Branding For Actors – Your Headshot, Your Logo

It just drives me crazy when actors show up to auditions with photos that their Aunt Ida (or dog Fluff) took, xeroxed copies, or apologies like “they’re at the printer’s”. You know what I mean!

How many times have you used a bad headshot in your acting career? Showing up at an audition or agent with a bad headshot is like telling the world you’re not worth much. And telling the Business how unbusinesslike you are.

Acting is a business with a capital “B”. And it’s time you saw yourself as a BUSINESS called (NAME), Unlimited. All businesses have logos, bold exclamations of how big they see what they do and what they offer the world. So think of your headshot as your logo . . . your bold exclamation!!!

Businesses spend millions of dollars and lots of time developing great logos. First they go through the branding process to discover what they really do. Then they create a logo to reflect that. But you don’t have to spend millions to brand yourself. Instead, you can work with me to develop a branding statement that vividly expresses your acting uniqueness.

You don’t don’t have to spend millions. But you should spend whatever it takes to get someone who will work with you to express your brand through your headshot. Your brand has to boldly come through your eyes for Casting Directors to pick your photo out of a stack of thousands and say, “Get me that one!” Whatever it costs, it’s the most important marketing money you’ll ever spend.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some guidelines for picking a good photographer.

  1. Finding the right photog is a very individual thing! I always whisper “Wow!” when I click emotionally with one. So do your homework to find a photographer who suits your personality and the way you want to portray yourself. And one who ignites a spark inside you.
  2. The Internet is a fast and effective search tool! It makes comparing them very easy. You also can type the word “headshot” into any search engine and come up with thousands more.
  3. The eyes have it! When you’re flipping through photographers, first notice the eyes of their subjects. The eyes need to be relaxed. And pop with personality. Or mystery. Or invitation.
  4. It’s so much more than the eyes! There’s one photographer who knows how to artfully photograph eyes. But his subjects’ faces are absolutely blank. And they all look the same. Let your acting persona shine through your headshot. A branding statement can bring your persona into sharp focus so that the world can see it.
  5. Look for variety! Does the photographer try to capture the soul of each actor they photograph? Or do they all look the same? There’s even one photographer who shows vastly different shots of the same actor on his website. He also dares to make actresses unpretty. I like that. I also like the use of props and unusual camera angles if they complement the actor and their branding statement.
  6. Color is the key! I know that there’s a controversy among actors to-color or not-to-color. But color makes you stand out more. And color gives you more variety. And color costs just about the same to shoot and reproduce as black-and-white these days. It’s also much easier to make a color photo black and white. But colorizing a black-and-white photo takes an expensive graphic artist and an even more expensive computer program. So why not use color! Color headshots are fairly new and some photographers don’t know how to use color effectively. It’s very easy to find a good one, however. Just look at their work. One smart photog placed a beautiful Black man in a white shirt against a shimmering chartreuse background. I’m sure this actor gets plenty of auditions because you just can’t stop looking at his photo. Ask your photog if they’ll work with you to complement your hair and skin tone with colorful clothing, magnificent make-up and brilliant backgrounds like that. If they will, why not use color!
  7. Be prepared to spend at least a few hundred dollars! Remember . . . it’s your logo . . . your bold exclamation!!! So this is one place where you don’t want to scrimp. But I’d also recommend that you find out how much the whole shoot is going to cost you beforehand. Photographers can charge anywhere from $50 to $1000. There are many excellent ones in the $300 range, however. Hair and make-up can run you anywhere from $30 to $150 extra. And ask if you get a disc that has your whole session on it. And if the pictures are shot in a high-quality digital format. And if they work equally well for websites and headshots. Some photographers charge extra for these things. So make sure there are no hidden costs. I’d also recommend that you go with the photographer you like the best. And hang the cost! Opting for the best will make the Casting Director yell, “Get me that one!!!!”

Once you find a few photographers that you like on the Internet, call them up and interview them. Remember that you’re hiring them to do a job for you. So ask them the following questions and any others you feel you need to ask to make a proper choice:

  1. I’ve seen examples of your work and I really admire (your creativity, the way you use props, how you bring out different qualities in actors, etc.). Can you tell me how you work with actors to capture them on camera?
  2. I’ve branded my acting and have a branding statement. Are you willing to work with me to get that branding statement on camera? Are you willing to suggest the right colors and poses that reflect that branding statement? (Then tell them the branding statement and ask for their input).
  3. If you don’t have a branding statement yet, you might want to say, “I have a definite idea about the way I want my headshot to look. (And tell them what you have in mind) Are you willing to work with me to accomplish that? What would you do?” Even if you don’t have a branding statement, don’t go to a photographer without a good idea of how you want your headshots to look.
  4. What does everything cost? Does that include hair and make-up, my photos on disc . . . everything? Can I use the shots both on the web and for headshots? Do you use a high-quality digital format? Are there any other charges?

Keep interviewing photographers until you find the one that suits you. Take your time. This is a big decision. Because your headshot is your logo. And when you’re sure . . . go on and spend the money. It’s the most important marketing money you’ll ever spend!