Actor Headshots: Tips from a Professional Photographer

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published May 1, 2022

A closer headshot style image with the window in the background. © Robert Lowdon

When looking for a new headshot, it’s crucial to understand what casting directors are looking for. As a professional headshot photographer, I’ve worked with many clients to perfect their visual identities over the years.

I also hire a lot of actors for advertising shoots. So I have a lot of experience producing headshots for thousands of people and looking through actor headshots to hire talent.

In this blog post, I will share my best tips to help you get more work as an actor. I’ll talk about how you can look your best. Most importantly, I’ll discuss what to look for when hiring a photographer.

And I will try my best to give you straightforward and honest advice about my experience from the other side of the camera. The goal here is to help you on your journey as an actor and not try to sell you something.

What is a Good Headshot?

A good headshot is one that accurately shows who you are in a pleasing image. I know that is basic, but you would be surprised at how many aspirational actors make this mistake.

Now here is what makes great actor headshots:

Good Lighting

A headshot should be sufficiently light and flattering to your facial features. It should illuminate your face, highlight the eyes, accentuate the cheekbones and avoid harsh shadows under the eyes and by the nose.

Most importantly, you should stay away from moody lighting in your headshots. Unless you have many shots in your portfolio, though, I would say the opposite. Instead, use dramatic lighting for a few images. I will talk more about this later.

Good Framing and Composition

Your headshot should be appropriately framed and composed. This means your whole face, head and shoulders should be in the shot.

Your image should not just be your head in the center of the frame but should follow proper compositional theory. The simple version is that you want to follow the rule of thirds.

Shows Range in Emotion

Your headshot should show your range in emotion. Casting directors want to see that you can bring emotion and energy to the role they are casting.

I recommend having some headshots in which you have a big smile, one with a natural expression and an edgy or serious expression. This will give them a good idea of your range.

Is Authentic / Believable

A great headshot should look authentic and genuine. You want to make sure that you look like yourself and not like a bad actor. Don’t get me wrong, many actors can pull off multiple looks, and that is a great thing, but if it looks like you are faking it in your headshot, it casts the wrong impression. I am saying that you very well could be, don’t look like you are.

Good Resolution

Your headshot should be high-resolution. This means it is clear and sharp. You don’t want a blurry, pixelated headshot.

Free of Watermarks or Other Distractions

There shouldn’t be anything on your image that is distracting. If your photographer insists on watermarking your image, find a better photographer.

Has Minimal Editing

A bit of editing, and skin retouching is good, and it’s best in moderation. However, too much editing can make your headshot look fake, so you want to avoid that if possible.

Has Good Colour

I think headshots need to be shot in color. I am sure the black-and-white headshots of the past worked well, but they look old and dated. So a vibrant and colourful shot is great for grabbing attention.

Blurred Background / Shallow depth of Field

I recommend shooting with a blurred background or shallow depth of field. This helps make your face pop out from the image and be the primary focus. It also looks more professional and is more pleasing to the eye.

Is Flattering

You want to make sure your headshot is flattering. You don’t need to Photoshop yourself or change who you are, but you want to be conscious of angles and expressions that may not look good on camera. It should be the best photo of you.

Is Simple

Often simple photos are some of the best. Avoid distractions such as busy backgrounds, jewellery and gimmicks.

Is Up to Date

You should always have an up-to-date headshot. As you age and change your look, getting new headshots to reflect that is essential. It’s also important to avoid styles that will date your images.

Is Just One of Many Photos in Your Acting Portfolio

A headshot is just one photo in your portfolio. You want to show range as an actor, so it’s essential to have other images that show who you are and what roles you can play. This could include body shots, character shots and lifestyle photos.

What are Casting Directors Looking for in your Headshot

A casting director is looking for an honest representation of you as an actor. They want to quickly identify who you are and what roles you can play as an actor. They want to see a range of emotions, and a person that looks like they can bring those emotions.

They are also looking for an image that is clear, sharp, and flattering. Lastly, they want to ensure it is up-to-date and reflects who you currently are as an actor.

Your headshot will be your first interaction with casting directors. It is a good first impression of who you are as an actor and shows your range in emotion.

Make sure your headshot looks professional because it can be a red flag if it does not. An image taken with a cellphone or one that doesn’t look good makes you look like you are not a professional actor. It will seriously impact your ability to get work.

Don’t forget that acting is a business, and you are the product. It sounds weird I know, but directors are buying your skills and abilities as an actor to make their projects successful.

What to Expect at a Headshot Session

A headshot session is a great way to get professional-quality photographs of yourself. At the session, you will have the chance to have your photograph taken with a variety of different looks and poses, depending on what you are looking for.

Your photographer will provide guidance throughout the session so that you feel comfortable in front of the camera and know exactly how to pose so that your pictures look their best. The session typically takes between 1-2 hours and includes multiple outfit changes if desired. Your photographer should review images with you throughout the shoot so you can together decide which images best fit what you are looking for in a headshot photo. 

At the end of the headshot session, you will receive instructions on when the images will be ready. Usually, there will be a period of time to edit and retouch the images before they are delivered.

Related: The Best LinkedIn Headshots And How To Create Yours

How Many Shots Can I Expect to Get from the Session?

At a minimum, you should expect to get at least one quality headshot from the session that suits your needs and gives casting directors a good idea about who you are as an actor. Depending on how many outfit changes and locations you decide to use, the sky is really the limit on how many photos you can get.

Make sure to discuss with the photographer how many images you can expect. Or better yet, tell them what you want.

When the session is over, your photographer should provide you with edited digital copies of all the images from the headshot session that can be used for online and print marketing materials. It’s important to remember that not every image will be a “keeper,” so it’s best to review each photo before making a selection.

How to Pose for a Headshot?

When posing for a headshot, it’s important to remember that you are creating an impression of yourself for those who view the image. Therefore, your body language and facial expressions should be natural and relaxed.

Try to maintain good posture when posing – stand up straight, shoulders back and down – but not too stiff. Keeping your facial expression somewhat neutral is also important, as an over-exaggerated smile or scowl may be too distracting. Instead, try to maintain an overall calm and look confident to create a strong first impression for casting directors.

The photographer will likely suggest a variety of poses, to get you started. At the photo shoot, you will move around and experiment with different angles and lighting to help bring out your best features.

What to Wear for your Professional Actor Headshot

When going to a headshot session, it is important to dress for the roles you want. Think of the types of characters that you would like to portray and wear clothing that reflects this. Make sure to stay away from overly loud patterns or anything that could be distracting in your photos—simple is always best! 

Opt for classic, timeless pieces in your wardrobe selection. Solid colors are always a great choice and will ensure you look professional and put together. If possible, don’t forget accessories to add depth and texture to your look.

When going for your actor headshots session, remember that the goal is to look your best while also staying true to yourself and the types of roles you wish to portray. When selecting an outfit, pick something that flatters your body shape and shows off any features or assets that can give you an edge in the industry. Most importantly, don’t forget confidence—it’s one of the most attractive qualities in any person!

How to Prepare your Hair and Makeup

When preparing for a hair and makeup session for actor headshots, it is important to remember that less is more. When applying makeup, choose natural-looking tones that enhance and highlight the features of your face rather than masking them.

To create a natural look, use light foundations and powder to even out the skin tone, neutral blushes and eyeshadows to accentuate the eyes, and earthy lip colors such as nudes or soft pinks. Make sure to use products that are approved for filming, because certain products don’t work well with photos.

For hair, ensure you have enough product to tame any flyaways. It is also recommended to use heat protectant sprays when using hot tools such as curling irons or flat irons.

Hiring a professional makeup artist or hairstylist is also beneficial to get the best results. A skilled professional can help you create the perfect look while avoiding common mistakes like overdoing it or emphasizing the wrong areas of your face. They will also be able to advise what techniques work best with certain facial structures or skin types.

Furthermore, having a professional do your hair and makeup will save time trying to recreate looks yourself at home. 

When preparing for an actor headshot session, try to keep things looking natural yet polished by choosing subtle tones for your hair and makeup. Hiring a professional can help ensure that everything looks perfect so that your photos come out looking their absolute best!

Tips for Looking your Best in Front of the Camera

For looking your best in front of the camera during an actor headshot session, there are several key tips to keep in mind. 

First and foremost, it’s important to move around and experiment with different poses that you feel comfortable with. This can help you find the exact look that you want to convey when the photo is taken. It also helps to relax your muscles, allowing for a more natural look.

Confidence is key in any situation where you’re being photographed, especially for actor headshots. Not only will a confident pose make for a better-looking photograph, but it will help bring out the best of your personality as well. A little practice beforehand by looking at yourself in the mirror or practicing expressions can help boost your confidence before the session starts.

Emotions should never be forced when taking photos for an actor’s headshot session. Instead, think about how you want to present yourself and what emotions you want to convey in the photograph without making it too artificial or contrived. You want to come across as genuine in your emotions and expressions while still lending some structure and direction to your photos. 

Finally, listening to directions from your photographer is vital to get the most out of any creative headshot session. Take note of any feedback given so that you can adjust accordingly and look your best!

The Importance of having a Professional Headshot Photographer

Having an experienced and knowledgeable photographer to handle your actor headshots is essential for creating the highest quality results possible. Not only will it ensure that the photos are more effective and impressive, but it can also help you to create a strong personal brand. Professional headshots photographed by a skilled photographer will look far more polished, making you appear more credible, competent, and confident.

Moreover, expert headshot photographers understand how to capture the best angles of their subjects and make them look their absolute best. They know the right lights to use to create the most flattering moods and tones in each photograph; they know how to work with different skin tones; they have access to state-of-the-art equipment and technology; they understand what poses work best; and they have vast experience working with different types of clients. All this adds up to higher-quality pictures that stand out from those taken by amateurs or untrained photographers.

In addition, a professional headshot photographer will take the time needed for styling—which involves choosing clothing, accessories, makeup, and hairstyles—to create the perfect shot that reflects your personality. This is especially important if you are an actor or model looking for gigs or auditions—as these images end up being seen by potential employers or agents who may decide whether or not you book a job on them—so it’s vital that you put forward your best foot forward when it comes to your headshots. 

Finally, hiring a professional photographer also means that you can rest assured knowing that the process has been done correctly. The peace of mind gained from working with an experienced professional who cares about getting great shots every time is invaluable in creating high-quality photographs that are both technically accurate and aesthetically pleasing.

Where to Find Affordable Headshot Photography Services

Finding affordable headshot photography services can be daunting, especially for those just starting their acting career. However, with some research and hard work, you may be able to find the perfect photographer for your budget. 

One of the best ways to find an affordable service is to ask around. Ask other actors and industry professionals who they have used or what they would recommend. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find reliable services at a reasonable cost. Networking and attending events also give you access to many resources to help you find an affordable headshot photographer. 

It’s also a matter of value. I think as consumers; we tend to get stuck on price when we should instead focus on value. For instance, spending more on a headshot that brings you more work as an actor is good value. On the other hand, if you get a cheap headshot and it doesn’t land you parts that is a bad value.  So in the long run a cheap headshot can be very expensive.

I understand starting out as an actor can be very financially difficult, and because of that, I recommend working your way up as your career progresses. Start small and spend more as you go. You might only need one shot or two to get a role as an extra for instance. So once you start getting work, making more money, invest in better headshots, better acting classes and so forth. Remember great careers are built over time.

How to Choose the Right Photographer for You

Finding the right photographer for you is an important step when it comes to marketing yourself as an actor. First, consider what kind of look you want from your photos and research photographers who specialize in that style.

Not all photographers are alike, so do your homework to pick a photographer that fits with your personality. Look at their portfolio to get an idea of their style and professionalism. Additionally, look to see who they have worked with in the past. Generally, corporate headshots and actor headshot sessions can be very different, so make sure you differentiate.

It is also important to ensure that the photographer’s personality meshes well with yours. A good working relationship between both parties will often produce better results than one filled with tension and awkwardness.

When researching potential photographers, inquire about the type of environment they create on set—is it a relaxed atmosphere? Are there any pre-shoot meetings? It’s essential that you feel comfortable with the photographer so that you can give your best performance during the shoot. 

Be sure to check their availability as well as their pricing structure before making a final decision. All pricing and what is expected should be upfront and agreed upon prior to the shoot.

Ultimately, choosing the right photographer is an important part of achieving your creative vision so take time to find someone who understands what you’re trying to accomplish and makes you feel comfortable while shooting!


When it comes to finding the perfect photographer for your acting headshots, whether you are looking for a photographer in Downtown Toronto or anywhere else around the world, there is no one-size fits all answer. You must research and find a photographer who understands your creative vision, has an eye for detail and specializes in exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to photo shoots.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk to many different photographers when you are looking for the right one. And, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to!

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