3 steps to better acting headshots & portraits

09 August 2015

Marian Chaplin is an up and coming actress and she contacted me because she needed some new headshots and environmental portraits for her profile. I thought this would be a good way to show you how I go about taking headshots, from planning to posing and connection with my subject.

Marian requested some studio headshots with a simple background first, followed by some casual environmental portraits outdoors.

The aim with acting profile photos is to showcase versatility and range of expressions, but it’s important to also stay as natural as possible – it’s a balance we need to get right so that casting directors can judge the actor’s versatility and their potential as a ‘blank canvas’, too.

acting headshot marian chaplin

Hair and makeup was kept casual, to ensure Marian’s natural look is apparent in the images. We shot one look with her hair down, and another with her hair in a simple ponytail for versatility, since she looks a little older with her hair up allowing her to apply for more varied roles with the images. We also took some shots with her hair in a simple braid at the end of the session for something different.

I asked Marian to arrive with light makeup applied, just like she would wear it any other day. However, if you aren’t confident doing your own makeup then it’s best to get it done professionally, or not do it at all, before your headshot session.

acting headshot marian chaplin

Getting the right expression is key with headshots and portraits in general, but for acting it’s extra important because of how many people will apply for a role. We want to make our subject stand out as much as possible; the images need to ooze personality and establish a connection with the viewer. This doesn’t always come naturally to all actors, and coaxing it out of them can be done in many ways; most photographers will develop their own preferences over time.

acting headshot marian chaplin
The three most expressive areas of your face are your eyebrows, eyes and mouth, so sometimes I will coach you on how to physically arrange your face with these in mind (there are techniques for this). Other times I will engage my subject in conversation, and snap photos when they don’t expect it; tell them a story; or role-play and ask them to actually ‘act’ something out to break away from the idea that they’re ‘modeling’ for me. It’s all about getting someone to relax in front of the camera and getting that tension to disappear from their face.

Finally, the crop is something to consider. I like to crop into hairlines at the top – it allows the eyes to come further up in the frame, without the top half of the space being taken up by hair. I do this because I like to focus in on faces, especially eyes; the closer the crop the more intense the connection.

acting headshot marian chaplin


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