6 Ways to F*@ck Up Your Headshots

By The Second City | Jan 8, 2014

If you have a good photographer, it’s kinda hard to screw up your headshots. Still, it happens.

Here are 6 things that you should never do.

1. Get Photographed by Someone Who Makes You Uncomfortable

The photographer was socially awkward during your first meeting and asked you if you're “going to talk that much during your session.” They screamed at you in French throughout the entire shoot and played death metal. French death metal. By a German cover band.

Your photos look-- predictably-- uncomfortable.

Your headshot session shouldn't feel like a sequel to Die Hard. Trust your people instincts, and find someone who you wouldn't mind hanging out with for a couple of hours.

2. Just Have Someone You Know Who Owns a Camera Do It

Models call them GWCs: Guys with Cameras. Photographers call them “your Uncle Ron.” Don't have your uncle photograph you. Ever since the camera phone became a thing, people have presumed that owning a camera is the same thing as being a professional photographer. I swear to God, roughly 4 out of 5 actors have “photography” under their LinkedIn profile as a skill.

A real photographer will bring out the best version of you. I've been shooting for 25 years. I know how to market you and can give you a good idea of what not to wear. Meat, for instance.

And while we're on that subject, don't...

3. Wear a Bill Murray T-Shirt

Because nothing says “I'm desperately trying to emulate someone else who's funny” like wearing an image of someone else who's funny in your headshot. Don't try to emulate someone else. Don't...

4. Try to Be Tyra Banks

Or Elizabeth Banks. Or Ernie Banks

I love that you studied Top Model and that you know what “smizing” is. Awesome! Now, let's quietly pretend like you watch Nova instead.

The last thing that you want to be in a headshot is generic, and there is nothing more generic than a supermodel. If I wanted you to be one, I would have cut off your food supply and personality.

Be real and approachable; a barely heightened version of yourself.

5. Let Your Parents Pick Out Your Headshot

And while we're at it, let them pick out the roles you audition for or the clothes you wear, because that's not weird. Let’s look at the hierarchy of who should help you choose your headshot from the best to the worst:

  • Anyone with the last name Coppola
  • Your friend, who also happens to be a producer
  • Anyone named Quentin
  • Talent agents
  • Patinkin (Sheldon or Mandy)
  • Acting instructors
  • Working actors
  • Your friends who hate theater
  • Your pets
  • Convicted sex offenders
  • Your parents

Your parents are amazing and supportive, but they still see you as the 13-year-old version of you. For the love of God, do not let them influence your headshot pick.

6. Go Overboard on the Glamour Shots

Did your grandmother look at your last headshot and ask, “Who is this?”

Remember: every time you go to an audition, you have to look vaguely like your headshot. That means that if you had to flatten your curly hair, or curl your flat hair, or stand on a box to make you look taller during the shoot-- you're going to have to do that every single time you audition.

After you leave, the auditors spread your headshots across a table and try to match up the performance with the pictures. Don't make them ask “Where did she go?” Or worse yet, “Was he the one standing on a box?”

One of the best testimonials I ever received was from an agent looking at headshots in a workshop. She picked out my photo of Devin as the best. Why? Because, she explained to the actors, it looked like Devin. The lesson here is obvious: Look more like Devin.

He's dreamy.


John Abbott is a Second City Conservatory graduate who has been improvising for 14 years, coaching improv for 6 years and photographing for 25 years. If you need headshots, visit www.johnabbott.net or email him. Although he speaks some French, he will not yell at you. Unless you're into that kinda thing.

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