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Actress / Dancer / Voice Artist / Photographer / Model / Singer *Site under reconstruction*

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8 Ways to Improve Your Headshots

Actress to Photographer to Actress

By Holly Dell




There is one thing I never quite understand about some performers…being shy in front of a camera.  What’s it gonna do to you?  Bite you?  Common, it’s your livelihood, if you want to be a screen actor/ess.  Embrace it.  Now I get it, not everyone forced their mom to take modeling pictures of them since they were a kid, but common.  Some basic tips will help you.


These tips are merely to help guide you.  I cannot guarantee the accuracy, origin or warnings, but you may find a way to make them your own and find a way to make the most of this knowledge.  Here are a few tips, in no particular order:


1. Breathe, Stretch and Relax

First, BREATHE, yes oxygen is actually good for you, now I’m not sure the ratio of pollution to oxygen you’ll actually get, living in a big city especially, but a simple 10 minutes flat on your back, arms to the side, feet stretched out, feeling your body melt into the ground, getting connected and allowing yourself to receive one of the most fundamental attributes to rest and recuperation can do wonders for helping you to feel comfortable in front of the lens.If you can’t lie flat on the floor, just do the “Duration Capacity” test, breathe in 10 times in a row, holding your breathe each time for as long as possible, counting each length of holding. Great swimmers will often have a higher #, but I’ve found the more I do this exercise the better I get. If all you do is breathe out with your smile, your eyes, your soul, you will notice a difference in the quality of your images. The photographer will not be able to do this for you. There is no PS fix for a lack of life in your expressions.This is your responsibility. Don’t forget to STRETCH. This also helps loosen and prepare your body for often awkward positions.Being flexible helps (especially as the photographer), but come limber and relaxed.

2. Research

You’ve seen hundreds, thousands of ads, photos, friend’s mobile pics, taken your own or thought about numerous creative ideas.  Use that sensory experience to your advantage.  Be prepared to have 3-5 top ideas at all times about a certain look, expression, lighting style, angle, etc. that you like, find intriguing, would cast someone for a role based off of or otherwise feel would help you show a different side of your personality.  I have magazine clippings I used to save as inspiration.  I had a portfolio wishlist file I created of various images I loved.  I have tons of lists on Model Mayhem.  I see designs in my head in full detail before and during and after I sleep.  I sketch them.  I’m not a great sketch artist, but it’s still great practice and a way to log inspiration.  To be artistic.

3. Read

Personally, I know I could do much better at this as an actress.  I have several plays in my office, right now, I could be reading.  Reading is adventure for me, but it’s a certain mood and focus too.  There are those I know who excel at this discipline and you know what…it benefits them.  Not only does reading about various topics, stories, history, etc. provide insight to the human nature, form, desire, but also if we use this knowledge we can develop full bodied characters in a moment for auditions and in front of a lens.


4. Reach – Bare your soul on the lens

Bring life to the focal plane.  Reach beyond the lens and into the soul of those viewing the image to be.  If you’ve done the exercise where you face another actor and stare into each other’s eyes, the words don’t matter and you just read each other, you may know what I mean.  If you’ve studied eyelines and on camera technique, you may understand what I mean.  If you are staring blankly at a piece of metal/glass/plastic/fingers, what are you really looking at?  The great thing as actor/ess’ is our ability to visualize.Use this skill.  Put a face behind the lens and speak to him/her.  Tell your best friend a story.  We are storytellers afterall.

5. Communicate

If the photographer isn’t capturing you the way you think you would look best, ask, tell, communicate.  Don’t just go home and vent about how you should have spent more for the more highly recommended and expensive photographer.  Put your effort out there.  Ask to look at the framing, angle, lighting, expressions.  Observe, study, learn.  Notice how some images look better if you tilt your head a certain way or the photographer shoots from a higher/lower angle or how if you rotate your body slightly it gives more definition and interest.

6. Allow for Variety

I love the classic vertical headshot, face nearly straight on, shoulders slightly rotated at an angle, chin forward (not too much) and eyes smiley/questioning brightly.  There are times, however, when experimenting in a different style, lighting, angle, expression, etc. can result in a beautifully unique image.  Unique is important if it looks good, isn’t awkward and pulls in the attention from the viewer.

7. Remember the Thumbnail

I often shoot and edit for perfection, but it’s important to remember that adding borders can crop an image further, that a thumbnail is often a squared version of a 4x6 or 8x10 and may change the look.  If you submit online a lot, use as a social networking profile image or IM pic, you may have noticed how some images just look better when clicked to full size.  Keep in mind though that your best enlarged image may not be the best for a thumbnail and the thumbnail can be what captures the quick attention of someone important who may find use for your services.Oh also, if your profile is the public type used for networking with industry folks, why?  WHY?  Why do people use crappy snapshots constantly?  I get it, I share ALL types of photos.  My pro shots, self-portraits, family pics, quick shots I took just to get it up online to show something cool, lazy shots when I didn’t feel spending time editing was worth it, etc.  But when it is the SAME image for MONTHS and it’s not a good one?  Please.  Please change it.  Remember your headshot is your calling call.  Make sure you rotate your profile pic every so often that it at least shows your professional side every now and then.It’s okay to have fun, but please show off your headshots.  Make an album dedicated to them.  Seriously, I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at fellow artist’s profiles just to search through numerous unrelated albums in HOPES I’ll find just ONE decent headshot.  If you haven’t got one yet, do not use $ as an excuse.  I charge for my professional services, but there are beginners and specials that good photographers use to promote their business, update their portfolio or just to have fun and test new gear (I even do that).


8. Have FUN

This really shouldn’t be a chore.  If you treat it as one, it will show.  If you THINK you look bad in pictures it will show, because you were thinking it.  So please, have fun.  I know I’m there to have fun.  I wouldn’t love photography as much as acting, if it wasn’t pleasurable.  Find a way to laugh on set, don’t be afraid to show a darker side, but bring range to the shoot.  Show yourself off.  ENJOY talking about yourself.  Now, don’t keep your mouth open the whole time, but relax and HAVE FUN.


© Holly Dell Photography