Your headshot is one of the most important components of your acting and modelling portfolio — fact! This is because it is often the first chance that a casting director or photographer gets to see you. After all, we know just how important those first impressions are, right?
So it makes absolute sense that you put some time and effort into making sure that yours is one that will impress in all the right ways. A photo that highlights your features and that will have the casting director looking up your agent’s contact details.
As you can imagine, it’s not quite as simple as taking a quick selfie no matter how strong your smartphone camera game is. Nope, your headshot has to look like it has been shot by a professional in a studio environment. Anything less and the casting director will just move onto the next profile and your chance to impress is gone.
But fear not. We’ve spent more than our fair share of time sifting through headshots over the years and we know exactly what casting directors and photographers are looking for and impressed by. And yes, we’re more than happy to share any tips and tricks we have on how to take a professional headshot.
Get it done by a professional
Okay, your headshot has to look like it’s been taken by a professional photographer and what better way to do that than to have an actual professional photographer take it! Stands to reason when you think about it.
But don’t go calling the local wedding photographer or that lovely lady who always takes your family portraits unless they have the right industry experience. While other photographers will, of course, do a good job and take a nice photo, a photographer with headshot experience will know exactly what type of shot will impress a casting director. They’ll know the right angles and backgrounds and will tell you if your clothing is a good fit for a headshot.
Any good acting or modelling agency will be able to recommend a good photographer who has headshot experience.
How to take a professional headshot at home
We understand that not everyone has the money to invest in a professional headshot and that’s okay. You can easily take an acceptable headshot at home. All you need to do is follow these tips.
Get the right camera
Before you panic, the right equipment doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank. You can use either a DSLR camera or a smartphone. While a DSLR camera would be ideal, smartphone cameras these days are so good that you can easily use one for your headshot.
When using a smartphone, try to use pro camera settings that will allow you to increase the shutter speed and control the colour. If your smartphone doesn’t have this feature you can download a pro camera app that will. One simple tip for using your smartphone is to use the portrait mode as this will blur out the background giving your headshot a professional feel.
If using a DSLR camera, try to use a lens that is between 50-105mm. You can use a low aperture to give a nice background blur. The chances are if you have one of these cameras, you already know how to set it up so we won’t go into too much detail on that. Here’s a good article with some more tips on getting those settings right.
Just remember that your images should be in the highest definition possible and in portrait.
A tripod is a must
The truth is a stack of books on top of the kitchen table doesn’t give you quite as much flexibility as a proper tripod does so spend a little cash and grab one that is sturdy and can rotate through 360 degrees. You’re going to need the camera to be at eye level, but that doesn’t mean you need a huge tripod. You can still make use of that kitchen table or even a chair minus the stack of books of course.
Natural light or artificial?
Natural light would be ideal, preferably from a big window, but relying on the weather doesn’t always work out and cloud cover might just ruin your perfectly lit room in a heartbeat.
That’s why we recommend investing in a relatively inexpensive ring light. These are available everywhere right now and some will even allow you to place your smartphone at its centre. Most will have two light settings for warm and cold so you can experiment with both to see what gives you the most natural look.
When setting up your light, you’ll want to direct it in such a way that there is minimal shadowing and no glare. You’ll want to have as natural a look as possible instead of a washed out look so don’t go too bright thinking it will look better because the chances are it won’t.
Choose the right environment
Now that you have your camera, tripod, and lighting sorted, it’s time to choose a setting. There’s a tendency for people to assume that shooting outdoors in a park is a great idea, but if you’ve ever tried it out you’ll know it can be hit and miss. Remember what we said about cloud cover?
We recommend choosing a room with plenty of natural light and a plain neutral coloured wall that you can use as a background. If there are no suitable walls, don’t worry. You can either buy a professional backdrop sheet or use an old bed sheet (once it’s ironed and clean!) Choose a plain neutral colour such as light grey, white, or even a pale blue as these are the industry standards.
Choose your outfit
Choosing what to wear for an acting headshot or a modelling headshot is where some folks slip up. They try too hard to impress with nice outfits and accessories, but the casting director has no interest in these. In fact, a shiny pair of earrings or a thick gold chain will just draw the casting director’s eye and take all the attention away from yourself.
The best approach is to keep it simple. Remember, your headshot will only include your chest, shoulders, and head so you don’t need to worry about the bottom half of your body. A soft neutral coloured top with no patterns or stripes is a good idea. It could be a simple light grey t-shirt or even a white one. Just make sure that there’s no visible branding, it doesn’t clash with your background, and it complements your skin tone.
What about posing?
Some people ask ‘do you smile in a headshot?’ and it’s a good question. We always tell people to try and do what feels comfortable for them. The goal is to look natural and if that means trying out a few different expressions then go for it and see which one represents the real you best.
It’s also a good idea to experiment with angles. Tilt your head, leans towards the camera, turn slightly to the side — the good thing about shooting at home is that you can experiment as much as you like so take the opportunity to try everything and get over your camera shyness.
The last thing you’ll want to do is to do some basic adjustments to your image such as cropping, straightening, adding a little colour, or adjusting the brightness. However, if you’re not experienced at photo editing, it’s probably a good idea to leave it at that. Don’t use any filters as casting directors will spot this and they won’t like it. If in doubt, ask for a professional to retouch your images. That’s all there is to it. As you can see, shooting a professional headshot at home is possible once you follow the right steps. Just remember that natural is always best so keep things simple.
If you’re new to the entertainment industry and are currently looking for representation as an actor or model, we’d love to hear from you. At Hunter Talent we’re always on the lookout for new faces so get in touch or go ahead and apply to join our fierce talent.
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