Does your headshot look like you?

In these days of the glamorous selfie do some people have a warped idea of what they look like rather than what they actually look like? Research any casting directors’ thoughts on headshots on either side of the Atlantic and you will hear one piece of advice time and again. “Look like your headshot!” The Casting Directors Association (UK) recently tweeted some guidelines about headshots. They said plainly.

“Tip 10: Ensure your photo actually looks like you we want to recognise you when you come in! #CDATips #Headshots

I am convinced that the rise in self taping and requests for an un retouched selfie as a backup to your headshot is a direct result of casting directors not trusting the headshot to look like you. Infact you might be rejected because your headshot looks too ‘perfect’.

So why, when the advice is so clear do actors use pictures that flatter them rather than resemble them?

The Psychology of Flattery

Everyone likes a flattering picture of themselves. Our unconscious mind thrives on the positive vibes from good looking pictures and the many approving remarks that are reported through social media. Some people are even addicted to the feel good factor that comes from it. The more pleasure you get the more pleasure you crave so positive stuff feeds the ego. That’s fine but this can have dangerous consequences for creatives. If you inflate an ego enough the vulnerability increases proportionally. In other words if you are a singer and keep being told how wonderful you are and then find out that, by comparing you with better singers your not as good as you thought others told you the ensuing depression is greater than if you knew where your talent lay in relationship with other good singers. There is research to suggest that your mind will dwell on negative criticism and it takes a lot of positive approval to get back your emotional equilibrium.

In order to improve your art you need to process criticism in a positive way. A way that you can learn from and improve yourself. The criticism can’t come from anyone. You have to trust and respect criticiser. This person is your teacher, your mentor. Someone you have faith in. Criticism, self or otherwise, is the fuel for self improvement.

Your Brand as an Actor

Trusting your headshot to look like you has it’s advantages. Firstly your not going to disappoint a CD and secondly you know before you have got into the room that you are exactly what the CD wants to see. That should give you a lot more confidence in your appearance and will help you project your type/brand during the audition. Knowing your type/brand will also help you communicate your energy in a headshot session.

Professional Attitude

How does all this relate to your headshot? As an actor you are a creative professional. The way you present yourself to other industry professionals is very important in creating the right impression. This is about marketing you the actor and has little to do with your talent at this point. I have been an industry professional for 30 years and I have had to deal with ‘actors’ turning up at the studio with dirty hair, unwashed and unironed clothes stinking of smoke and sweat, late and unprepared. How do you think that is that going to impact on their session? Well I can tell you it is not positive. In an interview with The Stage an agent said  “I have had requests for representation from total strangers via my personal Facebook account that have been downright rude. Upon checking the profile of the person making the request I have had the joy of seeing them drunk, nearly naked (sometimes at the same time) and expressing opinions that I found offensive.”

The behaviour is unprofessional and a headshot that does not look resemble you is equally so. I had client in recently that went for a big TV audition. The client is good looking, but her headshot made her look stunning….she is not stunning, just good looking and there is a difference. She walked into the audition and the CD said “No Thanks!”. That was it. No audition. Now, take a moment to think like that CD. He/she has to cast a role type that may have said “Female, stunning looking ex model, mistress to Russian.. etc ”. They has been told that they don’t want a name but has to cast an unknown, so they have has looked through a 1000 headshots to find “stunning”. and found 10 that they would like to see. Imagine the disappointment when your headshot does not deliver. Its a waste of a CD’s time….and yours…and your agents.

What do Casting Directors Say

You don’t have to believe me. Hear it from a casting director.

“So a headshot must be an accurate representation of what the actor looks like or it fails in its primary function. Sounds obvious? It is. But it is also a fact often ignored. The classic mistake is one of vanity (or more charitably ignorance), the actor chooses a photo that is flattering to their idea of beauty whether it is truthful or not. This is career damaging for many reasons. Firstly it sets up a false impression, it leads people to believe you are something that you are not. It includes you in one sub group and excludes you from another. If you are selected for audition on the basis of an inaccurate photo you will be attending under false pretences, this wastes your time and the time of the person you are interviewing with. But perhaps more importantly it means you are not being selected for castings for which you would be more suitable.

A ‘good’ photo will also communicate something about the spirit or personality of the actor. It can be in the expression (coy or insolent) or the format (close cropped or loose) or the wardrobe (corporate or casual). Whichever way the actor chooses to present them selves it’s ideal if the photo can capture something that conveys the uniqueness of that particular actor.

Book a Headshot Session with John

My thanks to Kit Reeve at Olivia Bell Management for allowing me to use her picture.

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