I mentioned on IG I was getting new headshots and a lot of you asked me how I prep for them. It’s important to note I see headshots as you, in character, on a good day (like Leah Huebner said in this podcast). I do not see them as glamor shots showcasing you as a contestant for America’s Next Top Model (note: this particular session was more upscale, yes, but this it’s still not Euphoria-level glam). That being said, there are two sides of prep that come to mind: Physical and Business. Let’s dive in.
This is the area that used to give me anxiety attacks. In the past I often treated my body and skin like absolute shit before headshots. I would wreck myself with insane things like diets or cleanses just for a headshot session. For some reason I had it in my head that doing restrictive things to my body would mean I was doing this whole “working actor” thing right. Spoiler alert: this is nonsense.
As for my skin, the above process would all but guarantee a full breakout on my face (stress and fucked up eating will do that to ya), which I would respond to by drudging out products lingering in the back shelves of my bathroom cabinets or ordering things I read a handful of reviews for on Amazon. I think we both know how this went…to quote a Bravo Housewife: Not well bitch!
Let’s cut to what I did for last session, which is coincidently also my go-to for auditions and bookings too. I changed zero things about my day to day eating habits except that I tried not to salt as much stuff the day before. Sounds insignificant, but let me tell you, I am a salty lady. I love salt like most people love ice cream. So not salting my apples (what you don’t salt apples?…maybe its a Midwest thing…) is a notable change for me. I don’t do this for any caloric reason, but simply because I know it affects my overall appearance. And second, I don’t drink alcohol. There are a myriad of reasons behind this, but to keep it short and sweet, alcohol fucks with my sleep, my skin, and my overall attitude to the world.
As for my skin, I…wait for it…did absolutely nothing. Yup. I stuck to my current routine of products and kept my hands outta my random sample pots. I have learned that the simplest thing is almost always the best for me, and sticking to what has already been working (most days at least) is the most predictable thing.
So there you have it, my physical prep: less salt + no alcohol. And keeping up my typical wash + moisturize day to day skin routine.
This is the part I was missing out on all those years I spent worrying about my body. And dare I say, this is the most important part, and probably the most work on our end.
Covering your business side means getting the right pictures from your shoot. You can get good pictures but they may not be right. And by right, I mean cast-able for you. The goal with headshots is getting cast-able photos for characters you can play.
The simplest formula for this is:
Make a list of all the shows/projects you could be cast in tomorrow.
Decide what characters you would portray in these shows/projects.
Pull outfits that fit each. And then pull alternate options.
Have this list ready to reference at your shoot, complete with the tone/vibe/look your face should be in your shoot.
And if you’re panicking right now, don’t worry I got you. Let’s break it down.
What shows could you be cast in tomorrow? can be a board and scary question. But it is essential for your work (not just photos). If this feels really hard for you, you can narrow it down first by making a list of the shows that cast and/or shoot in your market. Then narrow it further by highlighting the shows that have the most costars/guest stars per episode. These are the “low hanging fruit’“ of your area. Now go watch them.
Knowing what you bring to a room really helps you answer what characters you would portray in these shows/projects. If you get crazy overwhelmed by this, try an alternative exercise first: make a list of the character types you wouldn’t be cast as. Yes, of course, we are all incredibly talented actors capable of acting outside our own boundaries in epic ways, blah blah blah. But for the first maybe 10 years of your career, you’re going to play things based on you. So let’s figure out what that is. For example: I would probably never get cast as a Silicon Valley nerd. I know what I look like and how the world perceives me. This is not a time to be humble. You have to learn to talk about yourself as a business entity.
And now for the fun part, pulling outfits that match these character types. I love this part. Maybe partly because it’s only “tits and up” as one of my hilarious friends used to say. But I find it to be a fun challenge to put together these looks. I have a few stylist friends so I often run my choices by them (complete with the character types in what show or genre I am aiming for) but there are several stylists on the market who offer services to pull looks specifically for actor headshots, often times using your own clothes. I should have invested in this earlier in my career, but alas, most of my early headshots look like a Midwesterner who loves cami-tops…
Oh and bring alternates for each look. My last session was two looks but I brought 6 outfit options, and thank god I did because one dress was pleated and looked like a bag on camera, super unflattering. I swapped it out for my second choice, worked like a charm.
If you haven’t done this as you go, now is a great time to compile a full list of these shows + character types + outfits and add notes in for yourself about how you should be acting in your photos. Yup, you read that right. You should be actively acting in your headshots. Are you selling a Swiffer or a Cadillac? Those are two different smiles. Are you a nice doctor on a sitcom or a serious surgeon on a new network drama? These are very different looks. And if you wait till the camera flashes before you think this through, all you’re gonna get is a deer in headlights…and that look doesn’t work for everybody (but damn it was killer in Queen’s Gambit).
And yes, I did all that for two looks. Why? Because I want to nail it! And it’s expensive so I want to use my time and money wisely. I added my photos below for you.
Photos: Joanna Degeneres
H/MU: Kate Hollinshead
Retouching: Dan Smiley
I love this perspective and how it breaks down an overwhelming process into a very structured and intentional approach. I am just returning to my acting career and started a similar process for my last shoot and found myself wishing I had done this ten headshot sessions ago! I’m so curious what shows and characters this session was inspired by?
Such a wealth of knowledge and step-by-step! I’m vamping up my entire portfolio and creating new goals for the direction that I want my career to go into. Resume updated… check! Reel, a work in progress… check! Hair cut, a tan and new headshots with well thought out character choices and prep… coming right up!!! 🙂 Thanks for the thorough explanation.