Musings / Portrait

5 Headshot Tips – five things you can do to prepare

I was talking to a group of actors wanting headshots the other day and they asked me “What tips and preparation can we do to get really successful headshots?” I joked “Always hire me!” but felt a little bad afterwards and then told them what I do. They were so chuffed I decided to blog my useful tips on getting a successful headshot.

These are the 5 things I always suggest to the performer prior to and during a headshot shoot:

Relax your face

This is harder than it sounds and if you concentrate too hard it’s easy to purse your lips or frown without realising. Great quote from New York headshot photographer to the stars, Peter Hurley: “I will tell them [the actors] to allow a little space between their lips, […] just enough to breathe […]The mouth is where all of the approachability comes from.”

Keep it simple

A flattering black or white top looks classic and RADA-worthy. It doesn’t distract from your face which is the tool you are using to get the job, right? Avoid logos and anything too promiscuous. Jewellery, watches or anything like this, in my mind is too much. The same way your Grandma told you to take one accessory away from your outfit before leaving the door…except, just keep doing that. As a photographer simple is more eye-catching.

The more natural the better…

Apply your makeup sparingly. You want to look like you. As a performer you should appear like a blank canvas so that directors et all can project their characters on to your face and you can then snap up as many diverse roles and job positions as possible. What about that crucial moment when all the headshots are on the table, serving as a visual reminder of all the amazing people who auditioned beforehand, the directors are trying to work out who to pick, who would look good in corset to play opposite the natural looking lead already cast: the one who wore Gothic eyeliner to their headshot shoot might not seem like the obvious choice. And you want to be the obvious choice. I actually offer natural makeup preparation to anyone who requests because it is harder than it looks.


It is worth having a look at the headshots of the people who are where you want to be. Whether that is in the programme of a fantastic show you are auditioning for, or on a big performing arts school website it’s worth gaging the atmosphere and having a chat with your photographer about what you find. For example, have a look at the headshots on RADA’s website. The best ones are well-lit and all of them are in black and white. Getting a range of headshots on the day means that you have your ammunition set and can tackle any eventuality. If you have amazing red hair for example, Will Davies from Ideastap says that, “a coloured photo can really make you stand out.” Same goes for angles: try a range on the day and choose two.

The eyes have it

Also remember your eyes. If you haven’t already got this down to a tee, practice smiling with them in the mirror. It’s a great way to bring life and confidence to a picture without ruining the neutrality of a headshot by fully smiling. Oh and another thing, keep your hair out of your eyes (and face for that matter): think a softer version of a passport photo. Your passport to success!

And lastly one for free, personality, everyone is unique so celebrate that and play it to it’s best advantage. Write 1-3 things down about yourself that makes you, you and talk to your photographer and bring it to your shoot on the day…

I’m sure you’ll all look amazing in your headshots.

Love Diana


Diana Patient: Photography offers competitive group rates for performers (because we all know how hard it is to make money in the arts) and guidance on creating natural but flattering headshots for serious performers. Contact to enquire and book a headshot session.

All images copyright of Diana Patient 2012.

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