spotlightlogo AlumnioftheNationalYouthTheatre


Tanya Vital's Blog

Saturday, 25 February 2012


I reckon this is a great shot
Sorry to the actorPhotographer,
but in my opinion this is a bad shot
So here we go – the dreaded headshot. There are so many do’s, don’ts, if’s maybe’s and it goes on and on until we’re dizzy and lost as to what the hell it is we should actually be looking for.

I’ve spent a lot on headshots and I’m talking over a grand in a year and a bit – pricey? You’re not bloody wrong! But (cheese on toast or not) I can actually say I have learnt lots of lessons. Lots of costly lessons that will now hopefully help you to save your cash and only spend it where needed, (it’s ok you can thank me in red wine later).

I don’t think I actually have a copy of every headshot of mine since I started over a decade ago (I will dig them out), but I’ve had at least 10 or more sets of shots done over the years. All from different photographers at costs from £30-£500 and I can honestly say the bottom line is – “you get what you pay for”.
When first starting out, I made the mistake of going to a general Photographer. By general Photographer I mean that it was a Photographer who generally took portrait photos, did weddings, christenings etc but he was not in any shape or from clued up on the acting business or had ever produced a headshot. So what I was left with was a cute, reasonably priced picture that my mum could stick on the wall but it would NOT get me work or even called in by a Casting Director.
As I gained more knowledge about the industry and signed with an Agent I then found out how to look for other Actors headshots and how they might look. This was very difficult back then because although we had internet, (I mean it wasn’t the dark ages) but back then many of the Actors Agencies out there a). didn’t have a website and b). never revealed who was on their books. So through the old Spotlight book and after having a HEADSHOT Photographer recommended by my Agent, I managed to eventually get myself a decent shot.
What I realised as I changed Agencies, was that they all wanted their own new set of headshots when I joined. Regardless if I’d just had new ones done the day before I joined – no matter how much they cost – no matter if I thought they were great – they all wanted new ones and they ALL have their own preferred HEADSHOT Photographer that they go to.

None of us want to piss off our Agent and even though MANY forget that this is a partnership and they are actually our client, somehow we feel completely obliged to do everything they say, well they’re the experts right? Usually right.

I’ve made the other mistake of looking at Actors headshots and thinking ‘they are sh*t hot I need some like them’, going AGAINST my Agents suggested Photographer and choosing another because I liked their style. How did this work out for me? Not well. Not only did I have a day from hell and on every picture I looked like I wanted to cry, not only were they fairly expensive, but then my Agent absolutely hated them – I knew he was right and so then had to re-book with the Photographer he had first suggested anyway.

Like it or not (and many will say it aint so) but the whole HEADSHOT Photographer is another ‘big boys club’. There are known, trusted and traditional Photographers who have been used by the more established Agencies for ever and then there are these new ‘up an coming’ (whatever that means) Photographers (who are mostly clever out of work Actors) who are producing the new US style stuff that’s colourful and vibrant and dare I say edgy? (Edgy being that maybe half of your hair is cut off or half your ear – but its good!). The top Agencies all have their favourite new ‘up and comer’  and send all of their clients to them, word gets out, the style is the new fashion and then every other good Agency send their clients to that same Photographer. The Casting Directors then get an eye for the style and in turn want to see that style or that Photographer themselves when considering casting.

You will still sometimes hear from the more traditional corners that black and white shots are still the best type of shot but that’s not what Producers, Directors, Casting Directors or Agents want to see anymore, not at all. Perhaps if your business is Musical Theatre, you may get away with it but if you work in TV, Film, Commercials, you have no business still having a black and white headshot in 2012.

Another mistake I’ve made (on the ill-explained suggestion of Agents) was characterising my shots. So, going for a ‘street’ look, a ‘young mum’ look, a ‘corporate’ look. It’s all balls! Again there will be those who disagree, but from my experience the Casting Director wants to see what YOU are like in the shot. Your personality, your style, your hair, your skin, your journey/smize in the eyes. Your headshot should be an exact representation on what you will be/look like when you enter the room to audition. Not you as a ‘Policewoman’ and that’s not to say you shouldn’t have extra pictures that have a look of a character but your main shot should be you. (This is where it gets tricky for even me with regards to hair – see below).

So is there a set list of criteria that we can all read from and use to plan our headshots? Sadly NO! Every Producer, Director or Casting Director or Agent all has their own preference and they all have different ideas of what makes a great headshot. All I can give you is the advice I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made. Ultimately we have to heed our Agent’s advice (or get a 2nd set of shots for our own use).


  • You get what you pay for. 
  • Your face is your money maker/ job clincher so expect to pay a bit more. 
  • Don’t moan about having to pay a decent amount for a good headshot that shows you off to your best. 
  • This is your first impression and we all know it counts for EVERYTHING. 
  • Having a bad headshot can actually be worse than having none at all. 
  • You can still find good HEADSHOT Photographers for a reasonable price.
  • Don’t get Uncle Pete to take some pictures of you because he has a new SLR camera for Christmas. Get a known, PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT PHOTOGRAPHER! Uncle Pete may be good, but he has NO idea of what the Casting Director/Director/Producer/Agent is looking for and unfortunately he ISN’T part of the ‘big boys club’.

If your Agent suggests a Photographer GO WITH THEM! Save yourself the money and hassle. You may like someone else’s work more but there are usually 101 reasons why your Agent sent you to this particular person – reasons that they do not have time to explain in full to you. They know how they want to represent you, so go with it. If you prefer another Photographer, discuss this with your Agent and if need be get a 2nd set of pictures some for your own records or as extras for your Spotlight page (extra pictures are free to upload on Spotlight website).

Go as yourself! All Photographer’s have their own criteria of what to wear and what to do with make-up but go feeling and looking like yourself. I have naturally curly hair and went through a stage of having to straighten it when I worked at Emmerdale. DO NOT assume that the Casting Director/Agent/Director/Producer or even MAKE-UP CREW will have any kind of understanding that your hair can do more than 1 thing! I had to have pictures with both straight and curly hair on my Spotlight.

Look at other Actors headshots, look on Agency Websites, personal websites to get an understanding of what the new ‘fashion’ is. A cheap looking headshot just screams UNPROFESSIONSAL PLAYING AT BEING AN ACTOR.

You’ll probably find that nobody like’s to suggest Photographer’s as if it’s against the law to have favourites – I on the other hand don’t give a shish so if you ever need pointing in the right direction I have a list of good/fashionable Photographer’s.
Here is a link to a video by a New York Headshot Photographer giving some tips:


  1. Interesting blog Tanya. I've enjoyed reading your blogs having stumbled across the ones about LA while searching for info on Visas etc.

    Would be interested to get you opinions on the headshots I take -


  2. Hi...A professionally done headshot helps to create a deep impact in the mind of others. Everyone, be an actor, any business man, doctors, lawyers, realtors, corporate executives, journalists or even common men all know the value of a powerful photograph.
    Nyc headshot photographers




Please Support My Blog

Spotlight Podcasts

Spotlight Podcasts
Spotlight produces a series of regular podcasts to provide our members with useful career advice and tips in easy to digest bite-size podcasts. Each episode is under 15 minutes long and explores one particular subject or question.

Secrets of Screen Acting

Extra Income Opportunity!

Extra Income Opportunity!
Want to earn an extra £200-2000 per month?

follow me on facebook