Figure out what your wheelhouse is.
What characters or types should you be getting in the room for? It doesn’t matter what your actual age or personality is; I want to be able to see the role that you are going in for. Perception is reality. Know how you are seen by casting. If you don’t know, ask your agent. If you are one of my clients, you should 100% talk to me about what looks I need before you spend your money on pictures. You need to have pictures that sell the thing you are going to be best for. Every other look is just gravy.
Don’t go to a friend for your headshots.
It is strange, but we are actually more self-conscious around our friends than strangers. If you want to get a relaxed and natural session, go to someone who doesn’t know you. They won’t be as likely to feel the need to spare your feelings. And, if a stranger can’t see what you are trying to convey, you aren’t conveying it.
Pay for the hair and makeup person!
I can’t stress this enough. Real world hair and makeup is not the same as on camera hair and makeup. Also, you can’t see your own face from inside yourself, so you don’t know if you have fly-aways or a weird blush line or whatever. It is worth every penny.
BUT… make sure that the hair and makeup they do is something you can come close to replicating or would want to do for auditions. You should talk to them about your general audition style. I also suggest bringing in your standard go-to makeup so they have your color scheme in mind.
Hint: Don’t take pics first thing in the morning. Your face doesn’t settle until you’ve been up and blood has been circulating for about 4 hours, so that’s why the first pics from a lot of sessions look rough. Afternoon is superior for looking the best. If you have to shoot a morning session, get up early so your face has time to wake up.
Do your research.
Look at the photographers’ websites. Don’t just marvel at the pretty pictures of pretty people. Do they routinely take pictures of your type and role wheelhouse? No? Just pretty people? Move on. They may take great pics, but if they don’t have comedy pictures, and you are primarily comedy, they aren’t really what you are looking for.
If you have friends who go on a lot of auditions, see who they used.
Most agents have a list of photographers they like. I know I do. I am happy to share it. But NO agent should insist that you have to go to a particular photographer. I always ask that actors send me the website of a photographer I don't know so I can raise any concerns up front before you shoot and waste your money and time.
Select a photographer that will give you your photos to have and to own forever.
On USB or dropbox or whatever, you don’t want to have to keep going back to the photographer every time your agent says that they want to take a look for something different in your latest session or you change agencies or meet with a manager or whatever.
Don’t ever let your pictures be funnier than you are.
No props. No funny slogans on t-shirts. No goofy background. Because now I’m not looking at the thing I should be looking at which is your face. Don’t ever let your glasses be the most interesting thing about your picture. If you are going to wear glasses, make sure they are glare resistant or take the lenses out of the frames. But make sure you own said glasses because if I am submitting pics with those glasses, I expect you to wear them to your audition.
Close your mouth.
Opening your mouth a tad to show a more genuine smile is totally fine. It is the “laughing” pic or the “mouth agape” pic that I hate. I don’t want to see your dental work. You laughing doesn’t make you funnier, it makes me wonder what is wrong with you, you weirdo.
Don't exclusively use solid color backgrounds.
It screams "School Picture Day" or "Photo ID" and those are never good things to have your photos say. Something going on in the background of a photo adds depth and interest.
NO CLEAVAGE! EXCLAMATION POINT! I want to be drawn to your eyes, which is where all the interesting stuff SHOULD be happening. If your shirt is super tight and you are showing a bunch of skin, I feel like you are missing the point of a HEADshot. (Bathing suit photos for models is obviously an exception)
No tank tops or busy/excessive jewelry. (Unless you are a model, then you need a pic in a solid black tank and jeans)
Layers are good.
No white or neon. It screams at me when I look at thumbnails and not in a good way.
No solid black. It just doesn’t read in pictures.
BEST COLORS IN PHOTOGRAPHS AND AT AUDITIONS ON CAMERA: Green (Kelly green or forest green meaning Celtics green or Packers green, not neon or olive) and Purple (all varieties, but lavenders and lighter purples (pastels) are best on fair & very dark skin, whereas darker purples (plums) are best on medium skin). They both read beautifully on camera and look good on everyone.
Natural light is best.
Try to avoid the weird horizontal camera shots.
They don’t work well for headshot reprints because if I have a stack of people in front of me, how likely am I to turn your headshot to take a look at it when I’m flipping through? Also, all commercial casting (99.9%) is through digital submission and those shots don’t translate very well to thumbnails on most casting platforms. There are exceptions.
Don’t select your own headshot from your session.
You are looking for a good looking picture of you. I am looking for the character I am selling. You are not going to like the same pic as your agent or the casting offices most of the time. I want to see my clients’ entire session, but some agents just want to see selects. Make sure that you don’t narrow it down below 30 pics, because now you are driving the selection instead of giving your agent all of their options.
DO NOT PUT UP HEADSHOTS ON CASTING PLATFORMS WITHOUT RUNNING THEM BY YOUR AGENT FIRST!!!
I can’t be more adamant about this. Also, as to LA Casting, no offense, but it doesn’t matter to me what pics your manager likes. Legally they can’t sign a contract on your behalf. So, your agent’s vote is really the one that matters. Don’t tell your agent that your manager likes X pic better or that you are going to put up a pic that your agent hates because your manager likes it. I will tell you right now, if you make it so I have to hide a picture I don’t like every time I submit you, it is going to annoy me. Don’t make your agent’s job a hassle, because if I have to hide a couple of your pics (if I tell you I don’t like a couple of your pics, it is the same thing) I may be less inclined to submit you for everything if you are not spot on perfect for it, because going through and hiding a bunch of pictures is time consuming and a pain. Don’t be a pain.