Actors will often ask their acting teachers if they are “ready to audition.”
Do actors also ask their coaches if they are “ready for headshots?” Is that a crazy idea? Personally, I don’t believe you should give too much power to your acting teacher. (Unless, of course, it’s me!) I do see a pattern here that’s worth a conversation. As with career advice from anyone in the industry, take it and muse on it; it may or may not apply to you. This conversation is based on years of observation, working with actors just moving to LA.
My simple advice to actors is this: If you’ve just moved to LA to pursue an acting career, wait 3 months after studying in a good, challenging class before getting new headshots. If you are a beginning actor, wait at least 6-9 months after studying. I base this not as being an expert in the headshot business, but after observing patterns, working with both new and experienced actors over the past 30 years.
Most of the time I’ll see a new actor arrive on the scene, and the first thing they do is go out and get expensive pictures. Great, now they are ready to go to work. If they begin training, and acclimate themselves to LA, in 6-9 months those shots are no longer that good. And even if they are good, after training the actor is now in a much more vulnerable, revealing place. “This picture doesn’t show you off as well as it could,” is a comment they often get. Most actors I’ve observed need new pictures taken, based on opinions of their peers, casting professionals, and agents that they’ve met.
Why? Let’s look at this. Moving to LA is challenging, as is studying to be an actor. We put up our guard, our armor, our “image” to protect ourselves. Then, after settling in, we take a class and the unraveling begins. The purpose of taking a good acting class is to strip you of your tricks, your armor, your “game,” so you are raw, present, and able to tell the truth in imaginative circumstances without ego. Your instrument becomes more vulnerable, and you are more in touch with yourself – your emotions, your openness, your feelings, who you are. You discover yourself. It begins to show in you – in your eyes, your smile, your aura, your vulnerability, and your honesty. You become more open, more present on stage and in front of the camera. You become more sincere, and genuine.
All these qualities must be revealed in your headshot. Adjusting to LA life takes time, as does learning to reveal yourself and to expose your deep emotions. You must be fully present to take a good headshot, one that shows “who you are.” It often takes some time (and tough work on yourself) to figure that out. Allow yourself the time and work that you need, so that your talent and light show up in your headshot. It’s well worth the investment, and will surely pay off.