Commercial headshots is well-covered ground. After looking at a slew of headshots myself and talking/listening to countless commercial actors, there seems to be two camps on the topic: the believers in the power of the headshot and the non-believers. OK, there may be a third camp of actors who didn’t get the memo at all. So this is an attempt to convert the neutral and the naysayers and fill in any remaining lack of information about the importance of headshots.
Commercial actors should never have anything less than brilliant headshots.
Brilliant? Do I really mean brilliant? As a matter of fact, I do. But what does “brilliant” mean? You’ve heard the usual criteria that the headshot has to (really) look like you, the eyes need to be alive, the shot should pop, etc. All these are true, but it’s much, much more.
And why isn’t a merely good headshot sufficient? Because casting directors look at (no exaggeration) thousands of headshots per role. If I’m not taken with your headshot right away, I’ll never get to your resume, training, and skills. You can’t charm me with those, because I’ll never see them. The headshot comes first, and there are plenty of actors who have fantastic ones. When a casting director doesn’t know you, the headshot in most circumstances, is your introduction.
Here are a few thoughts on how to achieve brilliant commercial headshots.
Go with a top commercial headshot photographer.
Not all headshot photographers are made equal, and not all headshot photographers specialize in commercial headshots (which are distinct from theatrical headshots). When you want brilliant commercial headshots, you’ll want to go with one that specializes in just that. I won’t name my favorite Los Angeles commercial headshot photographers here, but I can say that most are booked several months out. Talk to your actor friends who’re getting commercial auditions. Find out who they shot with. Talk to your agent and get their preferred list. Don’t have your photographer pal take your headshots and don’t go with a fabulous headshot photographer known for taking great theatrical shots.
Know what great commercial headshots look like.
How would you ever know? Well, my newest favorite trick is to follow the top commercial agencies on any number of media platforms. Often times, they’ll post a headshot of an actor who has recently booked a commercial. While it’s not a 100% guarantee, most actors who book commercials have pretty great commercial headshots. Take note of the aesthetics of these shots, and pretty soon you’ll have a solid idea of what to aspire to.
Don’t get creative.
Just because it seems like everyone has a commercial headshot in a blue polo doesn’t mean you should avoid it. If you’re a helpful Best Buy or Honda type, you better have a headshot with you in a polo or you’re going to be missing opportunities. Don’t strive to have unique or interesting commercial headshots for the sake of having something different. The unique shots may come in handy for modeling or as a gift to your boy- or girlfriend, but it’s not ideal for commercial headshots. Commercials deal in types. Your commercial headshots will have a similar look and feel to other headshots and that’s OK. Because YOU make them different. You and all the other actors with brilliant—though similar-looking headshots—will get the audition, meaning you’ll have to duke it out on the merits of talent from there.
Watch commercials, identify top types, and have a headshot that reflects each one.
Your headshot should tell the casting director how to cast you, specifically. What successfully conveys the types you can play have to do with your hair, makeup and wardrobe. How do you get the perfect Midwest mom commercial headshot? Watch commercials with Midwest moms and wear exactly what they’re wearing, fix your hair the same way and wear the same amount of makeup. Catch my drift? Copy what you see on commercials today in your commercial headshots. And remember: Don’t get creative.
Plan, plan, plan: wardrobe, hair, and makeup.
Don’t wing your headshot session. Brilliant headshots don’t happen by chance, they come from thinking them through and planning ahead of time. By the time of your shoot, you should have watched a range of commercials, picked your types, purchased your wardrobe, planned your hair options, gotten your makeup/hair person, and had plenty of sleep leading up to your shoot date. These are too important to shrug your shoulders and hope for the best. Plan it out.
When your agent says get them, get them—AND post them.
I have to say I’m surprised this is a thing, but apparently, this is a thing. If your agent wants new headshots, you should get them. If you don’t trust their discretion, then that’s another (bigger) problem. Assuming you intend to take their suggestion, don’t be afraid to get their opinion on the specific types you may be missing or need to improve on in your portfolio. They should be in on that conversation! And when you get your fantastic shots, they will do you zero good until you post them online. So get it done. The longer you wait to take or post your photos, the more opportunities you’re missing. Brilliant headshots are essential.