There is a saying that goes “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In that vein, I’d like to introduce a saying about actor headshots:
“The friend of my enemy who takes their headshots for cheap is my friend.”
I’ll be the first to admit that saying may not take the world by storm. Benjamin Franklin probably won’t be jumping out of his grave exclaiming, “Give that girl a book deal for a poor persons’ almanac!” Or whatever Zombie Benjamin Franklin might exclaim. But what it lacks in style, it makes up for in truth.
If you want to go all House of Cards on a fellow actor who’s your same type, you could just casually advise them to have their buddy take their headshots for them for cheap without a hair and makeup person on hand. Because you know what those headshots will end up looking like? Like their friend took them for cheap without a hair and makeup person on hand.
Is that the kind of low-rent vibe you want to be putting out there?
Look, I get it. I’m almost always broke myself and truly good headshot photographers can be expensive. But while we live in an increasingly DIY world, this is not an area where we can go home made. In a lot of areas, we’re able to make the thing we want to make without too much money behind it and if we can get it seen by the right people, it might lead to an actual career. Just ask Abbi and Ilana of Broad City. But when it comes to submitting to a project being produced by a company, we can’t get away with skimping on the photographer, let alone get away with submitting a selfie. And though the why of that is a little hazy, I think it comes down to the intersection of three things:
- Your essence isn’t as easily conveyed as an idea.
- Time is short, yo.
- You don’t want a selfie-level job.
So . . . what do I mean by that?
1. Essence. The DIY sensibility makes an idea pretty accessible. An idea can be executed using some amateur equipment and techniques and the idea will probably still come across. But in your headshot you are trying to communicate your very essence and you don’t have words or movement to do it. So you’ve got to give it the gravity it deserves. Think about it this way: some people used to think a camera might have the power to STEAL YOUR SOUL OUT OF YOUR FACE. Do you think your schmoe friend is going to be able to capture your soul by waggling their schmoe finger up and down on a button? I don’t think so, man.
2. Time. The casting director is going to be looking at your photo for what is, to you, a disappointingly small fraction of time. I know. The dream is that they’re gazing lovingly at each and every face and at your face most of all. But they’re not doing that. They’re glancing at it, getting as immediate a read on what you’re all about as possible, and moving on. Casting directors don’t have the leisure of imagining away the bad lighting, windy shooting conditions, and lack of style. More to the point, why go to that much trouble for you? You didn’t even go to that much trouble for you. So on top of the photographer needing to have that “soul stealing” quality we were talking about, the photo quality needs to be high enough to make time a non-issue. Time itself! Does your schmoe friend have the ability to OBLITERATE TIME?
3. The Job. You can’t submit a lo-fi photo because you are not being submitted to a lo-fi job. As an actor, you should be rising to match the level of the work to which you’re aspiring. This is a professional project you’re submitting to and, as I’ve already said, your face can’t nullify bad conditions. No one’s face can! Just open an US Weekly, in which we are shown time and again that celebrities can take a bad photo too. (In fact, apparently there are a number of ways in which the stars . . . they are similar to you and I. But I digress.) This is commerce you’re throwing your face into. There are people being employed. You’ve got to invest in yourself if you expect them to.
So that’s what I think about actor headshots and why you should hire a professional photographer instead of your friend, who I’m sure is otherwise very cool. Look, I know I called your friend a schmoe a bunch of times earlier in the post, but it was in the heat of the moment. Tell your friend I’m sorry and that I’ve grown as a person since then. And check out our super slick, super free Ultimate Headshot Guide for more great information on the subject. What it lacks in references to Zombie Benjamin Franklin, it more than makes up for in input from working casting directors and agents.
Lindsay Katai is a writer/performer/debtor who has worked at Casting Networks since 2010.