An Actor’s Headshot is Worth a Thousand Jobs! – How to Get the Best Actor Headshot | Answers for Actors

“Headshot DOs & DON’Ts. What makes your headshots stand out? What makes for a good headshot? What is it that you might be lacking in a shot?” — This week a special industry guest gives insight on effective headshots for the successful actor. You’ll see some ‘scary’ examples of what not to do along with examples of what makes a headhsot excel.

Actor Headshot DOs & DON’Ts

[Note: Paul Russell steps aside this week and hands the keyboard over to a respected, entertainment industry guest.]

Guest Answers for Actors Contributor
Jack D. Menashe

What makes your headshots stand out?  What makes for a good headshot? What is it that you might be lacking in a shot?

One good answer to those actor questions by me — as a talent agency owner for nearly two decades —  is an answer I’ve provided for many years: Since ninety-five percent of the performing artists out there might possibly be doing something wrong in their presentation of a headshot… what’s gonna make you stand out is doing everything right. Below, I list a few major things which industry professionals, such as agents and casting directors look for in a headshot.

But let’s get down-n-dirty first with what’s being done wrong by some actors (we’ll get to the good stuff later, I promise).

Many performers believe they have wonderful headshots. But often they’re mistaken. And they don’t realize that their shots aren’t so wonderful until long after their headshot doesn’t receive a response to audition inquiries. The actor with a bad headshot loses a lot of opportunities for work because of a sub-par headshot.

Many of the images which are sent in mailings are oddly angled and overly-lit,  and many of them are airbrushed within an inch of their 8×10 lives. Often these travesties don’t come close to documenting an authentic likeness and honest qualities of the artist who has set out to achieve for possessing a highly effective marketing tool.

Any opportunity an artist gets to have an opinion formed about them from casting, producers, directors or talent representatives is a valuable commodity.  In my office, all of the headshots received in the mail have been looked at by either agents or assistants.  What I find disappointing is the lack of knowledge that many artists have about the fact that bad headshots actually have a higher impact than the really good ones–in a really negative way.  Bad headshots are so much more memorable… believe me!

My least favorite are the composite photographs where an actor feels it is necessary to include images of themselves in every costume possible, from preacher to rabbi and from doctor to old lady.

Does anyone still wear a…

How to Emote a Bedspread

Too many artists are trying too hard to stand out. Their misguided efforts to be ‘unique’ often sacrifice quality. In the entertainment industry (as with life) the better the quality the better the response by goals and those you’re seeking.  As a professional in the business with a heart, that only wants the best for performers, I have to say that it is really important to get valuable feedback from an extremely reliable source before putting your materials out there to be criticized or judged in this business.

Actor Headshot Marketing Misfires:


Your marketing materials are most likely to be scrutinized before they are praised.

What I and industry love in a headshot is:

1:         It looks like you!

2:         Your eyes radiate life.

3.         Your make-up is light and clean (for females), minimal (for males).

4.         Less is more. Simplicity.

5.         Proper lighting.

6.         Proper cropping. Have your photo lab where you have your shots reproduced aid you in the proper positioning of your image within the photograph.

7.         You’re the star of your shot, not the background that you’re positioned before.

8.         High grade, photographic prints on quality paper (No home computer print outs).

9.         Natural positioning– (No riding of a motorcycle or feeding-of-animals-at-the-zoo shots! I know of casting directors and agents who have several of those side-show headshots from actors in their ‘Freak File’.)

10.       You look like someone who I feel like I want to get to know as a person just from seeing your picture!!!!

11.       Your picture exemplifies you both in personality and in type/branding.  A good photographer will work hard to bring out the best qualities of each actor before their lens. Unfortunately some photographers, in a hurry to get to the next actor, rush photo sessions and treat the actor like a product on an assembly line. And often the rushed results show in a poor, end product.

12.       Your headshot does not look exactly like the 5,000 other actors who’ve just gone to the same photographer.  (My least favorites are the headshots where one photographer has every actor sitting and/or squatting on a cobblestone SoHo street in New York. And then there’s the horizontal-headshot-before-a-white background-photographer who charges over a grand for repeating the same look and shot. Every actor looks the same. There’s no individuality.)

About fifteen years ago, as a then young talent agent being fed up with clients of mine being charged thousands of dollars for terrible headshots,  I enrolled in The New School’s professional photography program.  I wanted to be able to re-shoot my clients’ headshots (pro bono),  in order to get the audition appointments which I needed to get them work.

Low and behold, the payoff was tremendous! What I set out to learn was all true– all it took was a beautiful, honest, professional headshot to push the actor from being a possible appointment to becoming one of the select top-tier actors on the casting list for tapings and director meetings.  My actors booked like wildfire because the new photos got them through the door.  My clients already had the goods to book the jobs. They just needed casting to recognize their potential!

Finding a great deal of enjoyment in capturing images of my clients, I soon set out for, and was granted SAG approval to begin working as the only SAG franchised, professional headshot photographer in New York.

A good headshot photographer shoots headshots because of their affinity and connection to performing artists.  Like you, the goal is to create a beautiful work of art that captures your look, energy and personality.  It is an opportunity for both you and your photographer to bring out all of the qualities that make you unique and marketable.  It’s important to enjoy your time shooting… after-all your photographer wants to have you at your best.  You work hard to be able to invest in your acting career.

What you can do to make your headshot session the best:

1.         Make every minute count and savor your experience of having your likeness captured proudly for all within the industry to see.

2.         Try to set aside the day of your shoot entirely to positive activities.

3.         Get rest the night prior to your shoot to catch as much sleep as possible.

4.         As far as make-up goes…

LADIES: Natural and minimal.  You don’t want to look too made up–it’s distracting, and the industry will be wondering what you are hiding. Most photographers have make-up artists on hand…however, many photographers, like myself are make-up artists as well and prepare you for your shoot.  You should have full input on your make-up colors and glosses, as you will be expected to look like the person in the headshot when showing up for auditions–plus, you want to feel both beautiful and comfortable.

MEN: Little to no make-up is always a good rule of thumb…nothing is more unattractive in a male headshot than heavy base, painted eyebrows and lipstick.  Rather, if you sport various looks in your real-life and auditions both with and without facial hair, you might want to consider photographing with some facial hair, and then doing a mid-photo-shoot clean-shave.

I can’t stress enough to you how important it is to have a photo that not only shows who you are as a performer, but ‘speaks’ for who you are as a business person.

In our industry, those who hire or represent performing artists seek to work with artists who demonstrate qualities which reflect success.  After my spending a lifetime in entertainment I can honestly say that at the first glance of a headshot most seasoned industry professionals behind the casting/representation table can judge with certainty whether or not an actor has wisely invested time, education and money into an acting career.

The frustrating truth is that for most of an actor’s career the headshot is often your only calling card.  Your ad. Your representative. Your brand. Don’t waste time using a headshot that doesn’t do you the justice you deserve.  Set yourself apart. Stand out by using a headshot that works for you.  Carefully evaluate the feedback that you’ve gotten on your current picture.

All in all, if you feel that a new headshot is in order, then you might just be on the road to opening up many doors that you could not jar before.


Jack Menashe’s history as a talent representative includes being the owner of Independent Artists Agency. As a headshot photographer Jack’s clients include Golden Globe, TONY, Emmy winners and nominees.

His photography has appeared in New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, Playbill, Dramatists Magazine, Back Stage, CD covers and in performing arts books which highlight his work as headshots-to-have. Visit for his portfolio and client feedback.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

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Lies On An Actor’s Resume

Did a profane playwright suggest to NYU-Tisch acting students to lie on their resumes by creating false credits?

Resume Lies…

Did a well-known playwright celebrated for buffaloing text with curses suggest to NYU-Tisch acting students to lie and create false resume credits? I hope the speedy plowman of dialogue, who honors the four-letter word as much as I, didn’t f**k with the emerging artists’ minds by encouraging falsified work history.

As told to me by a collective group of NYU students, allegedly the profane playwright suggested misrepresentation on the resume. Being that this startling information came to me second-hand I assume that the playwright’s comments were misconstrued and/or taken out of context. But… if the black belt of f-bombs did instruct the impressionable young admirers to lie, fib, stroke, misrepresent…someday when those students are in an audition room they potentially must answer an awkward inquiry about a falsified credit on the resume. Only then will they quickly learn what it is to be fornicated by the anarchist of American theater.

While casting at an open call I read the resume of an actress standing before me. My name as director was married to a past credit. Yes, I directed the production. Yes, it was at the theater listed. No, she didn’t play the lead role as her resume indicated. Nor was she cast as the understudy or in the ensemble. Possibly she was an usher? I don’t know. But if someone suggested to her she lie on her resume, where was that adviser instructing her how to skillfully handle that very uncomfortable and unfortunate moment of ‘gotcha?’

An actress wrote me that a past agent of hers instructed she lie on her resume creating false film credits. Allegedly the agent asserted to the actress that doing so would help the agent get the actress seen for TV and film projects. The actress inserted on her resume a friend’s basement-budget home movie. (The actress has since left ill-advising agent. Smart move.)

In the first years of my acting career when ignorance, insecurity, and youth blinded me from making productive, honest choices I foolishly created a resume falsehood regarding my education. I was embarrassed for not having a secondary arts education. But shame is no excuse for an untruth. When work continually kept coming my guilt and growing maturity forced the fib from my resume. I felt freed from my nagging conscious once I obliterated the deceit. And I never, ever, embellished again. Nor should you. Have more respect for yourself.

BookMoreWork_TelseyQuoteWhen any of us create falsehoods the damage done is not in the moment of ‘gothcha’ as like when the actress with a resume lie baring my name sheepishly stood before me. No, it’s your self-esteem that suffers a near-fatal blow. Lies like honesty cannot be permanently erased. Like the pictographs on cave walls etched millennia ago, a trace will remain. Somewhere. Or with someone. Most prominently with your conscious.

Be better to yourself. Be honest. We all begin with a blank page. Best to keep the page clean than mar it with falsehoods.

My Best,

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit

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