The Basics


Your acting headshots are incredibly important . They can be the reason you get calls and auditions ,or the obstacle that keeps you from making any progress in your career. Your headshots are a KEY, a KEY that opens doors to Casting Directors, Producers, Commercial Agents, Managers, Production Companies, assistant casting directors,etc...to name a few! Your headshot is your business card , it has to sell you. It is your personal advertising campaign. Most times the very first impression you will make with the people who can help you get the the jobs your after, is your HEADSHOT. Better make it a good one. After more than twenty years of working with headshot clients , I see a pattern. It often takes them about 4-5 different sessions attempts until it finally sinks in how important good professional, contemporary headshots are. It is a learning process with a lot of frustration and time wasted. You need not spend a fortune, but why not start a few steps ahead...with shots that look like you have been in the business a while, that show you understand what the business requires and expects .

It is a fact that headshots are often used as an excuse, a chance to procrastinate with moving forward, Things like "well these are ok for now", "but they were free, or cheap", "They were not done in NY", "When I loose weight... ", "fix my teeth, get a good haircut, then I will.." etc, etc on and on. When you are ready to get real and honest with yourself, do yourself a favor, do your homework and research..save up set some goals,so you can make an investment in yourself. It is one of the most important things you can do, as important if not more than that next class or seminar you will take, or nose job, or yoga class or great connection you may have. Give yourself a fighting chance.


The most important thing to realize is that they are looking for a shot that looks like YOU, you now, the the person that will walk through the door if they call you in right now. Not an idealized version of how you would like to look. It helps no one and probably hurts if you send in a glamorized overly retouched version of yourself that bears no resemblance to the real person. By far it is the biggest complaint by casting directors, agents etc, is that people use out of date shots ( from when they actually had hair , or were 50lbs lighter or 8 years younger etc. You were called in based on the picture you sent ,THAT is the person they expect to come through the door ! You will not only be wasting their time but you will leave a bad impression, and that is the last thing you need. So be prepared and keep in mind,when you do your shots that when you go in for an audition they are expecting you to show up in a somewhat similar appearance. Same basic hair style, weight, facial hair, clothing style etc. If you make major changes to your look, then your photos must reflect that.

OK so what else. Bearing in mind that they often have a type in mind. They are looking for something to grab their attention, captivate them. Maybe a certain knowing smile, or twinkle in the eyes. You need to play up your strengths. A picture is worth a thousand words and it can speak volumes. You have to be willing to put something out there, that the camera can latch on to. There is quite a lot that can be communicated through the photo....a sense of self, confidence, enthusiasm , joy, depth, pathos, awareness, grooming etc. Plus a million other things.

It is the photographers job to help bring out these different aspects and facets of you.In a real and believable way, not contrived or self conscious . It is important that the headshot has some intention and depth.There should be some intrigue leaving you to want to know a little more. It is a cliche but the eyes are the window to the soul, and in the world of headshots they are king. They must captivate and communicate . The last thing you want is them to show any doubt or tentativeness . Whatever the expression it must be sincere and committed and believable .

Other things that make for successful headshots are all the things that an experienced Professional photographer brings to the table. Simplicity, design use of space and composition ,effective and emotive lighting dynamics ,cropping , direction and dialogue...to name a few. These things are the reason you go to a pro, someone who understands what the business requires and delivers it. It is not about backgrounds and trends. Color or B&W, but understanding what is needed to get the job done and what the shots are for.

Understand your type and try to be realistic with yourself. Understand what are your strengths and assets, what qualities are unique to you. Then you will know what you are selling .

Types of Acting Headshots

Basically most headshots fall into two categories...Commercial and Theatrical also known as Legit Commercial headshots are usually very open and light hearted. Often they are shot with a smile and have very honest feel. They are geared towards "commercial work"..as you might imagine, TV commercials and the advertising industry. They can be head and shoulder and 3/4 shots. In most cases a very approachable feeling works well. Generaly it is good to stay a little bit on the conservative side in terms of wardrobe and styling. Commercial shots are often very direct avoiding extreme angles and any kind of overly dramatic lighting. The casting people want to very easily see what you look like and if you exuded a warm and marketable character. Back in the day they were sometimes referred to as the "Procotor and Gamble shot" after the soap products company. A good commercial shot should be clean and simple and right to the point.

Another related type of shot is called an Industrial Headshot.... this more business oriented, often shot in business attire. You can think spokesperson or some type of expert. Many " Industrial " films and productions are made for specific types of industries such as the Pharmaceutical Industry that uses many actors for film as well as live events.

THEATRICAL / LEGIT / DRAMATIC headshots generally have a more serious tone to them . They can be more emotive than commercial shots. Lighting can be stronger and a more individual quality can be conveyed as opposed to Commercial shots that have a somewhat more generic tone. Legit shots often suggest a sense of depth and intelligence behind the eyes. It is a time to let the sex appeal shine through. Legit /theatrical shots can be used for theatre as well as film and TV. Another version of the legit shot is the Soap Shot, which is often even more dramatic and highly polished. Soap shots are often more glamorous and stylized. It is all about selling the sex appeal and sizzle. Musical Theatre headshots are usually somewhere between Commercial and theatrical headhots, and have an upbeat character.

The Shoot

Film or Digital

For the last 4 years I have been shooting 95% Digitally for headshots. If there is a special need, for example someone needs to have slides or must submit a negative I will shoot film. For headshots ,especially having the option of color and B&W from the same shoot digital is the way to go. Properly done, with professional equipment and excellent technique digital headshots are the equal and some ways superior to film. Side by side it is virtually impossible to tell the difference when printed back to the same photographic paper. Besides being shot at the proper resolution, the key is understanding proper exposure for digital capture, which is different than traditional negative film exposure. It is much closer to the transparency film used by commercial photographers . Understanding the difference in lighting for film and digital and being able to control things such as color temperature , white balance, color space, give the knowledgeable photographer far more control than was ever possible shooting film. It really is just a continuation of my skills over the last 30 years running a B&W and color professional darkroom. Besides the obvious benefits of immediate feedback on how shots are looking and not worrying about running out of film, there is another important reason to shoot digital these days. In NY all of the best professional repro labs prefer an all digital workflow. They have changed over there equipment to support the digital revolution. Even if film is shot,there is a 99% chance the film (or print) will be scanned and digitized. Digtial is pretty much a win win situation.

Studio or Natural Light

It's all about the lighting. I like to shoot both. Right now natural light is in vogue. There is an open quality and spontaneous feeling that can come from natural light. However it must be controlled and understood to get the best results. Natural light shots often have a sense of atmosphere and place to them. We usually step right outside my studio's back door onto my fire escape, and depending on lighting conditions take advantage of the many textures on the roof.

I do on occasion also shoot out on the neighboring streets for more options HEADSHOTS. For studio lighting I have over 25 years experience shooting studio strobe-light as well as "cool" daylight cinema lights. Properly controlled studio lighting can mimic natural light. Studio lighting is very controllable and repeatable. It is great for controlling form and shape, and can create drama. I also shoot with a combination of natural window light combined with studio lighting. It is important to realize one is not superior to the other They are just different paint brushes we can use skillfully to get the result you are after.

Portrait 3/4 Letterbox

Unless there is a specific request from a client I like to shoot a variety of shots Sometimes moving in tight for a strong graphic headshot and then backing off to tell more of the story . If it is important to see body type then I will back off more to get some 3/4 shots. I love to come in tight for some letterbox ( horizontal) shots that really help draw you right to the eyes in the shot. Cropping and angle , along with color and composition can create a lot of tension and drama in a shot. For commercial shots I may back off and do some well balanced head and shoulder shots. One thing that really makes a shot sing is the use of space and how the face and features are framed. I like to have as much variety and options as possible from each session. it is not how many shots we can do, but how to get the best from each one.

Hair and Make-up Artist?

I do have excellent hair and make-up people that can be pre arranged for the shoot. They generally stay throughout the whole session and can do a few different looks. having the H&M sylist can add an extra level of professionalism to your headshots. It is not required for a session if you prefer to do it yourself. You are also welcome to bring your own people to the session if you like .

What to Wear?

Keep in mind you want to be able to look like your shots if you get called in , when making your wardrobe choices. You should bring with you clothes that your really like, that you know are flattering to you. If wearing your favoritepair of high heels is going to give you an extra jolt of self confidence , wear them, seven if it is only a headshot, it is going to show in your body language. Generally darker solid colors work very well. You want to think about what works best with your complexion and hair color. Combinations of colors should be harmonious .It is best to avoid busy patterns or bold designs, same with loud stripes. Everything should help point the viewer to your face and eyes.So it is best to avoid white and extremely bright colors if possible. Our eyes are automatically drawn to the brightest area of the frame and that should be your eyes.The same thing applies to necklines.

What shape works best with your face, does it help create a natural pathway into your face and eyes, does it help with the rhythm of the composition. It is good to bring a variety of necklines and textures . Different types of collars are good to bring for variety. it is important that the clothes hang and fit well. You do no want to give a false impression that you have a belly, because something is baggy and hides your waisteline, or makes you appear puddgy, because something is too tight and it looks like you are bursting out of it. Women especially should be wary of big scoopy U shapped necklines. If there is a big area of skin ( often pale skin) under the chin that is often almost as large as the face it self it can be extremely distracting, often making it difficult to crop the shot properly. If cleavage is something you think is important in a shot make sure the neckline shows it off in a flattering and intentional way. Men and women should bring some options for pants and skirts for 3/4 shots.

Again I will say sometimes the right shoes can make all the difference in the world. If in doubt bring it. It is better to have options then be stuck with the two things that weren't working that well anyway. Finally what ever you bring make sure it is clean and in good shape. I do have an iron available if needed. I have had people come in with their favorite shirt, complete with ketchup stains, burn marks, moth holes, frayed collar, missing buttons, sweat stains etc !

How Long are the Sessions?

Sessions usually take between 2-4 hours, sometimes more or less depending on the package and whether there is a H&M person. We do not rush and we are not clock watching. Be prepared to relax and have some fun, maybe drink some coffee. Check some shots. Every sessions seems to take on a life of it's own .Depending on circumstances...many changes..waiting for weather...major make-up changes , etc a session might be longer than usual. It is very important that all involved arrive on time. I always try to book sessions so there is not a feeling of time nipping at our heels.

What do I get and When ?

Usually the next day ( on some occasions the same evening of the shoot )you will be directed to a web site where you will be able to see a web gallery of your images with thumbnails and large size previews with frame numbers for all shots .These have been roughly edited eliminating all the clunkers and mishots , eyes closed etc. This same web gallery will be available on Cd if you prefer to be picked up. You can direct others to check out your proofs. The web gallery will be available to the public .Standard photo proof sheets are available in a couple of days if you want and for a small fee over size proofs are also available.

After you make your choices...depending on the package...please see Prices, normally within two days aCD will be ready with High rez retouched versions of your headshot choices in Color and B&W . These files are for reproduction and are retouched and optimized for printing .Retouching includes cleaning up blemishes , softening dark lines under eyes , brightening eyes and teeth if necessary .Fly away hairs and whatever else is needed to clean up the shot. Reconstructive surgery is not included . The final appearance is very natural and undetectable. A smaller web optimized file is also included good for e-mailing and the web . A free web page including 3-4 of your shot is also included . The final Cd will also have your web gallery and a low res versions of all shots from the session, good for the web and emails. 8x10 photographic prints are also available within a few days of your retouched choices . If you should need rush service just give me a a call and I will do my best to help .

When do you Shoot ?

Everything is by appointment. I pretty much shoot anytime. Weekend and evening sessions can be prearranged.

My typical session is weekdays, depending on time of year 12-1pm are best times to start for natural light. I try to be as flexible as possible, in this business no one keeps bankers hours .

Do you have a Free Consultation?

Absolutely, I encourage it. Lets sit down together and see what you goals are for your shoot. We can take a look at what has been working for you and what we can improve. We can talk about wardrobe choices and just give you a chance to feel the " vibe ". Just give me a call , as long as I have the time free, you are welcome to stop by .

Do You Offer Any Discounts?

Yes, former clients receive an automatic 20% discount for new sessions. If you book a session with a friend, there is a $ 75 discount off both sessions. ( It does not have to be a friend :), or be scheduled for the same day.
Under 16 years old , or with any valid student ID take? 15% off any session .

Please call for class, or group discounts. Check the website for any current specials