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Survival Guide for Performing Artists

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Survival Guide for Performers: Highlights

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All About Headshots | Finding a Photographer | Performers' Reviews of Photographers | Reproducing Your Headshots

Every entertainer needs a publicity photo–-singers, actors, dancers, instrumentalists, conductors, pianists, musical groups, models, even teachers, coaches and consultants can benefit from a good "headshot."

What is a "Headshot?"

When you’re just getting started, a simple, 8x10, black-and-white head- or head-and-shoulders-shot is sufficient. When you’re going out for modeling or film jobs (movies, commercials, etc.) you may need a "3/4 length shot" (still 8x10) which shows your head, shoulders and torso. This can also be a good idea in general if you are going out for parts which require a certain body type (provided that you have the right body type!).


Many actors and models, especially for film and modeling, find it necessary to have at least two contrasting photos, i.e., one happy, one serious. Generally speaking, opera singers' headshots are more "glamorous" than actors’ or musical theater singers’ pictures. It's important to have a photo that is the right "look" for your particular industry.

This is especially important in theater and film. If your headshot was done by a perfectly reputable photographer but not one who is a great headshot photographer, your shot may stick out like a sore thumb. Take your time, look at the headshots of seasoned professionals in your field. The internet is a great way to do that...see our list of photographers; look at their portfolios online. When you go to shows, check out the headshots on display or in the program. 

Bear in mind that you may go through several photographers before you find one that really works for you. As well, especially in theater & film, the "fashion" for headshots changes frequently. For example, a current trend is to use natural light and a casual background. Some photographers prefer a ragged black line around the photo to give it an edgy look. Others prefer no border, etc. There are a lot of choices...but the most important thing is a very clear photo which makes you look like your very best YOU!

Q:  Are the headshot sessions are just with the photographer or a group of people?  Can you also explain a little bit of the whole process and each package. I'm new at all of this...

A:  A headshot session is just you and the photographer. You will pay anywhere from $150-$2000 for it, so it is YOUR time. In fact, photographers may charge you more if you want to be photographed with someone else

First you should go meet with the photographer, discuss your needs, and look at his/her portfolio--find out if this is a person with whom you would feel comfortable. (This meeting should be a no-cost consultation.) Remember, having your headshots made can be a very revealing process, in which you will likely be very vulnerable and "exposed" emotionally. Therefore, if you aren't comfortable with the photographer in your meeting, you probably should keep looking. Once you decide on a photographer, discuss clothing choices. These will vary according to your particular area of performance and the goal for the photo (i.e., casual clothes for commercial acting & print work, more elegant/dramatic/formal clothes for opera or appropriate character work, etc.).

You should ask about their makeup/hair artist (there is usually an additional charge for that). It is recommended to use a professional makeup/hair person, though my personal experience is that you should arrive for your shoot with your hair done basically the way you want it. Let the hair person just touch it up. Otherwise, they will do your hair the way they think it should look, and that may not be very "you."

On the day of your shoot, arrive well-rested and with a variety of clothes, according to what you and the photographer discussed. Hopefully, the photographer will try to make you feel comfortable and you will be able to try different looks, gestures, etc. with abandon.

All About Headshots | Finding a Photographer | Performers' Reviews of Photographers | Reproducing Your Headshots



Helpful Books ] Audition Listings ] Getting the Job ] Auditioning ] Headshots ] Living in New York City ] Health ] Saving Money ] Other Resources ] Did You Know? ]

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Last modified: May 31, 2004