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Top tips for getting the best headshots

Whether you choose to shoot headshots with Nicholas Dawkes photography or not, the headshot market is a daunting place with a lot of options available, the tips below should help to put you at ease slightly!

Your headshot is your main tool when it comes to finding agents, and getting you work. Gone are the days when your CV alone would speak for you, your branding as an actor is just as important now to sell you as a package.

A good photograph can get you seriously noticed and propel you to the place you want to be, do not underestimate their power!

Remember, the headshot is the first thing that a casting director will see of you, and the last thing they will be left with when you leave that audition room. It needs to count.

Your photo needs to capture you at your best, but not feel overly posed, polished, and perfected that it will detract from seeing the real you.


Think hard about your casting and the type of parts you like to play and are suited to. Speak to colleagues and peers, tutors and friends, and get some honest opinions.

As much a you believe that you can play every type of character, the industry unfortunately doesn't always think like that. Its a sad truth, that in a highly over-saturated market, people love to slightly pigeon hole you and put you in a ‘box’ that works for them.

This is something that you can use to your advantage though if you can figure out your casting early, and also something that your agent will love, as it shows that you understand what kind of actor you are, its not to say you can’t play a range within that, but there is always limits, work out what they are.

This casting bracket, if you can work it out before your headshot shoot, will allow you and your photographer to work together to explore that during your shoot, and get the shots that will work for you.

The ultimate purpose of your head shot is to make the short list and be called for an audition. Remember that the camera is your link to the casting director. If you are nervous about 'playing to the camera', don't worry, your photographer should work with you to get that, just bring a positive and laid back attitude with heaps of energy, and have fun with it! Headshot’s shouldn't be a chore.


Picking the right clothes to show you at your best is always hard, the first place to start thinking about is where you want the photos to be seen, and what you want to portray.

Using different tops to subtly suggest your casting means you can maximise your headshot shoot to get a portfolio that will sell your range. With websites and online casting tools at your disposal for publicity, it means you can have 5 or 6 different photos on there (I wouldn’t recommend more, it can be overwhelming) and they can all say slightly different things, just through the clothes you are wearing.

1.Think about colours:

We are officially in the age of the colour headshot. Its great, it has so much more vibrance and marketability behind it, it has been embraced by the industry, and if done properly, can really make you stand out from the crowd.Try to wear colours that compliment your skin tone. This will help accentuate your natural features. Guess what… If you stuff your shirts in a bag they will look like they were stuffed in a bag for the shoot. Bring them in a suit carrier if you can - even t-shirts. Always bring some neutral tones and plain dark tops as a back-up choice, your photographer should be able to guide you.

2. Neckline:

Round crewneck tops can sit well if you have a longer neck,they can make you appear broader sometimes too. Higher neckline t-shirts tend make you look younger, especially with brighter colours, very good for those people blessed with a younger playing age.

Collared shirts and v-neck t-shirts can be a great choice on guys, they can elongate the neck and frame your face well (and sometimes make you look a little bit taller too!) Lower cut tops on women always appear to be a bit older and can be quite sexy sometimes.

3. Beware of Patterns:

Avoid crazy patterns. Some light patterns are fine and can be great for character shots, but mad neon tie-dye is out i'm afraid! Try and avoid heavy logos as well, as they are distracting sometimes.

4. Glasses:

If you always wear glasses we can shoot with them on, although sometimes they can distract away from your eyes which are the most striking part of your headshot, so we may shoot some without so bring contacts if you have them.

5. Keep it personal:

Wear clothes that make you feel great and relaxed. there is no point borrowing clothes that don't fit you or you are unhappy in, it will reflect in your photos.

6. Limited Jewellery:

Avoid distracting accessories such as large, shiny necklaces and big earrings, it will take the focus away from your face. Unless you feel it is appropriate for your casting bracket.

7. Layers:

Think about bringing a couple of jackets that are contrasting, if nothing else they can be used if you shoot outside to keep you warm, but they might add something a little different. Also, if you are shooting outside with a photographer, think about subtle base layers if you think it will be cold, or need to change tops mid-shoot.

Hair & Makeup

1.Avoid over-doing makeup:

Think about starting your shoot with just a basic layer of make-up on at least, (unless you NEVER wear make-up) if needs be you can build up from there but start with where you feel comfortable. Bring your own makeup and hair brushes to your shoot (unless your photographer has specified they will have a make-up artist).

Most photographers will take care of blemishes and other 'things' on your skin during the retouching process. If your make up is too heavy it will show. Remember the camera and lenses used produce images at far higher definition than even HDTV, and our job is to flatter you, but your head shot needs to look like the person that will walk into the audition.

2.Skin Features:

Do not hide your skin's personality! Flaunt your freckles. show your scars. They are a part of what makes you unique. Unique features are what makes others sit up and take notice. Of course if the day of the shoot you are sporting a monstrous spot use some light makeup, but normally that is an easy fix in post-production after your shoot.


It depends your personal preference, but don't go in too strong, I would keep it on the softer side, applied sparingly, and not too heavy on the lower lid.


You want it to compliment you and frame your face well, so if your hair is very straight and long give it some body to accentuate your face, and think about...


Don't cut your hair the day before your shoot! It will look like you just got a haircut (and a disaster if you are unhappy with it!). Give your hair a little while after a cut to relax. But think about what your hairstyle says about you, your image and ultimately your casting.


Always allow plenty of time to get to your shoot, depending on the photographer, if they have other shoots lined up after you, it may impact on your time during the shoot and if nothing else, stress you out! Remember that public transport is not always reliable, so plan your journey the night before your shoot and allow for alternative routes if needed.

Stay Fresh

Drink plenty of water before your shoot, it’s the best way to keep your skin looking good, give yourself a bit of a detox a week or two before, cut down on alcohol and get some sleep too. Take some food and drink to your shoot to, you would be amazed how tiring a few hours shooting can be, and you may want to snack in between takes (if allowed, check with your photographer)

Dig out the archives

Sometimes if you have previous headshots, it can be good for the photographer to see, and also if you have any other headshots that you like, it can be a good reference for the photographer to keep in mind too.

Musical taste

This is at the photographers discretion obviously, but if you are shooting in a studio and there is access to music, you may want to play something that makes you relaxed and happy. Have a playlist ready just in case you can play it. Some photographers will prefer to work without music, but it can also be a good tool to get you in the right frame of mind

Take a long hard look at yourself

Your face is your face. Part of the process of getting headshots done is that you have to look at your face, it can be hard sometimes, especially if there is features you dont like.

Before your shoot, take some time just to look at your face in the mirror and study it, we look in mirrors all the time, but rarely study ourselves. Is your face even? Is one eye bigger than the other? Is your nose wonky? These are all things you will notice on your headshot, but if you already know it, it will make the 'shock' of seeing your face a lot easier!

Beyond all else, read all the tips and advice above, then forget it all, don't overthink it and stress yourself out, just be prepared to have a great shoot and enjoy the process!

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