What is a Head Shot?

Michael Pollick

In the same way others may use business cards, an actor or model's marketing tool of choice is a large glossy photograph known as a "head shot." It is often accompanied by his or her resume, listing all previous acting experiences, educational background, special skills and contact information. Following an audition, an actor may be asked to leave at least one copy of his or her photo with the casting director or producers. An actor without a head shot may soon be forgotten during the casting process, so having a sufficient number on hand at all times is vital.

Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.
Actors and models often use clear, simple portraits for their head shots.

When a photographer schedules a client for a session, it is not simply a matter of shooting a tight shot of the actor's face. A professional photographer will set up different poses to demonstrate an actor's range, or the actor may go through several costume changes. Each finished shot should look natural, if perhaps a little glamorized. The producers or casting director often use an actor's photo for their own purposes, such as evaluating a family resemblance between actors or gauging chemistry between leads. This is why having an honest image is more important than having a glamorous one.

Headshots are sometimes in black-and-white.
Headshots are sometimes in black-and-white.

Quite often an actor will print a current resume on the back of a head shot, or carefully attach it with staples. It is generally no larger than a standard 8 by 10 inch (20.32 by 25.4 cm) portrait photograph, which makes it easier for producers to collect all of the phtoos they receive and store them in envelopes. For maximum effect, a head shot should be printed on glossy photo stock, not photocopied or laser printed on standard paper. If an actor is only providing one, it should feature his or her entire face and shoulders in a full or 3/4 profile. The photo can feature a serious expression or a more relaxed, upbeat pose, but it should always be an accurate representation of the actor's natural features.

Models try to express their personality in head shots.
Models try to express their personality in head shots.

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Or when you hit someone in the head with a BB gun.

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