How many acting headshots should you have?

One of the first questions my acting clients ask me when they first get in touch is how many headshots they should get; because I offer a range of price packages, they understandably want to make absolutely sure that they are choosing the package that’s right for them and their wallet - especially if they’ve been going through a long period of ‘resting’!

The answer that I always give is that it’s not so much about volume as range. By far and away my most popular package is the ‘Professional’ (outlined in more detail here), which includes a final choice of 4 re-touched images. That might not sound like a huge amount, but it’s far better to show your range in an economical way on casting websites such as Spotlight, than it is to have endless images from your acting career, especially if they go back a few years.

In this notoriously competitive industry, your headshots often only have a split second to make an impact, and the chances of anyone poring over your portfolio are minimal at best. So here are my 3 top tips for making sure that your headshots are working as hard as possible to make you stand out from the crowd.

  1. Keep it current

    No matter how illustrious your acting career, Casting Directors are more generally interested in what you’ve been doing recently than what you did 10 years ago; and they are certainly not interested in what you looked like 10 years ago! If there’s one guaranteed way of getting on the wrong side of anyone auditioning you, it’s walking into the audition room and looking nothing like your headshot.

    So make sure you get your portfolio updated at least every two years (every year as a child actor), and only feature your most recent shots on casting websites.

  2. Show your versatility

    A huge part of a professional headshot photographer’s job is to work with you to bring out your range; that’s partly to do with different lighting set-ups and backgrounds to create different moods, but it’s also largely down to the rapport you have with your photographer during the shoot, and how comfortable you feel working on different looks and expressions.

    It’s always a good idea to have a chat on the phone with your headshot photographer prior to booking your shoot to see if you intuitively feel comfortable with them - the best headshot sessions are those that are truly collaborative, where you work together with your photographer to ensure that you walk away with a set of images that show your versatility as a performer, and which help your agent put you forward for different types of role.

    If you don’t feel 100% comfortable with your photographer during the shoot, the chances are that will show in the final images, no matter how good an actor you are.

  3. Be Yourself

    This might sound like a bit of a contradiction to my previous point, but whilst it’s commonplace in the US to have headshots taken to show specific character types, even to the extent of being shot in character, in the UK it’s also essential that you have shots in your portfolio that represent the ‘real you’; whilst Casting Directors are obviously interested in what you might bring to a role in the context of your specific acting experience, they’re also often equally interested in what’s unique about you, and that’s every bit as much about the range of real personal experiences that you have to draw on, as it is about your acting resume.

    One of my acting clients recently started off our session by saying how much she hated having her photograph taken, and whilst that’s pretty much an everyday occurrence for a headshot photographer, it often seems strange coming from someone who spends such a large amount of time in front of a camera.

    But when I asked her why, she summed up the conundrum perfectly: “I can be in front of a camera all day long when I’m playing someone else, but when I have my headshot taken it’s the only time I’m asked to play me, and I forget what to do!”.

    If there’s one emotional quality that actors and their audiences alike prize above all others, it’s authenticity, and that’s something that should also be at the very core of any successful headshot session.

David Green