• Michelle Chin

5 Common Headshot Mistakes

When a headshot isn't quite right, there are some obvious reasons why it may be off, and some more subtle reasons. Obvious: it doesn't look like you, you look too old or too young, the lighting is bad, the angle is bad... These are things that most actors know to look out for, but there are also more subtle issues that can crop up. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

1. Using your headshots to determine your type


There is a trend among newer actors (especially online), to get headshots, and then post them online asking people to typecast them. This is totally backwards. Know your type before you get your shots. Headshots are meant to show casting directors what you look like, and who you are. If you go into your session without knowing your type, your images won't be headshots, they'll be a nice pictures.

2. Lack of specificity


This is the biggest issue I see, and the one I encounter most often when consulting actors on their headshots. Most actors know they need a theatrical shot and a commercial shot, however, there's a lot more nuance within each category. We all know that Margot Robbie is a totally different flavor of actor from Michelle Rodriguez, who is a totally different flavor of actor from Viola Davis, who is a totally different flavor of actor from... you get the point. The same can be said for comedic actors.

Having trouble getting specific? Start with a broad adjective to describe yourself, such as "strong". Great. What's more specific than that? Maybe you're fierce! Or feisty. Or stoic. Maybe you didn't mean strong at all; maybe you meant brave or heroic. If you're not sure where to start, ask your friends.

3. Picking your clothes for the wrong reasons


Okay, okay, okay. I know, I've gone on and on about clothes, but it's soooo crucial. Just because it's your favorite shirt, doesn't not mean you should wear it for your headshots. Pick clothes that draw from your type. If you're a Young Suburban Mom, look into buying what Young Suburban Mom's wear on tv/film. If you're a Rookie Detective with Something to Prove, then it's time to binge Blue Bloods and Law & Order, and select a few outfits to guide you.

4. Choosing the wrong photographer


Believe it or not, this is not me creating the perfect opportunity to swoop in announcing, "Therefore, pick ME the RIGHT photographer!". Everyone's needs are different, thus, not everyone should shoot with the same photographer.

Like actors, photographers come in different flavors, and some are better at shooting that CW, high-contrast drama look, while others are dreamily-soft, and everything in between. Most people know to check their appearance against the photographers portfolio (how does this photographer shoot people with my skintone/body type), but don't forget to consider the types of roles and shows you belong in as well.

5. Not giving commercial shots enough thought


Now, commercial shots are usually pretty simple. Bright colors, big smile, boom. This works for most people. That said, you should take a moment to consider this: if you're an edgier actor, you want to make sure your commercial shot reflects that. Throw some quirky hipsterness in if that suits you. Or, if you're a rugged outdoorsy type, be sure to dress the part.

If you don't know where you belong, try watching some commercials, and seeing who feels like you.

Michelle Chin is a headshot photographer, located in NYC, who has worked with actors, musicians, comedians, directors and artist from the New York City area, Boston and LA. Her headshots are born from a deep respect for acting, as well as a passion for visual storytelling, and photography.

Her approach to headshots is best described by this phrase: "Less glam. More Human (unless you're a glamorous human)."

View her work here.