How to get great headshots for musical theatre


There are few things that will affect the trajectory of your musical theatre career as much as your headshot - it is the single most important marketing tool you have as an actor. It will be present on your audition submissions, your website, in printed programs and credits, on your profile for various social media platforms, and more. In this field, YOU are the product, and your headshot is what gives YOU a visual identity. Whoa.....that's a lot of pressure! Relax - Musical Theatre U is here to break down the headshot process into a few simple, manageable steps. Consider the following points carefully, and you'll end up with great headshots:

1. Get your headshots professionally taken. Just do it. As a starving artist it might hurt your pocketbook now, but if done correctly it's an investment that will last for several years (until you age enough or significantly change your appearance to need new ones) and will pay back its price in full every time your memorable image rises to the top of the audition pile and books you a job. For more tips on how to get your foot in the door for auditions, pick up our eBook, The Musical Theatre Performer's Guide to Audition Success.

2. Choose a photographer who specializes in actor headshots for theatre. There are millions of professionals who shoot headshots, but they might work mainly with corporate photos or actors for film, and don't understand the idiosyncracies of the theatre industry. If you choose someone who is used to working with actors, they'll know exactly how to frame you, how to pull interesting expressions out of you, and how to make you look exciting to a casting director. The less work you need to do during the shoot, the better.

3. Vet your photographer. Before you book the shoot, scour their portfolio, ask if you can call a couple of their references, and look them up on Yelp. Speak to them on the phone for a few minutes and make sure their personality will be a good match for you to feel comfortable and have fun during your shoot. Awkward conversation leads to stiff, boring photos.

4. Book your shoot at a day and time when you can be in top condition, meaning that you are well rested, well hydrated and fed, in a good mood, and ready to be "on." Getting your photo taken requires similar commitment to giving a performance in that you need to be listening and responsive, spontaneous and creative, all while remaining relaxed and natural. The day after opening night or a cast party is not the best idea.

5. Know your type and spend time planning your looks. This is possibly the most important item on this list - you're going to drop a lot of cash and leave this shoot with 2-4 final photos that encapsulate all the complexities of YOU, so make sure you plan those images of YOU and how you want them to look. Are you the villain? The girl next door? The funny sidekick? Casting directors sometimes have tunnel vision, throwing actors immediately categories based on look and type. If you're going to get thrown into a pile, make sure it's the right pile, plan your clothes and makeup accordingly to get the looks and types you want. For example, when I went into my shoot, I brought four changes - the ingenue, the quirky/funny sidekick girl, the rocker chick, and the professional mom.

6. Wear minimal makeup and show your natural self. Tempting as it is to get all gussied up for your photo shoot, (it is your moment to shine right!!!), don't overdo it. You want your headshots to look as similar as possible to the way you'll look when you walk in the room for an audition. Wear basic makeup and clothes that show the real you, going for personality over glamour.

7. Express yourself! It's all in the eyes - look alive, connect with the camera, and listen to the feedback the photographer is giving you in terms of how your facials are coming across. Try a variety of facial expressions and emotions.

8. Come prepared. Bring makeup for touchups, hair spray and brush, backup clothes in case of an accident, have your clothes ironed, and bring snacks.

When all is said and done, have fun! A photo shoot is one of the few times when it's really all about you, so enjoy it. After you get your headshots, the next step is submitting them for auditions, so check out our eBook on audition tips. 

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