Agents and Managers Tell Us What They Look For In a Headshot

Headshots & Blog by Vanie Poyey:

 

I recently asked a bunch of agents and managers what they look for in a headshot and here’s what I got in response.

 

From Kenneth & Nelson at Brick Entertainment (Commercial Only):

 

  • Clear, Crisp Photography.  Vibrant color.  Above all, we want Casting to be able to SEE you in a thumbnail sized photo.
  • Definable Archetypes.  “Instant read” personality types that we see in commercials every day.  Not suggesting costumes or broad ranges of “characters” but shades of the performer in different settings, playing roles with different attitudes/vibes.
  • Eyes.  Short of meeting a performer in person, I find the best way to connect with a person in a two dimensional object is through the eyes.  Are they prominent in the photo?  Do they match the expression?  Is there something being communicated?
  • Diffused Background.  No better way to draw from the performer than to have a distracting background in focus.  I once overheard a Casting Director say these words about a photo that a performer’s friend took in their backyard (with a palm tree in focus right behind them): “This looks like a photo I would find in a non-union talent pool.”  Ouch!  While carefully selected, diffused backgrounds can certainly complement a “look,” be sure to showcase yourself instead of the palm tree, brick wall, fence, etc.
  • Light, Natural Makeup.   It’s helpful to see the contours and unique qualities of a performers face.  Bright lipstick can often look like “clown face” in the thumbnail.  Unless, going for a stylized, editorial or very specific look, I find light natural makeup to be more effective in presenting a REAL human being.  This goes for women AND men.

 

From Terrie Snell at Talent Ink (Management):

When I look at an actor’s head shot I look for two main things.

  • The first: is there a clearly defined emotion reading in the shot (are the eyes alive), does the actor understand what their casting is?”.
  • The second: How will this shot be perceived by the casting director? As we all know, casting directors see literally thousands of submissions for each role and in a very tiny window. Thus, the picture has to pop off the page AND match the description of the character casting is looking to cast. The closer an actor’s shot is to the type of character being sought, the better the actor’s chance is to be brought in for an audition.

 

From Andrea Kelly at Unlimited Talent Management:

I look for a few things.  The most important is that the headshot look like them and capture their essence—it’s different for everyone but it is the thing that sets them apart from the crowd. I look for their personality to come out in the shot but not be forced or over the top.  I also look for choices, especially when working with a new actor, if casting doesn’t know them or their work, it’s important for there to be some specific shots to catch the casting agent’s attention.

 

From Lisa Berman at Berman/Sacks Talent Agency LLC:

I look for big open eyes so I can see eye color, full heads (not cut off at top of head) so I can see shape of head (bald men especially important), outfits which allow me to instantly see where the person might work (office, athlete, school, etc) and open body language (no arms crossed).  I also only like shots where the actor is facing open to the left of the shot… That is because casting looks at several tiny photos in thumbnails on one screen at a time and our eyes read from left to right. Open body language is more appealing, big eyes where you can see color makes the photo pop and being able to feel where the actor might work from the clothing they are wearing, makes casting more likely to stop and click on that thumbnail and view the entire photo larger by clicking on it. The clicks then usually lead to auditions.

 

Oliver Carnay at International Artists PR and Talent Management:

An actor’s headshot is the most powerful tool an actor could have, so it should reflect the brand and type of roles an actor should be going out for.  It needs to be professional, too — no busy trees and buildings on the background, it should have good lighting.  It is also important that it is not obviously retouched.  If an actor has freckles, it should also be intact.  The actor should appear exactly how he looks like in person.

 

From Patch Mackenzie and Cutler Management:

The competition is so stiff these days that one has to go the extra mile to get an amazing headshot.  Do your research and review different photographers’ work in your price range. Get referrals from other actors who have great pictures and ask your reps who they like and the kinds of shots they will need to sell you. Know your type. Meet with the photographer in advance to get on the same page about the “looks” and goals of the session. Be prepared and on time for your session and have a good breakfast that day to sustain you throughout the shoot. Look like you, not a Hollywood version of you. If you want your reps to pitch you with enthusiasm, they need to have confidence in their tools. Help them help you by giving them what they want when they want it.

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