Do you have a modern headshot portfolio?

Forget the ‘killer headshot’; it’s a redundant concept. The way casting works now means actors need a true headshot portfolio, one that showcases the full range of their casting. It’s an average casting day in the offices of agents and casting directors, and on the laptops of actors across the UK: breakdowns are whizzing out via Spotlight Link, Casting Call Pro, and any number of other online services. Agents and actors are making submissions at the click of a button, pairing actors with parts. Often selecting the actor’s most relevant photo for the part in question. Meetings are being lined up, as casting directors rapidly cross-reference the roles they have to cast, with the hundreds of headshots appearing on their PCs, iPads and smartphones, directly next to the role to be cast.

Print ain’t dead, but…

Not that the hard-copy headshot is dead – we all know a beautiful, hard-copy repro still has an important function with certain casters and situations – but consider these stats. Over 90% of all UK casting breakdowns pass through Spotlight’s Link service, and 96% of casting directors believe that the headshot will play a vital role the future of casting.* In other words, the classic headshot, a casting staple for nearly 100 years, is now inextricably part of the dynamic, online process of modern casting. But what does that mean for actors? And how can you take fullest advantage of this in your next session?

The modern headshot portfolio

For me, it’s about variety: using the portfolio of shots on your CCP or Spotlight CV to show the full range of your casting. And to an extent that’s already happening – in a survey conducted with CCP last year, we found that 49% of actors had 4 or more photos on their profiles, providing genuine range for modern casting purposes.

But what’s vital is that the portfolio shows believable, realistic range, rather than being only slight variations on the same shot. Why? Well, it’s pretty boring to see 4 or more almost identical shots for a start – we click on links online to see something new. And historically, the hardcopy and Spotlight book headshot existed largely in the singular: it had to be all-things-to-all-people-and-auditions. A silver bullet encapsulating all sides of an actor’s casting. Throw in an agent’s need to differentiate clients, and sell them on a specific angle (the juve lead, the best friend etc…) and it’s no surprise we are still a slightly hung up on the idea of the ‘killer shot’.

But casting today is very different (particularly the pre-audition decision making process) – faster, more open, more varied. And in response, an it’s important to have a range of killer shots that show every (believable) facet of your casting.

What your portfolio can do for you

A way to help manage any tension between the way your agent sells your and the way you see your career. A way to nudge casting directors to use their imaginations more actively by showing you in different lights at the click of a button. And when online submission means the most appropriate photo can be selected to accompany the role of the moment, it simply makes very basic sense. So, why limit yourself if you don’t have to?

What does a ‘headshot portfolio’ mean?

Practically, it might be something as simple as a shot with full facial hair alongside a clean-shaven one; hair-up versus hair down; naturally-lit and studio-lit; colour and B&W shots side-by-side; or something more ‘conceptual’ – shots that show a harder, modern you, against a more open, approachable you, against a more classical, higher status you. In simple terms, it’s likely to see you wearing different tops to subtly suggest different casting possibilities.

It’s NOT about:

• photographing characters – each shot still needs to be readable multiple ways
• endless variations – 4-6 headshots plus a couple of performance shots is probably a good balance
• showing unrealistic versions of yourself – you don’t want to alienate or confuse casting professionals by seeming too different between shots

But as long as there’s no jolt between the ‘you’ in the photos and the ‘you’ who turns up to audition, variety can only be a benefit.

Using this approach

You can take this approach into your next session, whoever it is with. My tips are:

1. Think hard and long about your casting types.

2. Be ready to brief your photographer, at the beginning of, and during your session.

3. Wherever possible, ask to see shots as the session progresses

4. Don’t be afraid to say what you like and don’t like

5. When you choose your final photos, make sure you are choosing a selection to show casting range, not just the photos that gladden your heart most! It will help you take control of the photos that result, take more control of marketing your career and help you sell the broadest possible range of your casting. And what’s to dislike about any of that?

 *Source, 2011 survey by Michael Wharley of 100 CDG casting directors for The Stage