For professional and aspiring professional actors, a photo is an essential tool for getting a job. Essentially it is an 8 x 10 black-and-white image of your head, from the shoulders up. Likewise, the photo is a necessary part of applications for many undergraduate and graduate theater programs, or for apprenticeships and internships in summer stock and regional theaters.

An 8 x 10-inch picture, or three-quarter shot, can be the first introduction of yourself to the people who will be calling you in for interviews and auditions and casting you in their productions. But whatever it may eventually be used for, the actor's headshot must do at least the following things: 

  Check List of Items to Keep In Mind When Seeking Headshots

Theatrical headshots, an 8 x 10 black-and-white image should be taken by a professional photographer who specializes in just headshots.
To secure leads in finding the best photographer for the job, talk to agents, coaches and other actors.
Generate a short list of potential photographers and interview them each to see which one you are most comfortable with.
Look at books, proof sheets; technical quality of the photograph.
Make sure the eyes of the photographs reveal some quality.
Ask to see pictures of people in your age range with similar hair, skin and eye color.
Consider the photographer’s personality as someone you can get along and feel comfortable with.
A typical (although not absolute) price range for a session can be $100 to $500.
Three-quarter shots are an option to take; consider their value.
Care should be taken to select an appropriate wardrobe for the photo shoot.
Be aware of the best pictures and current styles, particularly for your industry.
After obtaining a headshot you like find a service to mass produce copies.
 Use our communication tools (chat room; message board; messaging tools etc.) to reach others who can provide you with more help and information

1. Show Yourself As You Are. One of the biggest mistakes of an inexperienced actor or performing artist is to strive for a photograph that is glamorous or theatrical. Since casting decisions are based on getting a "type," people viewing these photos will not see you as you really are, especially since you won't have a professional doing your make up and styling your hair before every audition.

standard artists headshot

2. Pull the viewers into the shot and intrigue them. The idea is to make them want to see you in person, and it's usually done through the eyes. The eyes are used to portray personality, as well as create a little mystery, so viewers will want to see you in person to unravel the rest of you.

eyes are used to portray personality

3. Exude A Professional Demeanor. If for no other, this might be the foremost reason for using a professional photographer.

Although the format for the majority of entertainment industry headshots would likely default to an actor's standard 8" x 10" headshot, the following video will explain the difference between the different types of headshots in the acting and modeling industry, analyzing commercial, featured, industrial, modeling, full-body, and specialty.

Actor/Model Headshot Types and Portfolio Explained

Photo Styles

Generally, there can be two standard types of photographs in use throughout most show business industries and is acceptable in any professional or preprofessional situation. The first is the headshot, which is an 8 x 10 photograph of a performing artist's face, showing hair and neck, to or just below the collar.

These are printed without a border on matte- or pearl- finish photographic paper. The performing artist's name is usually set in black type on a light area of the photo, or in white type on a dark area.

The second format is commonly referred to as a "three-quarters" or "portrait" shot, and shows the performing artist's head and shoulders at least, but may include down to the waist or as much as a full-body shot (particularly in the case of action shots for stunt work).

These photos are printed showing the uneven black line that marks the edge of the photographer's negative frame, and then set within a wide white border. For this the preferred paper is matte or pearl finish, with the name, generally set in black inside the white border.

The actor need not decide on one of these two types of shots before going to a photographer. During the session, the photographer will allow for several changes of clothing and poses, and it is a simple matter of pulling the camera back a few feet to change a headshot into a portrait shot. 

After looking at the contact sheet, the actor can select whatever the number of each type to have reproduced, and then decide which photo to send out on the basis of what seems most appropriate for the particular job. Generally, commercial casting directors wish to see a headshot, while many directors prefer seeing more of an actor's body.

Commercial vs theatrical headshot

Different from theatrical headshots, commercial headshots appeal to the marketing industry. They are also selected on the basis of broader appeal. Usually, the purpose of a commercial is to promote a product to a certain demographic. It will be up to the project leaders of the marketing campaign to consider what demographic their selection of headshots will fall into. It’s important for the personality types in commercials to be easily identifiable since there are only a few seconds to connect with the viewer. Is the potential prospect a casual looking customer service representative or someone depicting high brow connoisseur tastes? What is the authentic age range? Are they a stylish hipster phone commercial type or the nerdy, quirky office type? The object is to draw unique qualities from the headshot.

YouTube video: How important are headshots in getting an audition?

Photographic styles for musical artists and bands

Musicians and bands, who in all likelihood will rely on a demo-tape to land gigs, will probably rely on photographic stills for publicity, promotion and news release purposes and not as much for qualifying for performance gigs. Publicity photography for musicians can capture a visual representation of their music and performance. It can serve to propel the brand image forward while capturing more fans. In the band photo below, Five Finger Death Punch (Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Five Finger Death Punch (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

One aspect of music photography to keep in mind is the vast range of creative styles that can be used. In a similar way to the actor headshot, the musician's promo picture can be the first impression potential fans and the press will get of a new music act. Ideally, the music photo dovetails well with the music style, website content, social media messaging, as well as lyrical output, to solidify the artistic brand.

Finding A Photographer

In New York City and Los Angeles, there are hundreds of listings for professional theatrical photographers. Smaller markets, such as San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston will have far less who specializes in photographing entertainers.

Although there is a standard format throughout the industry, it is known that subtle variations can be found market by market because entertainment photographers in these markets have left their own personal stamp on the photos they take in that market.

This is something to keep in mind, and which should be revealed, as you interview photographers and view their portfolios in deciding which one is right for you.

Terms to Know

Airbrushing. A photographic process whereby certain flaws in a picture are gently blown off of a master print.

Body-Shot Picture. Subject is seen in an outfit (body suit, work-out clothes, dance attire, bathing suit) or performing a special skill/stunt (martial arts, surf boarding, skiing, dancing) that accentuates their body in some way.

Commercial Head or 3/4 Shot. Used to seek a commercial agent, and on commercial auditions. The shot usually depicts the subject as perky and upbeat with bright energetic eyes.

Composite. A type of head shot popular in the commercial industry which positions several different images of the subject together on one 8" x 10" spread giving casting directors a quick way to determine how the subject will look in different settings.

Consultation Meeting. The interview with a photographer which you have selected as a final choice which gives you a chance to ask questions regarding clothes, make up, what types of look you want to capture, etc.

8 x 10 Pictures. The primary calling card to the people who will be calling you in for interviews and auditions, and casting you in their productions.

Head Shot. An 8 x 10 photograph that acts as your calling card for securing television, film and theatrical work, showing your face as it actually appears. The head shot should capture your best and most unique physical features, while still remaining true to your actual image.

Lithography. A printing process as opposed to a photographic process used to inexpensively reproduce a large quantity of headshots.

Proof Sheet. After a roll of film is shot and developed, it is printed onto sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 or 11 x 14 inch paper, holding up to 36 exposures. Use a photographer’s loop to check the lighting and focus.

Retouching. A photographic process whereby certain flaws in a picture are covered up or removed..

Test Photographers. Photographers willing to barter their services at a reduced rate to help themselves and a new model build their respective portfolios.

Theatrical Head or 3/4 Shot. A shot that captures a view of you from your head to your knees. The shot generally does not portray the subject with a full smile, but rather an intense look, or showing attitude.

Wardrobe List. The important list of clothes to wear for different styles of pictures.

For a full glossary listing click here

In finding a photographer to do theatrical headshots what matters most is that it is someone with whom you can work well to achieve the best photograph of yourself, rather than someone with the "best" reputation.

Upon finding photographs that you like, you can proceed to telephone the photographer to look at their book of samples in person. In addition to questions about rates, and the number of rolls of pictures taken, make sure to ask about wardrobe, hair and make-up, and whether the photographer will have a professional on hand as part of the service.

And of course, you will want to know what is the cost of the service and how much time will the photographer allow for the session. To learn of suitable photographers you might want to get in touch with, consider contacting the American Society of Media Photographers, and/or the Professional Photographers of America, whose contact information is listed in the Relevant Associations & Organizations section below.

Visual qualities to keep in mind when viewing the photographer's samples are:

* wide-bordered shots
* semi-gloss finish
* shots covering more than an actor's head
* shots covering three-quarters of the actor's body
* "commercial" shot
* "legit" shot
* "soap" shot
* photo reproduction services that will print you name on the front of the photograph

Publications that can help an actor in the quest for a suitable photographer are:


Players Guide
The Spotlight
1560 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Academy Players Directory
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
8949 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211-1972 email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Clothing and Makeup

The best clothing choices for a general shot are casual -- a shirt, sweater, vest, or jacket over a shirt or tank top. If you fit into an executive type for commercials and industrials, then you could bring along a suit for some of the sessions.

Keep in mind colors register with intensity, and it is best to avoid contrasty black and white. Patterns are fine if they are not distracting, and if the contrast in the pattern is not to bright. Choose a color that will offer a natural contrast to your skin tone.

Wardrobe ideas for men to wear for the photoshoot include:

* Business, executive, evening formal
* Ivy league, business casual
* Urban rough-cut, denim, black, and other dark colors
* Outdoor rugged, bulky garments, ski, and fishing ware
* Sporty, particularly with tennis whites, sweats and colored patterns

Wardrobe ideas for women to wear for the photoshoot include:

* Evening, elegant, sexy, particularly black with low necklines or off the shoulder
* Lacy camisoles and romantic lingerie
* Earrings, pins, and bracelets
* Business suits and jackets
* Patterned blouses, vintage clothing

Photo Retouching can be used to help remove lines and shadows on your photos that look like wrinkles (not to be confused with lines or wrinkles of maturity). A retoucher can advise you according to what your specific needs are.

Photo Labs will develop your film to proof sheets and 4 x 6 proof prints and to produce your borderless matte 8 x 10 masters. Consult this picture reproduction checklist to help get your photo masters reproduced:

* An excellent quality 8 x 10 master picture is taken to a duplication lab for photo reproduction.
* 8 x 10 headshots should be black and white and printed on photographic paper that is either glossy, matte or pearl, with or without borders.
* Decide (perhaps in conjunction with your agent or manager) how many prints to run off.
* For economizing, lithographs can be an alternative to photographic paper.
* Professional headshots must have your name in front.
* When collecting your pictures, carefully inspect the negative and prints.


Relevant Associations & Organizations

Actors’ Work Program
c/o Actors’ Fund of America
729 Seventh Avenue, 11 Floor
New York, NY 10036
Phone: 212-354-5480
Los Angeles: 323-933-9244 ext. 50
Career management and counseling mostly for sideline and second careers; educational grants for retraining and education.
Email (NY/LA): This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.
150 North Second Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: 215-451-ASMP (2767)
Fax: 215-451-0880
A resource for community, culture, commerce and publications relating to publication photography. “Find a Photographer” database, is searchable by criteria including location and specialty.
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New York Public Library
Photographic Services & Permissions
476 Fifth Avenue, Room 68
New York, NY 10018-2788
Photography/Digital Imaging: 212-930-9270
Microfilm: 212-930-0808
Fax: 212-221-3423
A vast array of images from the thirteenth century to the present can be found at The New York Public Library. Thousands of original photographs, color transparencies and book images from the Research Libraries are available for reproduction and for research/scholarly/commercial use.
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Professional Photographers of America, Inc.
229 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 2200
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: 404-522-8600
Fax: 404 614-6400
A certifying agency for imaging professionals and the world’s largest not-for-profit association for professional photographers, with more than 14,000 members in 64 countries. PPA offers consumers free referrals to photographic professionals, as well as acting as a locator service for finding the owners of images.
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.