The Top 5 Secrets to Amazing Headshots

The Top 5 Secrets to Amazing Headshots

by Joe Henson, New York Headshot Photographer

How do you measure the value of your headshot? Is it by how many friends & family click “like” on Facebook?  Is it by how much money you pay?

Note: an expensive headshot does NOT guarantee you got your money’s worth!

There is only one barometer by which to judge if you have a fantastic headshot, and that is… does it help you get auditions and work!  Does your headshot grab the attention of the industry professionals?  And are you showing them accurate, compelling and useful information that helps them see the possibilities for casting you? The most important elements in your headshots should be your coloring, age range, and your “presence”. The combination of these building blocks define the types of roles for which you are most suited?  Does the industry pro see your “presence” captured in a unique image that focuses their attention on you and not on the signature style of the photographer?  The last thing you want your headshot to be is merely an advertisement for which photographer you used.  If your headshot looks like it came off of an assembly line, then you are paying to be stamped out like a factory-processed cookie, and not a singular, unique actor!

JH1Secret Number 1 – Finding the “Ninja-Warrior” Photographer

Do your homework!   The best headshot photographers exhibit diversity in the photos on their sites, look for them!  Of course there might be some similarities because there are finite options, however, exact replication screams “assembly line!”

JH2Secret Number 2 – Finding Your CharacterKnow yourself.  What type are you in the acting world? How do others perceive you?  This is difficult, because I’m not asking who you want to be or what you want to play, I’m asking you to honestly evaluate on how members of the audience perceive you.  The most successful actors I have photographed have a very clear understanding of who they are to their audience and polish it!

I strongly recommend learning about character type definitions through this article written by Bob Frasier: 

Secret Number 3 – Using Your CharacterJH3

Armed with your character, now make sure that character comes alive in your headshot.  A great photographer acts as a translator giving visibility to information.  Every element of the photo should contribute to the impact and statement of your shot. Use your wardrobe to help define your type.  Your headshot wardrobe shouldn’t feel like a costume, it should be what you normally wear, chosen by the way it frames your face, works with the palette of the shot, and reflects your type.  Your photographer should be able to make suggestions and help you prepare.  It’s part of the language of photography.

Work on expression.  As silly as it seems, stand in front of a mirror and try some different expressions.  Find what expression looks good on your face and practice. Do you have a great smile?  Learn to work it, fine tune it, master it.  Watch the evolution of an expression, slow it down, breathe, and find at what point of energy it looks best.

Big tip – you know the look that you give yourself in the mirror before you go out on the town and you are kind of flirting with yourself?  Try to reproduce that look in your session.   If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch James Franco in front of a mirror in this in the collection of short acting videos: It’s amazing!Another element to use in your photo-session is body language.  Attitude tells the viewer about you.  Again to the mirror, try looking powerful; what does your body want to do?  Try nonchalance; how would you pose?  These are building blocks, and great photographers use them like brush strokes to create your masterpiece.

Secret Number 4 – Don’t Surrender

Some actors crumble when committing to a headshot session and preparing for it.   Headshots are an actor’s avatar, an embodiment of all that is good and useful about a particular actor.  No single headshot can define every aspect of an actor, but the best headshots make a strong, accurate, attractive statement that make industry pros sing with glee because they have a powerful tool to promote you!


Secret Number 5 – Focus is Everything 

When you get in front of the camera, take a moment and breathe.  Center yourself, clear your mind, and look into that camera with as much attention and clarity as you can.  Be fearless.   Get loose and play.  Try different expressions, even if they are exaggerated and over the top – you can always dial them back down.

As an actor, you need to be bullet-proof & not easily embarrassed.  Revel in that and play to the camera.  The best photographers encourage the looseness from which creativity flows!

Remember, when you are looking into that camera, you are looking at everyone who can help you get work.  Reach out to them.  See them in the lens.  Communicate to them.  Turn the tables.  The ultimate is to have a photo where you are the one looking at them, not vice versa.

Joe Henson is a headshot photographer located in New York City.  He shoots frequently in Boston, Washington DC, various colleges and universities, and at large.  See his work at

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