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The Essentials

Casting directors explain what makes for a good headshot and what they look for in a photo

As a professional performer, your headshots are vitally important. They’re how you’re represented on Spotlight and are the first thing a casting director sees when selecting performers to audition so it’s essential that your photo looks like you and truly represents who you are.

What is a headshot?

A headshot is a photograph of your face, closely cropped from the shoulders up. They’re usually in a vertical, or profile, aspect ratio of 10″x8″ and can be printed or used digitally.

Headshots are taken for creative promotional or business use. In actor’s cases you’d use your headshot for:

  • Your Spotlight profile and any other online casting platforms
  • Your professional website and social media accounts
  • Sending to agents for representation

Your headshot helps casting directors decide if you should be selected to audition for roles so it’s vital that your headshot is a true representation of what you look like. Read our tips for how to pick a headshot for your Spotlight profile.

Headshot Tips from Casting Directors

To help guide you, we asked several casting directors to explain what makes for a good headshot and what they look for in a photo.

  1. Make sure your headshot actually looks like you. You don’t need to do big makeup and hair, casting directors want to be able to recognise you from your headshot when you walk in the room.
  2. Don’t use filters, holiday snaps or model shots. Your headshots shouldn’t be too forced, instead, they should capture you in a moment and be a true representation of what you look like.
  3. Your photo should be well-lit. If you can’t make it to a studio, consider having your photo taken outside or near a window to make the most of natural light.
  4. Keep your headshot updated. You should be prepared to change your headshots every couple of years and delete any photos that no longer represent you. Using photos where you look older or younger than you actually are can stop you being called in for roles that are more suitable for you.
  5. Use a simple variety of headshots. They should be neutral but you don’t want to include six photos that are all the same. It’s not about pulling faces but it is about showing a range so think about whether you want to include a slightly smiley photo, or one with your hair straight if it’s usually curly or one with and without glasses if you wear them. If you have a beard, include a headshot showing what your face looks like without it as this is often asked in a casting.
  6. Four to six headshots are enough. There’s such a thing as having too few or too many photos on your profile.
  7. Get a second opinion. Before you send your headshot to anyone or upload it to your profile, send it to your agent or someone you trust to give you an honest opinion.

Read more about how to get a good headshot.

We have more advice including how to choose a headshot photographer, how to select a headshot for your Spotlight profile and lots more about what makes for a good headshot.

Related Headshot Articles:

Video Transcript

Thom Hammond: Headshots are really, really important. I can’t reinforce that enough. Headshots for you as an actor are pretty much all you’ve got. Especially if you haven’t met the casting director before and that’s going to be the case some of the time, possibly all the time if you’re starting from scratch or if you’re a grad. [They’re] really important as that’s how you are represented on Spotlight and that is how you are seen the vast majority of the time.

Tree Petts: I think what people need to understand is that I’ll get 48 to 96 thumbnails a page. They need to have a strong, good headshot, and most importantly of all, they need to look like their headshot.

Jane Anderson: You want something that’s well-lit and is basically a reference to the person who’s going to walk in the room.

Debbie McWilliams: It should look like you. That’s the most important thing. Don’t make it too flattering.

Tree Petts: There’s no point getting one that makes you look really beautiful and then you come in and I’m like “oh, well, you don’t really look like your picture” or the other way around.

Frank Moiselle: Well, there’s no point having a headshot that is years old or [where you look] too young or touched up in such a way that really it doesn’t represent you.

Victor Jenkins: You see many photos, not so much nowadays, but used to where the actor would come in the room and you look at the photo and it’s not the same person or it’s 10 years old, or it’s just too much like a fashion photo, which doesn’t give us anything.

Emma Ashton: They’ve got to keep updating images. I think that’s quite important. I think you can keep a few in that are more classic, that we’re quite used to seeing and then a few up-to-date ones.

Jane Anderson: It means you’re coming in for roles that you shouldn’t be coming in for, but you could actually be. By having something of the right age, I will bring you in for other roles that actually might be better.

Lucinda Syson: The thing about casting is that we’re looking at someone to sort of, not to pigeonhole.

Thom Hammond: It’s not about pulling faces. It’s not about adopting characters. It’s about some simple variety. Here’s a slightly brighter, slightly smiley shot.

Debbie McWilliams: Don’t make it too forced. Don’t make it too actor-y, but also don’t make it like a holiday snap.

Sharon Bialy: You really want to capture someone in a moment, not someone who’s afraid of the camera like I am.

Priscilla John: Something honest. Don’t do big makeup and hair thing like I’ve done today.

Kelly Valentine Hendry: Their eyes are alive. Or there’s a strength there, something that’s different from everyone else and it usually comes down to the eyes and someone inviting you in. A pitch that makes you want to know more about someone.

Thom Hammond: Fundamentally, they are all neutral. Should be able to look at all those photos and cast you as anything. Let us do the casting, you don’t have to do that for us.

Debbie McWilliams: Outside quite often seems to work better than a studio shot. I don’t know why. It just feels a bit more comfortable.

Thom Hammond: You need a few of them. You need more than just one. There’s such a thing as having too many. More than 10 is too many, less than two isn’t enough. I feel like the sweet spot is about four to six.

Lucinda Syson: It’s good to have a range of photographs, but make them a range. If you’re sort of putting the same photo in different angles, sometimes it’s silly. It’s like I’ve got eight photographs on my Spotlight page that are all the same.

Jane Anderson: If you’ve got long hair or you’ve got curly hair, maybe you could have one where it’s straight. Or if you wear glasses, some with glasses.

Emma Ashton: If it’s a guy and he’s got a beard sometimes and not a beard, then it’s really good to have the range so we can see what he looks like without beard because that is always asked when they come into a casting.

Debbie McWilliams: I would always ask someone else’s opinion what they think of it before you send it to somebody or before you choose it. Very often your agent might be the best person to select it for you because you are not always the best judge of what is the best photo of you.

Thom Hammond: The fundamentals of photos are that they should look like you. They should be contemporary to one another. They should be fairly recent. You’ll need to change them quite often, every couple of years, even if you don’t think you do. Get rid of the old ones. Get rid of the drama school graduation photos you’ve had for 15 years that are still knocking around for no reason. Yeah, that’s it.


Photo credit: Vlad Shalaginov / Unsplash