The Art of Taking Headshots

I don’t envy actors when it comes time to have their headshots taken; it’s not as easy as it looks! I had to be the subject once, and I felt “50 shades of stupid” – I couldn’t stop laughing. Actors are accustomed to being someone else in front of the camera: they’re used to being told exactly what to say, when to say it, where to walk and even what emotions to feel. Suddenly, they have to stand in front of my lens and be themselves. As an added bonus, they have to be their best selves. After all, these images have to convince an agent, a casting director and pretty much anyone else, that they are the perfect fit for the role. No pressure, right?

A headshot needs to be a true representation of what an actor looks like. When an agent or casting director receives a photo, the performer may get called in for an audition. If they don’t look like the person in the image, it’s an automatic fail.

These are tips I give to my clients prior to their headshot shoots – things I tell them during their sessions.


The first question I ask is, “What type of roles are you auditioning for?” There are basically two types of headshots: commercial and theatrical.

A commercial headshot is more casual and relaxed. It’s pretty much a photograph that is meant to capture your looks, features and convey your energy and personality.

A theatrical headshot consists more of a serious, dramatic look. This is an “in character”-type photo. It’s meant for someone to look at and believe, without much of a leap, that you are a detective, a street thug or even a psychopath. You’re more or less playing dress-up, as your makeup, hair and wardrobe have to convey that specific character you’re trying to project.


It’s really funny, but people often forget to breathe during a photo shoot. Breathing helps calm your nerves. It also helps you refresh your expression. Standing or sitting with the same smile on your face will become inauthentic looking quite quickly.
Exhaling through your mouth also gives perfectly parted lips. Closed lips give the illusion of tension, even if you’re not uptight.


Simply meaning, your eyes are not saying anything – which means that your mind is blank. “Think of something only YOU know about,” is a common phrase of mine; it always works. For a “genuine smile,” think of something funny or amusing. For a true “tough guy” look, think of your favorite badass action hero one-liners:
“Say hello to my lil’ friend.” Scarface
“Get away from her, you bitch!” Aliens


Headshot attire should complement your features and draw attention to your face. Think simple, basic and wrinkle-free. Solid colors are perfect. Avoid patterns, logos and oddly cut necklines; they’re distracting and can be unflattering to your form. Colors should not be screaming; avoid neon green and blue, bright orange, red and fuchsia. Earth tones, pastels, light-to-medium-to-dark colors are perfect.
Always bring more options than you need, as some things will look better than others on camera.


For a woman, natural, light makeup is ideal. Again, you’re trying to stay true to your features, not hide them. The makeup can become a bit more dramatic or heavy, especially if you are doing theatrical headshots, but this, of course, depends on the specific character you’re trying to convey.

Men often ask if they need a groomer. It’s never a bad idea to have one on the set who can lightly even out your skin tone, lighten any dark circles and make sure your lips are moisturized throughout the session. It’s a personal choice, and, if you choose to pass, there is Photoshop to take care of those basic needs!

Los Angeles headshot photographer, commercial, theatrical headshots, professional headshot photographers in Los Angeles, famous celebrity photographers, portrait photographers, best headshot photographers in Los Angeles, Hollywood, New York

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About the author

Szatmari: Acclaimed celebrity portrait and beauty photographer Kate sZatmari has created memorable work for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, People and Rolling Stone among many other national and international publications. Known in the entertainment industry for her artful images of actors, actresses, musicians and writers, sZatmari has completed projects for companies including Universal Music, Interscope Records, Lionsgate, Simon & Schuster and La Prairie.


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