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Information About Headshot Photography

Theatrical, Commercial and Glamour Headshots Explained

What is a headshot and why do I need it?  First of all, a headshot is not necessarily of just the head as the name implies. In this context headshot is used to describe any photographs of actors and entertainers shot specifically for use as promotional material; i.e. actor/entertainer resumes, press kits, lobby prints, etc.

*Headshots are typically now all done in color and display the entertainers name in the lower border, children’s and youth headshots often also include a date of birth. Headshots are typically printed in an 8X10 Format for actors and entertainers where headshots for models are generally printed 9X12.

A Headshot Must be an Honest representation of what you look like.

 It is important that your headshot  look exactly like you. If you send a picture to a Casting Director or agent and you get called in, and you don’t look like your headshot, you automatically lose. However if your picture looks exactly like you and they call you in… well, then, YOU are exactly who they are interested in. So, now that you’re in the door, all you have to do is ‘Knock them down’ with your audition

One of the most famous lines spoken by a casting director: holding up a heavily retouched headshot and asked the actor “Uh… did you bring this guy with you? ” Headshots must represent what you look like. I can not stress this strongly enough.

Headshot Types

There are basically three types of headshots commonly needed by actors and performing artists: COMMERCIAL, THEATRICAL and *GLAMOUR headshots. (*not to be confused with Glamour Modeling – a whole other thing)

 COMMERCIAL HEADSHOTS typically consist of a flattering image of the head or head & upper torso (called a 3/4 Shot) clearly displaying eyes, nose, mouth, ears and hair in simple, direct lighting. This is the image that shows what “you” look like and is often, but not always, the more casual appearing headshot of the three. A successful COMMERCIAL headshot will not only show you relaxed and at your best, but will more importantly capture and convey your energy, your personality. This headshot is the heart of your photo portfolio and is typically the type of photo that film and television casting directors, producers and agents want to see accompany your resume.



THEATRICAL HEADSHOTS  typically consist of a more serious look and dramatic lighting accentuating the entertainers features. Often they will be more specific to your area of expertise and may show you appropriately attired on a set or in an on-stage atmosphere. This image is where the film or stage actor is presented dramatically “in character” and the entertainer, dancer and musician perform for the camera. Special make-up & hair styling, costumes, dramatic posing and lighting are typically a must for Theatrical images. These are the photos you will want to send off in your press kits and other promotional material. They also make great lobby prints. Theatrical headshots fall into two sub types: the NY Legitimate, a black and white 8X10 glossy and the LA Hollywood type Headshot: An 8X10 with the actors name and often agents information printed in the lower margin. Once again color headshots are becoming the rule rather than the exception in the industry.


GLAMOUR HEADSHOTS contain the same qualities as the THEATRICAL photo, but with a little more emphasis on physical beauty and exuding sex appeal. Elegant apparel, theatrical lighting and soft focus are all appropriate for this special kind of headshot. GLAMOUR shots are particularly suitable for club singers, models, dancers and musicians as promotional images. They can also be an excellent addition to actor resumes going to casting directors handling soap opera and television show casting.  And they make beautiful lobby prints and “pin-ups”. Headshots for models are usually 9X12 photographic “Wet Prints” where as actors headshots are often litho press printed.

Headshot Photography is a highly specialized field.

In essence it is visual communication created with lighting techniques, angle and pose. It must not only capture your features, “your look” it must speak to the viewer and it must get it’s point across in the time it takes to flip through a stack of 8X10 glossies…divided by the number of images in that stack.

 How do I prepare for my headshot photo session?

Choose solid, darker color shirts and dresses for the headshot, you want attention drawn to your face not your fashionable attire.
Keep jewelry very simple and to an absolute minimum for your headshot.
Unless you are working with a makeup artist Apply none if possible or only light, basic makeup before arriving at the shoot, bring your makeup kit for adjusting and adding to makeup during the shoot.
A female companion is a good idea for ladies as they can assist in making adjustments to hair and clothing.

Children and Youth Commercial / Theatrical  Headshots / Portfolios

All minors MUST have a parent or guardian in attendance. Young children ages 3 to 12 should book several short photo sessions. I will allow for the extra time.

A special note about children.

The entertainment industry is a harsh environment. Speaking as the father of four, I would urge parents to think more than twice about their child’s health and welfare and take care to protect them at every level. I strongly believe that children should have fun and not labor at a job. Take extra care that your wishes for them now and in the future are not at the expense of their emotional health and happiness.

* Update: Color headshots are becoming by far more common in the time since I originally wrote this article in 1994. below is the text removed from the original article:

Do You Do Color Headshots?
Yes I do, Some agencies are requesting color headshots. If shot digitally prints of the same shot can be made in both color and Black & White very easily.
Why a Black & White headshot ?
Even in this age of digital color, the 8×10 B&W headshot is still the industry standard. Talent agents and casting directors see hundreds of headshot photos cross their desks everyday typically giving each only a few moments of attention. They are seeking a particular ‘look’ or ‘energy’ in the image which is to be found in the projected personality not in color of eyes or hair. Though the latter is important, they are typically evaluated later during the audition. Also, keep in mind that headshot images are often Photocopied, Faxed or scanned and sent in E-mail by casting agents for rapid distribution. A good quality B&W print is better suited than a color print for this type of reproduction.


Original Article Copyright © 1994 All Rights Reserved