A great high-quality actor headshot can make your acting career. More than just a photograph of you, your actor headshot shows casting directors, agents and producers who you are and what you are made of. A talented professional headshot photographer can capture your spirit through the skilled use of lighting, poses and technique. An outstanding actor headshot can be your key to catching the right person's eye, or to keeping eyes on you once you've started to establish yourself in your field. Whether you are finding success as an actor or still waiting to get your lucky break, anyone looking for an acting job typically needs one or more really good headshots to get an audition. The right look can really help you get a foot in the door.
Typically, an actor headshot is a photo taken from the collarbones up, often in a photographer's studio. The portrait captures the personality and emotion of the subject. Some actors choose to have multiple headshots taken to capture the range of acting jobs they may apply for. Many professional photographers specialize in actor headshots and model portfolios and know how to make people look their best. Not all headshot photographers are alike, however. Some focus on corporate headshots rather than acting headshots. Look for a photographer with experience in actor headshots to provide exactly what you need.
If you want to act in theater, but are also interested in commercial acting work, you may want a formal actor headshot with a simple, dark backdrop and a button-up shirt, and another headshot with a wide smile and a bold, bright top. As you apply for different jobs, you can send in the headshot that best represents who you can be in that role.
Acting headshots costs and price ranges vary depending on the number of shots needed, the length of the photo session, the number of looks included and a variety of other factors.
Number of looks
Actors can play a thousand characters, so settling on an actor headshot that both expresses your range and showcases your unique appearance can seem daunting. For this reason, you may want to bring multiple outfits with you to have the photographer capture multiple "looks" during your shoot. Each actor headshot may convey a different aspect of your acting persona. Perhaps you'll have three headshots: one for dramatic work, one for commercial acting and one simple photo. Each time you change clothes or makeup counts as a different "look" and a new headshot. Having multiple looks gives you more options when looking for jobs. Many photographers charge based on the number of looks in a given photo session, because each look requires time for you to change, as well as time and effort for the photographer to adjust their lighting, backdrop and camera settings to best photograph you.
Number of retouched photos
The best headshot photographers offer one or more retouched final images with their photo shoot packages. These retouching services provide you with a smooth, polished and professional actor headshot that allows your attributes to shine (and not your minor blemishes). Much of the cost of actor headshots lies in the post-production work of retouching. Photographers use Photoshop and other professional editing tools to perfect your photos. The more photos that you want retouched, the higher your costs will be. For example, Ambe J. Photography of Brooklyn, New York, includes two retouched images (and 3-4 looks) in her two-hour, $400 package. She charges $25 for each additional retouched photo. Mike Sansone Photography offers three headshot photography packages, each with a set number of retouched photos. The higher-priced packages offer more retouched photos. Mike Sansone Photography offers one additional retouched photo for an extra $75 with any of his three headshot packages. Professional photographers can also offer headshots tailored for social media.
Number of locations
Actor headshots are often taken in a studio in front of a simple gray, white or environmental screen. You may also want actor headshots taken on location, such as at the beach, in the mountains or in an urban setting. If you want to take photographs at multiple locations, expect to pay more to compensate for the photographer's time, travel expenses and effort required to transport and set up photography and lighting equipment.
Where you are
Your ZIP code plays a major role in the cost of actor headshots. Headshots in acting hubs such as New York and Los Angeles generally cost more than in less trafficked locations. In addition to the increased competitive edge of locations like these, the cost to run a business and provide services is higher, and those costs are reflected in pricing.
Length of session
Some headshot photographers charge based on the length of the photo session. For example, Nancy Hauck Photography of Saint Paul, Minnesota, offers sessions for up to two hours that include three edited photos and an 8x10 print with the customer's name on it for $145. If you want to capture more looks or end up with more final, retouched photos, you may need to purchase a longer photo shoot session. The more time you have, the more opportunity you have to experiment with lighting, looks and poses.
Some photographers work with makeup artists on photo shoots, which will add to the total cost. For example, Ambe J. Photography works with a makeup artist who charges $175 for makeup services for women, $100 for men, and $70 for girls and teens. For clients who want both hair and makeup, Ambe J. Photography charges $200 for women, $150 for men, and $125 for girls and teens. Mike Sansone Photography provides add-on makeup (or grooming) services to any of his three headshot photography packages for an additional $135. You don't have to use the makeup or hair services provided by the photographer. If you have a hair or makeup artist you love, you can certainly book them prior to your photo shoot and walk in ready to start shooting. Some photographers prefer not to allow makeup application in their studios, so be sure to confirm with the photographer whether you can have your makeup artist attend the shoot with you and do your initial makeup application there.
Many headshot photographers bundle various services to simplify pricing, set expectations and give clients more for their money. Here are some examples of headshot photo packages and their average cost:
- Adam Southard of Best LA Headshots in Los Angeles offers two headshot packages: $400 for up to six different looks or wardrobe changes, a 90-minute photo session at various locations, studio shots of each look that are ideal for websites and business cards, a link to download 8x12 versions of all final shots within 24 hours, and professional touch-up services on up to 12 photos; $200 for two different looks or wardrobe changes, a 45-minute photo session at multiple locations, studio shots of each look, a link to download 8x12 versions of all final shots within 24 hours, and professional touch-up services on up to six photos
- Mike Sansone Photography in Chicago offers three packages: $450 for unlimited looks, two-hour photo shoot, five final retouched images, an email with all the low-resolution photos, and choice of white, gray or environmental backdrop; $350 for three looks, three retouched images, a 90-minute photo shoot, and an email with the unretouched low-resolution photos; $225 for a 45-minute photo shoot, one look and one retouched image. For an additional $75, you can also have an email with all the low-resolution photos taken at the shoot
- John Glover Photography's services in Costa Mesa, California, start at $195 for a 30-minute shoot, one look and one retouched image.
- Steve Glass Photography of Lawrenceville, Georgia, charges $300 for a two-hour shoot and five retouched images, as well as the rest of the images from the session.
What to wear
Prepare for your actor headshot photo shoot as you would for an audition, recommends Ambe J. Photography. Plan to bring clothing that you would wear to an audition for projects or character types you get called in for (or are shooting for). If you always get callbacks when you wear a certain color, bring items in that color for the shoot, says Ambe J. Photography. She recommends women wear basic tank tops or scoop-neck T-shirts that show some of your collarbone; turtlenecks and high crewnecks are not as flattering for women. For male actors she also recommends tank tops to better show off arms, or else a simple T-shirt. If you want actor headshots for commercial work, Ambe J. Photography recommends solid, bright colors. For actors aiming for more serious or dramatic roles, button-up shirts for men and dresses for women are a good approach. As with any important event, you want to get plenty of sleep in the night or two before. Do not plan your actor headshot photo shoot for the day after your best friend's wedding or a transatlantic flight. Drink plenty of fluids so your skin looks full and refreshed, and moisturize your skin well. Set yourself up for success so you arrive at your shoot looking your best.
Finding your headshot photographer
Your actor headshot will be your calling card for gigs and auditions, so you want a headshot photographer who is going to knock it out of the park for you. Wading through a sea of headshot photos to find the right photographer for you can be overwhelming.
- Choose someone who specializes in headshots, says Mike Sansone of Mike Sansone Photography. An amazing landscape photographer or fashion photographer may not have the techniques needed to accurately capture a winning actor headshot.
- Have a friend or two review photo samples with you before choosing a photographer, advises John Glover of John Glover Photography. You want a photographer who has a style that appeals to more than just you.
- Ask how many actor headshots the photographer has shot within the last quarter, recommends John Glover Photography, and ask to see some photos from those shoots. You want to find a person who is relevant in the field.
If you are more starving artist than A-lister, there are a few things you can do to reduce costs for your actor headshots. First, do not skimp on quality. It is better to have one outstanding headshot from a skilled photographer you believe in than a stack of mediocre headshots that you don't feel good about. Your headshot is your first step toward an audition in many cases, so even if you are on a budget, don't sell yourself short on quality; rather, strategically spend. You may save money by limiting the number of looks you want. Start off with a simple and strong shot, and save those multiple outfit changes for when you have more money available. Limiting locations and backdrops can also help reduce the cost of headshots.
It is critical to look your best in your photos, but if you (or a talented friend) can do your makeup, grooming or hair, you may be able to save. Planning ahead can also help you save. If you need rush delivery on your photos, you are requiring the photographer to set aside their other work projects to focus on yours, which often means an additional fee. For example, Mike Sansone Photography charges $50 for each retouched photo rush requested. Don't miss your photo shoot appointment. Most headshot photographers require a deposit to reserve your photo shoot date and time; if you are a no-show, you lose your deposit. For example, Ambe J. Photography requires a $100 nonrefundable deposit for her $400 headshot package. She offers one free reschedule if you do so at least 48 hours before your shoot date and time.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right headshot photographer for you. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.