headshots

My Top Five Tips for a Successful Actor Headshot by Lisa Hancock

We all know that to succeed in acting and stand out to casting directors, you have to have a killer, high quality actor headshot. It has to stop them in their tracks and leave them wanting to meet you in person. I’ve been photographing actor headshots in New York City for more than ten years now and from the start I’ve been fascinated with decoding the secrets to an effective actor headshot. In the process of shooting literally thousands of actor headshots, I’ve seen it all. From clients who arrive two hours late to clients who have been up all night practicing in the mirror! They all want to succeed but not all of them know how. But with just a little bit of effort and the right mindset, you can rock your headshot session and watch the audition doors start to fly open. So, to kick off 2019 with a bang, I’m sharing my top five secret tips to an audition-worthy actor headshot:

#1: Be Early to your actor headshot session

If you do only one thing to succeed at your headshot session, arrive early! You don’t want to waste a single minute of your shoot to subway delays or traffic jams, so give yourself plenty of extra time to get there.

But it’s not just about being on time. To really rock your headshot session, arrive at least 15-20 minutes early to get oriented and ready to work. Use the restroom, freshen up, and breathe. Hang your clothes up on the wardrobe rack and start to focus on your first look. Meditate for a minute and get centered in your body. Do some jumping jacks and stretches. In fact, do whatever warm-ups you would do before an audition or performance. Which leads me to my next tip…

#2: Think of YOUR actor HEADSHOT SESSION As a Performance

An actor’s headshot shoot isn’t like posing for a cellphone photo with your friends. An effective actor headshot needs to demonstrate energy and an ability to connect with the viewer. You need to bring the same kind of focus to your relationship with the photographer and camera as you would with a scene partner. Even get into character. Become specific characters you’d like to play. Pretend we’re doing a scene together. Approach it like a performance.

I always tell people to “take charge” of the shot. In other words, don’t be passive. When we’re kids, we’re trained to hold still and smile for the camera. But in a headshot session, freezing and smiling are the kiss of death. You need to be actively engaged. This is your chance to tell us a story about yourself through your eyes and body language.

Rest assured, you’re not giving a performance on your own. You have a partner in your photographer. When you collaborate with me, I make suggestions, direct you, and draw you out.

#3: Look Away In Between Shots

My first job as a headshot photographer is to keep you from looking like a deer in headlights. It happens to the best of us when we don’t know what to do. We’re nervous, we aren’t sure what we’re doing, and we freeze up. A helpful practice is to keep your body moving:

  • Turn your head away in between shots and then look back into the lens quickly. Don’t even think about it.

  • Next, try looking down and then up into the camera.

  • Then, try doing a Zoolander. Yep, that’s right. Sometimes the most exaggerated model pose ends up being the best shot! I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s true!

The idea with this last pointer is to feel free to be silly. Open yourself up to play and experimentation. You never know where it will lead you. We’re not aiming to make every shot a ten. Every shot is merely a stepping stone to the handful of winners. So keep your body and head moving in between shots to explore different angles and reset your attention. It helps your face to come alive and your eyes to connect on camera, all of which promote a more natural looking and engaged looking actor headshot.

Also, when you look into the camera, you want it to feel like you’re looking at a person. But a camera has just one “eye” and people have two. Find two different focal points on the lens of the camera and imagine that you’re looking into a pair of eyes. By the way, if you’re not sure what in the world I’m talking about, don’t panic! When you work with me, I guide you through the acting headshot process and coach you on all these tricks during your shoot.

#4: choose the right clothes for Your actor headshot

Do yourself a big favor and don’t show up to your headshot shoot with a bunch of t-shirts crammed into a backpack. It completely sabotages your shoot and ultimately your acting goals. What to wear in an actor headshot and how you look is half the battle. So, number one, take the time to talk with me about your casting and what types of clothes you should bring to your headshot session. Number two, research the best colors and tops on your own by looking at other people’s headshots. Pay particular attention to people with skin tone similar to yours. Next, prepare your clothes in advance and pack carefully so your tops are in great condition when you arrive for your shoot.

Your hair and make-up need to look their absolute best in an actor headshot as well. In most cases, for women this means going for a blow-out before your shoot and working with a professional make-up artist to help you look like yourself on your best day. For most men, looking your best means getting a haircut a week or two before the shoot and being clean-shaven. For both men and women, a good night’s sleep the night before your shoot is essential.

Doing your homework and being prepared pays off big time the day of your headshot session! Like I said before, looking your best is only half the battle and when you make the effort, it frees you up to concentrate on the other half during the shoot, which is the mental and emotional work of connecting on camera.

#5: Turn Off Your Cellphone!

There’s nothing worse than someone checking their email in the middle of a headshot session. Guys! Posing for a headshot session takes focus! You’re dropping a lot of coin on this! You can’t possibly be focused in the right way, if you’re checking your email or browsing Instagram while I change the lights. If you want to whip out your phone to take a selfie in my glamorous photo studio, that’s different LOL. Otherwise, stay focused on the session and on your performance. It will show in your photos.


I love helping you with all these challenges, so feel free to call or email me anytime with your questions. You can call me for a free consultation at (917) 628-8845 or email me at lisa@lisahancockphotography.com. Let’s make 2019 our best year yet!