Working Actor’s Guide to Choosing Your Looks for Your Headshots

Actress Mary Gallagher as a “cop” Photo by Sascha Knopf/Knopfoto

Can’t decide what looks to do for your next headshot session?  This article will show you how to get the most bang for your buck!

Actress Angie Harmon

You decided to bite the bullet and you booked your date for your new headshots.  Congratulations!  You’re done, right?  Just throw some clothes in a suitcase and leave it up to the photographer to figure out what to do with you, right?  WRONG! Do you want to play the lottery with your career? Better yet…Russian Roulette?   You know how you hate those agents who take on hundreds of clients to throw them out there and see what sticks?   Well, this is pretty much the same thing! Why not try to take this new set of shots in a different way?  Why not try to be in control of your career as much as you possibly can?

Casting in 2017 is pretty much all online.  Your agent gets character breakdowns from Breakdown Services every day, often several times a day.  They quickly choose, hopefully the ‘right’ photo, and the ‘right’ demo clips that match YOU for THAT role.  The casting director, hopefully opens your agent or manager’s submissions, your rep chose the pics well, and that casting director chooses your photo to bring in for an audition.  That casting director or CD assistant has been looking at THOUSANDS of submission most likely.  Even for a small co-star.  That’s just the way it goes these days.  So you NEED your THUMBNAIL to stand out in some way.  Well, what way, you ask?

  • Specificity is very important.

Let’s say the breakdown is looking for the role of Maria: Latina Female in her early 20’s to play a rookie cop on “NCIS…she’s a quick witted, strong willed…blah blah blah.”  You’re the right gender, ethnicity, and age.  “I’m perfect for Maria,” you tell your agent, but you have shot of you in a pink sundress, and one of you looking like a quirky geek with glasses in plaid that could go for “Big Bang Theory.”  You want to play a cop.  So PLAY a cop as one of your “looks” in your headshot session.   I’m not saying take a pic of you with a gun and hope that works. (Props NEVER do for headshots–we want it to be REAL) But I am saying, get dressed as if you were going to SHOOT that role.  Play Maria!  For that hour of your shoot, get into that part.  If you are ‘acting’, well, acting well, you aren’t thinking about what you look like—trying to ‘pretend’ to look like a cop—trying to ‘pose’ like a cop…you are BEING that cop, and the camera–moving or still will capture that!   Leave the lighting, and feel up to the photographer, (me hopefully:-)), but you focus on your role.

  • Prepare for your “look” by researching what that role looks like.

On “NCIS,” “Law and Order,” or any of those shows.  See what female cop characters are wearing.  Preferably actresses with your build, coloring, age etc.  For example, I love the leather jackets, and silky blouses that Angie Harmon wore.  If someone says they want to do a “cop” look, I usually refer to her pics.  Make sure the leather coat fits you, and preferably doesn’t match your hair color.  It should look somewhat worn, and of course, cool!  I love a brown, not shiny leather.  You can look for inexpensive options at stores like Forever 21, or Express in faux leather, but DO LOOK!  Ask your friends to borrow stuff.  Take the time to try on your cop outfit, take selfies, and make sure it feels and looks great on you.  The last thing you want when your shooting anything is to be concerned about your clothing.  That your wardrobe just isn’t right.  Treat each look like the costume designer will when you are doing your fitting for “Maria.”

You can apply Specificity + Preparation to each look.

Actress Kimberley Crossman stars on the FOX pilot, “Linda From HR” Photo by Sascha Knopf/Knopfoto

  • Type Casting is a reality!

What kind of roles have you played in the past?  Are you constantly going in to play the “bad guy?” Plenty of actors have made careers out of being the “bad guy” or whatever, and then branched out when they became “KNOWN.”  Some stay in that type of role for their whole career.   But would you rather play a great “bad guy” in dozens of great films or shows, or not work?  I think we know the answer to that.  So ONE of your looks should be your go to role that you are type casted for.   Perfect example for this.  Actress Kimberley Crossman shot her headshots with me recently.  She knew she needed a “smart girl” look because she kept getting cast in those kind of roles.   We shot her with glasses and a preppy outfit, and viola she BOOKED a SERIES REGULAR on a new FOX show called “Linda From HR.”  Congratulations, Kim!

  • Envisioning/Dreaming:  

ask your team/friends/family what they can see you playing.  What roles are you destined to play, that you haven’t yet played?  What famous actors do people say you remind them of?  I like to make a Pinterest Board with my clients.  What shows are you dying to be on?  What kind of roles are you dying to play?   Put them on a Pinterest Board.  It really helps to “see” what you should go for.   Then consolidate.


and preo for the weeks before your shoot to CREATE them.  Remember VARIETY and SELECTION is key so your reps have several choices for submissions.

  • ONE look should always be non specific.  I like to call that look my “Beauty” look.  (No, you don’t need to be a model for a beauty look.)  It’s just a very relaxed, straightforward, non specific look.  More often than not this will be your PROFILE shot.  Your MAIN photo on Actors Access, or other online casting sites which can work for you for a various roles.
  • Get Excited!  You are being proactive in your career, and making it happen!  Break a leg!!

Actress Kimberley Crossman’s “Profile” shot Photo by Sascha Knopf/Knopfoto