of what makes you happy. I want to see what makes you unique, here. And the way to do that – is to dress as yourself, act as yourself, and generally just be yourself. The easiest way to do that is to get into a conversation with your photographer that puts you in your happy place, and then start snapping away. NOTE: I’m not asking you to come up with a brilliant thing that’s different from everyone else. I’m asking you to be yourself. That’s unique enough.
- Keep in mind, if you’re uncomfortable, or not quite sure what to do in your photos – I can tell. I can see that you’re uncomfortable, and I can see you’re unsure. Every version of a photo that I just described – they still need to be authentically you.
- Commercial – you know that flannel and those chunky glasses without lenses I’m making you wear? They need to be some version of what you would wear. If you’ve never worn a collared shirt in your life – then for pete’s sake, don’t button it up all the way, and put a t-shirt underneath. If you’ve never worn your curly hair natural – don’t try it for the first time on the day you’re shooting your headshots. Keep everything as normal as possible – these are just versions of you. Facets of who you can be. Nothing should feel out of your wheelhouse.
- Theatrical drama – I know you’ve got great teeth, and your default face is a grin. And I know you’ve tried ‘not smiling’ in the photo. It’s hard – we’ve been programmed since we were kids to “say cheese!” and so all these serious photos come out a little forced and weird. The trick to it, is confidence and vulnerability. Don’t force a frown, don’t grit out some pose you think looks powerful. Find a comfortable position that makes you feel confident in yourself, and talk to your photographer about something personal. Being open and honest, and more importantly – relaxed while being open and honest – it gives me, the viewer, a sense of your power and character.
- Theatrical comedy – here’s your true chance to be yourself. Try not to concentrate on smiling, or your cheeks will start to hurt and your smile won’t be real – just let yourself be the happiest version of yourself, and it’ll come across in the photo. Maybe tell your photographer a funny story, or ooh! Imagine yourself telling that hilarious story to a crowd of adoring peers, all hysterically laughing while they’re awarding you with the award for Best. Person. Ever!! That might do the trick.
The primary thing I need to see in a headshot, is the same as what I need to see in an audition – clear choices. I can tell when you’re trying to get that one shot that could please all your audiences. And it doesn’t work. Don’t go for that one, don’t try for it. Characters who are palatable on all levels aren’t interesting to watch. Bland isn’t interesting. I’m not saying I need my socks knocked off, but I want to see you. And I know, I know, that you’re capable of all these different things, at once. But the different characters, the specifics for each audience – those should be facets of you. And that one photo, that best represents you – that’s one you’ll find in the editing room. One will stand out as the most comprehensive representation of you, and that’s the one you’ll feel comfortable using in any situation.
The thing that’s going to hook me in, as someone sifting through hundreds, if not thousands of photos? A clear sense of self. If your photo says, “I know who I am. You should want to, too.” then hell yes. I’m in. Tell me about yourself, tell me what you’re capable of. Better yet – come in for an audition, and I’ll hear all about it.
PS if you’re naked or shirtless in your headshot – yeah, I might take a second to appreciate those hard-earned abs, and there’s a slight chance I’ll consider you for “Boat Dancer #13,” but it’s unlikely I’ll hire you to act…