What Makes a Good Actor’s Headshot? Everything to Know

If you are looking for ways to get an acting role, you should consider how a headshot can help. This guide explains what makes a good actor’s headshot.

Charles Tumiotto Jackson
Apr 12 · 7 min read
Image provided by the author

From now until 2026, the actor job market is expected to grow by 11.6%! Now is a great time to get into the business and follow your dreams. Even as the market grows, you have to be the best of the best to get noticed.

The first step in outshining the competition is having phenomenal headshots. What makes a good actor’s headshot? Read on to find out.

Professional Photographs

An actor’s headshot should be a professional-looking photograph. If you want to land the best acting gigs, it is worth it to spend money on hiring a professional photographer.

This is someone trained, understands lighting, and knows the best angles for headshots. Professional photographers make a living so you know you’ll get the best work out of them.

To get the best out of your headshot experience, don’t rely on a friend who has a nice camera to handle it for you. Just because someone has the proper equipment, doesn’t mean they know what they are doing.

When you pull up to an audition with unprofessional headshots, it gives off a bad first impression. You’ll run the risk of looking like you don’t put a lot into your acting career.

Noticeable Personality

A headshot that doesn’t look like you won’t help you get further down the line in your acting career. A casting director doesn’t care about airbrushing, they tend to prefer organic headshots.

If you show up to an audition and your headshot looks nothing like you, a casting director won’t give you a chance. This also goes for presenting a headshot that is more than 10 years old. It is always a good idea to keep your headshots up to date.

Contrary to popular belief, headshots aren’t all about looking pretty. They need to represent who you really are now by showing off a little personality.

There is no need to blow a fortune on makeup artists and photoshoot equipment. You don’t need a headshot that looks like it just came out of a magazine shoot. You need something organic that looks like you and shows who you are off.

The Eyes

The eyes indeed tell a story. Just like on-camera acting, your eyes need to show off in your headshots.

For a closeup, your eyes need to feel energized and alive. It is also important for the eyes to be perfectly focused. A blurry headshot of any kind is not a good look for someone going into professional acting.

What do your eyes say about you? Your inner thoughts should be displayed with your eyes. Tell your personal story, this is your moment!

Pro tip: Strong piercing eyes or a tiny squint can bring a photograph to life. You’ll be able to stand out more when getting compared to hundreds or thousands of others with this tip.

If you don’t know how to master the squinting eye look on your own, a professional photographer can guide you through it.

Proper Framing

The first thing someone learns about how to take headshots is that framing is everything. Following framing comes a great background and correct lighting.

Generally, a casting director considers a good headshot to have nice lighting on your face and is framed from the chest up. There shouldn’t be dramatic shadows in a professional headshot.

For print, three-quarter shots are a good option. Extreme close-ups may be tempting, but most casting directors don’t want them.

As stated before, the focus should be at the center of your eyes. This is easy to manage if you look directly into the camera.

The hand on your face pose is an outdated post that most casting directors don’t want to see, so avoid it. It should go without saying but no duck faces, peace signs, or weird facial hair.

A great background is blurred. Even if you are in a beautiful location, a headshot should be focused on you, not what is around you.

When a background is blurred, it shows that headshots were taken with a good quality camera that makes you stand out. This shows professionalism when it hits the casting director’s desk.

The Right Lighting for the Job

It may be a good idea to have actor’s headshots in natural lighting and studio lighting. You can find a headshot photographer that is comfortable with doing both.

The look and feel of natural light vs. studio is a big one. If you want a more real and firm look, natural lighting is the way to go.

Studio lighting provides a more polished look and tends to use a neutral background. Studio lighting doesn’t always produce the best results. An actor may feel blinded by the lights making them uncomfortable.

The biggest thing about headshot production is comfortability. This will help produce organic results.

A sitcom actor is more likely to use headshots done in a studio. The type of lighting you use should depend on the role you are auditioning for. If you are unsure what acting path you want to go down, having both sets of headshots will come in handy.

You Don’t Need Props

Some actors enjoy using props for their headshots in NYC. However, you don’t need them to stand out.

Using props is seen as unprofessional. You’ll also be using these headshots for a while, so keep that in mind. The acting job you are auditioning for may not appreciate your use of props.

Casting directors are looking for someone that follows the standard headshot format. If you can’t do this simple task correctly, your chances of getting hired will already go down. You may not get a casting call at all.

The Right Outfit

A simple, classy, and professional actor’s headshot is what’s going to get you noticed. Professionalism involves wearing the proper clothing when you do your shoot. Pick a shirt that fits well, matches your eyes, and doesn’t have too much going on.

Think about what you would wear going out to brunch. This could be the perfect headshot outfit as well. Don’t get too conservative or rigid with your outfit choice.

On camera, something tight-fitting always looks better. Loose clothing doesn’t hold up on camera as it does in real life.

If you are unsure what clothing will look best on camera, bring extra options. A professional photographer will have an eye for what looks good behind the lens.

As a general rule, you should also bring tops with more than one neckline. These could be jackets, jumpers, or fitted t-shirts. These options will have you covered for different looks and can add layers.

What Not to Wear

You should never wear a white shirt for your headshot, nor a shirt with a graphic. Black clothing only works well in specific lighting and background. Medium tone color options are usually the safest bet.

Don’t forget to keep your skin tone in mind when choosing an outfit to wear for headshots. With darker colors, light skin can look washed out. Darker skin tones look darker on camera with white.

Typically, you should avoid patterned shirts when taking headshots especially stripes. The only patterns that may work in your favor are lace and flower prints. Yet, this will depend on the colors.

Experiment before heading to your headshot appointment. Take selfies in natural lighting and bright LED lighting if you have access to it. You can also ask your friends and family what colors look best on you on camera.

Anything that will distract a casting director from your face is not a good idea. The focal point of your headshot should be you!

Take It Easy With the Makeup

When do you look like yourself the most? Probably when you are wearing little to no makeup.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear makeup at all for your headshots, just take it easy. After all, a professional photographer can retouch your photos if needed.

To look like your headshots when you show up to the audition, it’s a good idea to do your hair the same. This means when you get professional headshots done, you should do your hair like you would when going to an audition.

Don’t spend too much time doing your makeup to avoid looking fake in all of your headshots. Often, you’ll have to get your headshots redone when this issue occurs.

If you’ve never been to a headshot shoot, it may be a good idea to hire a makeup artist. These professionals know exactly how to make you look like yourself on camera. This is an especially great idea for those that don’t normally wear makeup on a day-to-day basis.

The key is to look like you would when you go into an audition. This isn’t a big event like a prom or a wedding where you need to go all out.

Acting is not a beauty pageant. The biggest mistake newbies make is looking unrecognizable.

When hiring a photographer, ask them if they have a makeup artist they recommended and often work with. This can help you get the best headshot results.

Need a Good Actor’s Headshot?

A good actor’s headshot is organic, professional-looking, and involves all of the qualities in this guide. A photographer that can make you feel comfortable will help you produce the best headshots.

The first part of getting acting gigs involves having outstanding headshots. Ready to get your acting career moving? Hire a professional photographer now!

Book an appointment with Hangout Headshots today.

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Charles Tumiotto Jackson

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Content Marketer, willing to put the “social” back in Social Media. Let's talk about Social Media Marketing → charlestumiottojackson.com

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

Charles Tumiotto Jackson

Written by

Content Marketer, willing to put the “social” back in Social Media. Let's talk about Social Media Marketing → charlestumiottojackson.com

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

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