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Everything on Acting Headshots: Dressing, Pricing, Poses and Tips

Your acting skills will be tested only if you ace that first impression. To be able to secure the attention of the casting couch, you will need to have some outstanding acting headshots. Find out how to get those perfect actor's headshots in this article

Ever wondered how some people get an immediate call from the casting couch for the audition round? Do you want to be among these people? Don’t you think your acting skills deserve to be given a chance?

If your answer to all these questions is a ‘Yes’, you are at the right place. Don’t worry! I am not going to offer you acting lessons. (God forbid!) I am rather here to take you on a journey of achieving the perfect acting headshots. Your acting skills will be tested only if you ace that first impression. Treat your actor headshots as the key to unlocking the impression round. Read along to find out more. 

What are Acting Headshots?

You could be a powerhouse of talent and have a relevant degree from a renowned theatrical institute. And yet, your profile could be easily overlooked. To be able to secure the attention of the casting couch, you will need to have some outstanding acting headshots. These headshots are not just any snapshots of yourself but rather semi-close-up portraits taken by a professional photographer. The focus of acting headshots must be always on your face, more particularly on your facial features, your expressions and just the overall appeal. 

If done right, acting headshots are your gateway to landing auditions. Why, you ask? Simply because good-acting headshots automatically make you feel noticed and make your profile distinct to be considered for the next step. On similar grounds, the not-so-appealing headshots will easily get lost in the lot just like that. (The industry people know who’s put in the effort.)

How are they different from modeling headshots?

Acting and Modeling are two entirely different career pathways. The common mass like us might like to use the terms interchangeably. (Thanks to Hollywood!) But, acting headshots and modeling headshots are very different from each other. Let’s try to understand how. 

  • Originality vs. Artistic Liberty: Acting Headshots must represent the original and authentic You. Subtle make-up can always be opted for. However, please be careful to not go overboard with styling/ make-up/ glamor so that your originality is retained. On the other hand, modeling headshots are a whole different ball game. Or what I like to address as a liberal territory. You can be as ‘loud’ as possible or keep it just low-key. A feathered hat, shiny crystal stickers on your eyelids, patterned backgrounds: the range of loud is limitless. The goal of modeling headshots is to attain a particular artistic vision. 

  • Versatility through expression vs. Versatility through looks: In acting headshots, you are likely to be judged by your ability to portray the depth of the character through your facial expressions. (Every nuance counts.) You are supposed to exhibit your versatility as an actor through your expressions. In modeling headshots, the representation is centered on your ability to carry versatile looks. 

  • How to pose for the camera?: For acting headshots, you have to face the camera directly. You might tilt away a bit from the camera if the up-front take is making you feel robotic. In modeling headshots, the subject is free to play with poses and postures as long as their face and upper half is captured in a close-up. There’s no hard and fast rule to have your modeling headshots snapped with you looking at the camera. 

  • Different career trajectories: Both these headshots are your marketing weapon. In simpler words, they fetch you opportunities. Acting headshots might land you a chance to audition for a role on television, theater, or other commercial platforms. Modeling headshots might land you gigs in advertisements, editorials, magazines, or a fashion runway. 

If you want to deep dive into the world of modeling headshots, here’s our comprehensive guide absolutely for free.

Are acting headshots important?

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager at an esteemed firm. You are most likely going through hundreds of applications. Before you go through credentials, degrees, skills, and achievements, your mind will automatically build first-hand impressions of candidates through their corporate headshots. You’ll  easily make out which of these applicants look assertive and confident while also having a simple and approachable professional demeanor. Acing corporate headshots takes effort. And, that’s how good corporate headshots get candidates immediately noticed. 


Acting eadshots that are not done right can take away from the main subject

Natural smile, head slightly tilted, attention is on the face. Colored hair easily takes all the attention from the face.

In the acting biz, the casting couch and agencies become your hiring manager. Nobody will sit to read/ research through your body of work and past roles even if they have been spectacular. Unless you have carved a considerable space in the industry, impressions are formed within a second or two (sometimes, even less) of glancing through hundreds of acting headshots.

Trust me on this, casting folks are adept in figuring out which of these candidates took effort in getting their acting headshots professionally photographed in relevance to the role. If your headshots succeed in garnering attention, you might end up getting considered for multiple auditions. 

What do I wear for acting headshots?

Deciding what to wear for your acting headshots can get easily overwhelming. After all, you have to portray the character without letting your individuality get lost in the process. This is work in itself. Although I can’t take that burden from you, I can surely help you with some strategies. 

  • Focus on your FIT: I cannot stress on the importance of a good fit. Your costume’s fit should flatter your body type. Before you decide on the dress, learn more about your body type and dressing styles that go well with your body type. 

  • Pick colors that complement your skin tone: You don’t need to be hesitant in picking colorful wardrobe options. But, you have to be quite careful in choosing the colors that complement your skin tone while making you feel comfortable. Decide on clothes based on your skin tone and see visible differences. 

Dressing according to your skin type really brings out the best in your actor's headshot
  • Wear solid colors to play safe: If you want to avoid the confusion and fuss of color play, choose solid colors. Neutrals like black, gray, and earthy tones naturally help to keep the attention on your face.  

  • Layering: Layers add depth to the look. Denims, jackets, and blazers if styled properly can elevate the appeal of your headshots. However, it is absolutely crucial that the layering does not overshadow your face.

  • Minimal make-up and hair-dos: Unless a role that you audition for strictly specifies a particular requirement, keep your make-up soft and subtle. Avoid any dramatic hair styling. Keep your hair well-combed and open or tie a low ponytail. 

  • Minimal accessories: Wear minimal statement pieces if you want to add more dimension to your headshots. A dainty necklace or basic pair of studs will suffice. Save your shiny pieces for your cousin’s wedding.

At the same time, make sure whatever you wear is well-ironed. Avoid distracting ruffles, plunging necklines, graphic clothing, and everything that takes attention from your face. Remember, your headshots are about your face and not your style statement. 

How do I pose for acting headshots?

Your posture is undoubtedly going to indicate a great deal about your potential for the role. It is one of the preliminary steps where you can exhibit your talent. Great postures are guaranteed to give you some great acting headshots. And we are here to help you with some great tips to go about it. 

  • Bring your natural smiles. 

[“You look beautiful today!” Yes, that smile.]

  • Do not try to hide a physical feature in your acting headshots even if you are insecure with it. Curly hair, a crooked tooth, joint eyebrows, or just a birthmark on your chin. Everything adds up to represent you. So, why shy away from something that is uniquely YOU? 

A confident picture for your acting headshot goes a long way
  • Proactively engage with your headshots photographer and ask him to take your acting headshots from different angles. You’ll be happily surprised by the outcomes. Even if you are in the same pose, the end results from varying angles are going to be largely different. 

  • Play with your postures. Check the plethora of poses that you can take inspiration from. And,  ideate your own accordingly.

  • This goes without saying. You have to appear confident. Your actor headshots should exhibit your confidence in yourself and the character you are likely to play.

  • Let your eyes walk the talk. You have to be expressive of the character you are auditioning for. Learn some effective facial expressions for getting some great headshots!

What backdrops are best for acting headshots?

For your acting headshots to grab the casting couch’s attention, the right kind of backdrops are a must. Before you decide on the background, it is extremely crucial to have clarity on the vision you are trying to achieve.

To play safe, neutral solid backgrounds are your best bet provided that you are wearing brighter shades. This way, the subject (of course, You) gets to be the center of attention easily. If you are planning to audition for relatively serious roles, neutral backgrounds (could be black, light blue, gray, etc) are always a good choice. 

A neutral background for a headshot goes well in general


Background for your acting headshot is to be decided according to your outfit and composition


You might want to go for textured walls or gradient backdrops if you want to add a visual spark. But, remain careful not to go overboard. Remember, the focus must be on you. Abstract walls, wooden panels, or just a dynamic blend of textures as your background are supposed to add to your look. Make sure that the intensity of your backdrops does not end up overshadowing the subject. 

Outdoor shoots can be both fun to shoot and tricky to execute. If you are planning to shoot your acting headshots outdoors, decide on urban settings or natural settings based on your role. For example, for a role that requires you to show hustle and city life, an outdoor urban actor headshot can do wonders. Similarly, for a role that requires you to portray countryside features, actor headshots shot in an outdoor natural rural setting will evidently show your effort. 

A city backdrop for an acting headshotA woman standing in an outdoor setting for her acting headshot

You could also customize backdrops along with your headshot photographer based on the role you are going to audition for. This could be in the form of setting up props and adding different layers of background themes. Or, just anything that might be required to build the character for your acting headshots. 

How should I prepare for acting headshots?

Let me reiterate this for you. Your acting headshots are indeed your pass to landing your dream role. So, when you are planning for your headshots to be captured, plan as if you are preparing for the role itself. I know, I know! As a hardcore tech person myself, I am definitely not selling you ‘manifest and you’ll have it’ ideas. But, what I am trying to say is that let the team behind the couch understand that you have put effort in learning about your role.

How do you do this? By researching more about the character and planning your costume, backdrops, postures, and expressions accordingly. But, what if there is little to no disclosure about the character? Go with what you have. And, experiment. For the latter, you are free to use your imagination liberally. 

Once you have done your homework with learning the character well, shortlist what you’d want to wear. Search for similar roles that have been already played by other actors. Check out their wardrobe choices. You’ll be able to gauge what you align with. Make sure you have worn your selected outfit and rehearsed your poses well in advance. The grooming you might need or want to go through, a haircut, for example, must be done at least 5-7 days before your shoot day so that your look appears natural. If you're doing your make-up by yourself, I’d still insist on look testing and finalizing beforehand. In case a make-up professional is hired, ask them to keep it low-key, natural, and relevant to the character. (Look test before shoot day still advised.)

While trying to prepare for your actor headshots, do not get over-consumed in the process. If you are not hydrated and well-rested, no matter how much you prepare, the end results might disappoint you. Keep faith in yourself and your headshots photographer. Stay relaxed. Try to make the best out of every moment (and crisis, if any.) Haha! 

How to attach a headshot to your acting resume?

There are various ways of attaching your actor headshots to your acting resume. However, I’d first recommend you to double-check with the casting couch, agency, or resource person whom you are going to hand over/ mail your documents to. Production houses might want to receive actors’ portfolios in a particular format and anything that does not align with what they’d want might get easily disqualified. 

If there are no such instructions to abide by, start by printing your headshots. Staple it on the back of your resume. Avoid paper clips for attaching the same. Given the hundreds of portfolios to go through, be assured that no human will care to find your headshots if they get lost. And you, my friend, wouldn’t want to trade that risk. To help the team catch a quick glimpse of your personality, staple/ stick a miniature acting headshot on the left/ right upper corner of your acting resume. Make sure to leave a considerable gap between the upper and respective side margins of your paper. Simultaneously, allow sufficient space between your actor headshots and your details on the resume to avoid any clutter. Alternatively, you can choose to have your resume stapled at the back of your resume.  

For a virtual portfolio submission, ensure the same process in the digital format. You don’t need to worry about stapling here. All you need to do is place your headshots on the page before or after your resume (personal choice). Regardless of the online/ offline submission, make sure you have written your full name at the bottom center/ corner of your headshots. 

Headshot guidelines: size, format, and color

Your acting headshots should be clear and high-resolution images. For actor headshots, the 8” x 10” is a standard one to go with. You could choose to go for larger sizes like 18” x 24” or 20” x 30”. Sometimes, agents or casting couches might demand for a specific shot or a close-up of your headshots. The larger formats give a lot of room for adjusting the crop ratios accordingly. 

Follow the headshots guidelines for size, colour and format

I’d still advise on confirming with the agency on any other size or format specifications to avoid last-minute chaos. Your acting headshots need to be undoubtedly colored photographs. It is not the 80s anymore. Unless there is a pre-stated requirement of black and white headshots, make no mistake of opting for it. Or, if a role is theatrical or requires intensity, you could ask your headshot photographer to specifically shoot black and white shots. 

A set of 4 image headshots in black and white

As a photographer, a lot could be played with the tones, hues, and textures of black and white. If done right, your black-and-white headshots could grab immediate attention. Or, fail miserably. A lot of times, some casting agencies might specifically ask for both colored and black-and-white headshots. Make sure you comply with their requirements. 

How many headshots do you need?

Quite subjective to your needs and budget. 

When submitting your portfolio to casting couches and agencies, you might need just one actor's headshot. Or, two, at large. However, if luck is on your side and you get a shortlisting call from the casting team, you might need to submit three acting headshots if not more. Why so? Because the casting folks would want to see your profile in different looks and expressions. This will help them further decide on taking the candidate to the audition round and increase your chance of being cast in different roles. 

So, if you have hired a professional headshots photographer, you have likely signed a deal for a particular number of actor headshots. Make sure it is no less than five. At the same time, do not limit these five actor headshots to only one look from different angles. Communicate with your photographer beforehand and include different hairstyles, facial expressions, and background set-ups. Or ideally, every different headshot can portray a different character thereby helping you showcase your versatility as an actor. However, this is naturally going to escalate your budget. If you have the resources to spare, settle for no less than ten acting headshots for your actor’s profile. 

How many headshots should you print and carry?

Printing your acting headshots is an expensive affair. The quantity of your acting headshots depends on the range of roles you are auditioning for. For every casting call, it is safe to carry three to five headshots. These actor headshots need to be relevant to the character you are applying for. While these headshots should showcase your versatility as an actor, they must not subdue your personality. 

Again, if you want and have the means, carry a small stack but when asked to put forth, do not exceed beyond seven to ten. During an audition, the casting team, for sure, wants to explore the potential in you through your acting headshots. But, do remember that they are doing the same for other hundred candidates. Presenting more actor headshots will not get you shortlisted. Focus on the quality of the best three actor headshots you could present. As far as networking events are concerned, carry multiple printed copies of your actor headshots to be able to use them as and when required. 

Bonus Tip 1: A smaller batch of high-quality acting headshots will always supersede plenty of low-quality headshots. 

Bonus Tip 2: At the same time, make sure you have digital copies of the same headshots. Nobody knows what could be asked next. Safe to stay prepared.

How much do acting headshots cost?

You get a one-time chance of grabbing the attention of your casting team through your acting headshots. Your actor headshots are your key to unlocking this chance. Hence, do not, I say, do not, settle for headshots that look like just another DSLR shot image. I am not asking you to shell out a fortune for it. 

But, be mindful of certain factors that come into play :

  • Photographer’s experience and popularity.

  • Quality of technical gear and lighting used.

  • Location of the shoot: indoor/ outdoor.

  • Customizing backdrops.

  • A number of outfit changes or looks to be achieved during the photoshoot session.

  • A number of high-resolution actor headshots you’d want. 

  • Edits and Retouches are required. 

Based on these factors, the rates tend to vary a lot. Headshot photographers charge their services in packages and hourly sessions. You can easily find deals as low as 100 USD for 1- 2 hours but the outcomes remain questionable. Anything between 100 - 300 USD is still decent. Expensive options can easily dish out 2000 USD. The upper limit is unfathomable. However, if you want great actor headshots within a balanced price point, expect the range to be between 500 - 1500 USD. 

How do I choose the right photographer?

With so many photographers in the business today, choosing the right headshots photographer for your acting headshots can get tricky. To be able to make an informed decision, make sure to do the following:

  • Consider your finances: Hiring a renowned headshot photographer can easily drain your finances. While acting headshots are supposed to be a long-term investment, it will be wise for you to consider quality and budget together. 

  • Review photographer’s portfolio: Yes! First and foremost, you need to go through the photographer’s work to date. This will help you in gauging whether his style and aesthetics align with your headshots vision. 

  • Ask for recommendations: If you have acquaintances in the entertainment industry, do not shy away from asking for recommendations. This can actually make the process convenient while generating some great leads for you. 

  • Review testimonials and comments: Going through a photographer’s portfolio might not always suffice. You have to eventually crosscheck with the clients that he has already worked with. Connect with previous clients, if possible. Enquire about their experiences. This will give you deeper insights into client-photographer relationships.

  • Schedule consultations: It is equally imperative to get an appointment with your desired headshot photographer. Enquire more about the photography process. The consultation could be online or in-person but do not skip this step. 

  • Communicate and connect: In order for your vision to get reflected in your actor headshots, you need to clearly convey your requirements to the headshot photographer. Watch out for how receptive he is to your ideas. If he makes you feel comfortable and connects with your vision, seal the deal. 

Bonus Tip: Do not settle for a generalist photographer. Look for an experienced actor headshots photographer only. 

What role do lighting and technical details play in acting headshots?

When a headshots photographer uses great lighting and proper technicalities in shooting actor headshots, the results are always more phenomenal. Every little technical detail turns out to play a significant role in birthing the outcome. 

Effective lighting helps in drawing the focus on the subject’s facial features and expressions. This naturally enhances the quality of your acting headshots. Headshots shot in daylight in an outdoor space will be different from headshots shot with natural light in an indoor space. The differences might seem subtle initially but it is these nuances that help in drawing attention. Daylight is generally used with modifiers and flags. Other light sources include studio flashes, LEDs, and speedlites. In most sessions, a mix of these sources is used. Find out more about the tricks and techniques of lighting used in capturing actor headshots. 

The camera and the gear simultaneously change based on the lighting used. Photographer Nick Gregan who has been shooting actor headshots for twenty years shares some of his gear preferences here. 

Shooting downward works great for some subjects but shooting from an elevated angle might work better for you (say, if you have a double chin). This method will focus on your brows and cheekbones and zone out the skin under the chin. Some photographers prefer to shoot headshots eye-level while others prefer a chin-down slight facial tilt pose. If the technical detailing isn’t right, the former might make the headshots overconfident while the latter could make the subject look