How Many Headshots Does an Actor Need?

Getting into acting ultimately requires an aspiring actor to get good headshots. Headshots are likely the most vital tool an actor will use to be considered during castings. But how many headshots are enough?

theatrical headshot for acting

A Theatrical Acting Headshot is One Option for a Headshot Type to Add to Your Portfolio

First, there are generally two categories of headshots to consider, a commercial look and a theatrical look. One might also argue for a third, a comedic look. For each of these categories you want to target, you might need two or three headshots.

The Commercial Headshot Look

This is usually the most needed of acting headshots, the commercial look. It is often technically characterized as bright, evenly lit, and overall cheery. There are several looks that can be sought in a commercial headshot.

First, it’s a good idea to get a nice clean and practical shot of yourself with a warm smile. In this shot, you might not worry so much about aligning your posing, expressions or wardrobe with any specific character. It’s a shot that essentially says, “this is the usual me.”

Moving beyond this, you might want to start making considerations for posing, expressions and wardrobe that are specific to characters you might be ideal for. These can include common roles such as a doctor, lawyer, successful businessperson, athlete, or mom or dad.

The Theatrical Headshot Look

The theatrical headshot is the next most common type of acting head shot. It is often technically characterized as having darker tones, with distinguished shadows falling on parts of the face, and an overall dramatic feel. There are several looks that can be sought in a theatrical headshot.

Now you’re looking to make considerations for posing, expressions and wardrobe that are specific to dramatic characters you might be ideal for. These can include roles such as a thug or bad person, cop or detective, a distraught person, or other similar dramatic character.

This by no means covers all potential characters and looks to target. These are just the most common for most people.

A Quick Word on the Comedic Headshot Look

Some actors seek to specifically target comedy opportunities. For the most part, this can be done using a similar setup to a commercial headshot. However, the key difference here is the expression will be more jovial. This is often accomplished with a bigger, more obvious, smile.

Another consideration if you’re going to use a comedic shot alongside a commercial headshot, is to consider making sure the outfit, and perhaps the background, are different. This helps create clearer separation of the purpose between the two.

Creativity to Fit the Look

Beyond the lighting, your expression, wardrobe and posing, another consideration is the background colors and perhaps if you should use props. Both are important considerations.

Generally, make sure the background is simple and not distracting from keeping the focus on you. You can also use color in the background to contrast or sync with colors your wearing, or with the color of your hair or eyes. As for props, it’s not commonly recommended. Though there are no set rules to any of this.

If you’ve been doing the math, you can probably create a good portfolio using between four and seven headshots. Four is likely too few and seven is pushing it. You want the perfect amount so someone viewing them can understand the depth of the characters you can fill and not so many that it instead causes confusion.

Commonly, this means two to four commercial looks, usually three, and two to three theatrical looks, usually two. More important than how many headshots you get is how good their quality is. Headshots are critical for acting career success. Therefore, be sure to use high quality headshots to make up the 5-6 you will ultimately use.

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