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Take Your Best Shot : An Actor's Guide to Getting a Great Headshot
By Christine Rose

So you finally decided what you want to be when you grow up -- an actor! One of the first steps you need to get your foot in the door and your name in lights is a great headshot. Here are some easy tips to help you get your best shot.

First, you need to choose a photographer. You should try to speak with your potential photographer on the phone to establish a rapport with them. Would you feel comfortable working with them? Check out their work online, chat with them and get pricing information. Make sure you know exactly what is included in your shoot. Find out whether or not you get selected files so that you can get your headshots or comp cards reproduced. Do get a release from the photographer if you are going to have the headshots reproduced yourself. You will need high resolution files ( 300 dpi) for reproduction. If you do not know how to resize photos yourself for web use see if your photographer can provide selected files in low resolution ( 72 dpi) for online submission.

The photographer will probably require a deposit to book a date, with the balance due the day of the shoot or upon delivery of finished product.

Next, you need to choose your outfit. Ask the photographer for suggestions, but in general you should bring several changes. Make sure they are well-pressed and clean with no visible threads or stains. Make sure it fits properly-- not too tight and that it lays well when when you move. Avoid white or very light-colored shirts for your headshot. White draws the eye. Dark or mid-tones are better and will draw attention to your face. Don't use wild or big prints or clothes with logos.


For guys, normally a solid shirt with a collar is best. It can be as simple as a polo shirt or something more formal depending on the look you are going for. Besides keeping the attention focused on your face, a solid shirt is easier to drop type onto (your name). For women, wear a scoop or collared shirt. Try to choose a neckline most flattering to your face. If you are working in color make sure you wear a color that is complimentary to your skin tone. If you aren’t sure ask a girlfriend or someone with a good eye or good fashion sense to help you. Be careful or wearing sleeveless or capped sleeves – depending on the crop it can detract from your photo. Also be careful not to show too much cleavage -- again a commercial headshot is about showcasing your face. It is wise to bring a variety of sleeve lengths to choose from.

Make sure your hair is a good length and not scraggly. If in doubt, have someone take a polaroid of you before your shoot and ask your agent to critique it. Guys should be clean-shaven (unless you are going for the scruffy look) or you can do one look unshaven and then shave for a different look. Don't make any drastic hair style changes or cuts right before your shoot. Hair should be in a style that is easily obtainable. Simple is better. Women and girls should generally wear hear loose and down for a headshot. You have to be able to look like your headshot when you go to a casting.

Women and guys take a good look at your eyebrows. If you need to wax or pluck please do so before your shoot. Make sure your eyebrows are cleanly shaped, have a good line and accentuate your face. If you have sensitive skin sometimes waxing can leave marks so you may want to wax your brows a few days or a week before your shoot. It is much easier to have a clean pallette to start with rather than to have to do extensive retouching after the fact. Do not neglect to exfoliate your lips before a shoot -- dry patchy skin on your lips may not be noticeable to the eye but the camera will pick it up. If women are going to wear lipstick and their lips are patchy often the color will appear uneven on the lips.

AA few days before the shoot, you should avoid alcohol and drink plenty water so you will look your best. Exfoliate your face and lips and make sure you are well-rested, and avoid the sun. Men may need base, concealer, and powder for the shoot. It is best to obtain your own so it is specially matched to your skin tone. Guys shouldn't need a make-up artist unless they need help evening out skin tones or have skin issues. For women, make-up should be clean and natural. The idea is to look your best without looking like you have make-up on. Matte finish is best; no heavily overlined lips or eyes; no shiny eyeshadows or powders for black and white headshots. Neutrals such as browns are usually a safe bet. It is best to hire a competent make-up artist that is trained in photographic make-up and that uses professional grade make-up that is specifically designed for photography. Street and everyday wear make-up you purchase at the department store or drugstore is NOT the same as the make-up that a professional make-up trained for print and film uses. Certain types of make-up ( like "Minerals") reflects back white or green spots on camera and will make retouching your images much more labor intensive.

It is highly recommended to hire a trained professional make-up artist -- it will make all the difference in your headshots.

Don't be tempted to ask the photographer to retouch your headshot make you look ten years younger. When you go to a casting, the director has to be able to identify you as the person in the photo. So, you need to be able to look like your headshot. Your photo should be a flattering, yet realistic portrayal of you. Color correction and light retouching to remove a blemish or to clean up a little under the eyes is ok.

If possible, remove any jewelry for your shoot; no necklaces, bracelets or watches. No earrings on guys; but, for women, small studs in the ears are ok. Remember, you want people to notice your face - not your jewelry.

On the day of your shoot, arrive on time or early. Relax, and try to have fun. Listen to your photographer, and if you have any questions, or you don't understand his/her direction, ask.

At some point after your shoot it is a good idea to go through your proofs with your photographer, your agency or your booker. Try to narrow the selection down a little so that they only have to go through your very best shots. You are looking for a headshot that reflects the persona or personality that you are trying to reflect. A great commercial headshot with have good eye contact and that special something that says "hire me." This is what you will leave at all of your castings for the casting director or agency to remember you by. Remember to put your "best face" forward! Good luck!

About the author: Christine Rose is an award-winning South Florida photographer specializing in headshots, composites and fine portraiture. She attended the Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, CA  and has participated in numerous professional workshops. Christine has been a freelance photographer since 1987, and has had her advertising and editorial work published nationally. Since relocating to Florida in 1991, she's acquired a lengthy exhibition history, including displays in the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Arts, The Palm Beach Photographic Museum, and The Schacknow Museum in Coral Springs. Her work is in private collections throughout the world. In addition to her model composite and headshot work, her work can be viewed online at www.lilangelphotos.com.


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