Jonathan's Headshot Blog!news, plugs and advice for actors and regular folk alike.

It’s All In The Eyes – Getting Working Headshots


Saif Arroyo 4Casting Directors, Directors and Producers always talk about headshots that “pop” or “that certain sparkle” in the eyes that they’re drawn to. Ever wonder what

that is and how to achieve it in your own headshots? (Hint: it’s not the background, or what you’re wearing that they’re talking about.) Finding a photographer who fully understands this critical element, and can direct you there, is of utmost value.

When looking for a photographer, most actors start off with blind referrals or see a fancy ad and go in with their fingers crossed. Don’t waste your money counting on your luck alone – your career is worth far too much for that gamble. You need someone skilled enough to capture you in a way that will get you noticed.

The Photographer Is Your Mirror

Have you ever wanted a mirror in front of you while your picture was taken? You’d be able to make sure your hair was perfect, that you had just the ‘right’ expression, etc. The concept has good intentions but will only introvert you and make you self-aware. You need to be alive and in the moment, not focused inward. Instead, you should seek out a photographer who IS your mirror. One who sees subtle almost imperceptible tension in the face and guides you to let it go, giving key direction to aid you in creating the look you’re going for without making you self conscious. This is key to getting the most from your shoot.

Finding The Right Photographer

Photo by Jonathan VandiveerSo how do you know a headshot photographer is capable of doing this?  Look at their work. But don’t just look for pretty pictures. Put a ‘thought bubble’ over each headshot. What are they saying? Blank, vacant or questioning thoughts or looks might work fine for fashion at times, but will be totally lost in the world of acting. If, however, you see a strong statement full of confidence then the photographer is on the right track. Look at each headshot by itself and ask yourself what parts the subject might be right for and if you’d hire them.

Avoid The “Big” Look

Don’t overdo it; a headshot is essentially a close up and the more subtle expressions have huge power. If directors or producers think you’re ‘trying’ or ‘acting,’ you’ll be passed over for the majority of film and television work. Your eyes are immensely expressive. Your photographer should see this and help you pull back when it’s ‘too much’ for the camera.  If you’re completely relaxed without any tension in your face, your thoughts can be easily read through your eyes without any additional effort on your part. An experienced, trained headshot photographer will know this and guide you to your perfect ‘thought bubble.’


Kelli Casas 152While you don’t want to overdo it, not every shot has to be ‘ultra subtle’ regarding your body language or ‘attitude.’ Your personality is key to a great headshot and sometimes a playful active energy in the shot is needed, especially for commercial and comedic parts. To get there, you need to feel comfortable and you need to move to find that comfort zone. A photographer who works with movement and helps you find a rhythm to it that keeps you at ease and incorporates your body language is a valuable asset. This is a challenging technique that requires specific direction so you can move naturally, as only you can, to bring out your individual personality.

To know whether a photographer is capable of this, again, take a look at their work. Do the actors look like they’re in motion, caught in a real moment outside the world of the camera? Is there subtle body language in the shot? Does it resemble a film still or a candid shot? You don’t want to overdo this too much. The shot still needs to have the actor as the center of focus without backgrounds that upstage you or body language that doesn’t show you fully. However, it is essential to highlight your personality through movement, as subtle as it may be. This is what will set you apart and is something uniquely individual to you and you alone.

Don’t Forget The Basics 

Here are some other essentials a photographer should offer (and what you should bring to the table):

  • A relaxed comfortable environment
  • Flattering lighting
  • An aesthetic composition that doesn’t distract from the subject and that adds to the specific casting for your look(s)
  • A full understanding of your casting and how to market yourself for it (wardrobe, etc.)

For more on these basics, take a look at the rest of our website or call to schedule a free consultation.

I hope these tips help you in achieving headshots that work for you. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions you may have.

Wishing you a successful and prosperous career!

Jonathan Vandiveer



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