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by Rotimi Agbabiaka
Last Insider we received some tips from local headshot photographers about taking a winning headshot. This time around we chatted with Bay Area casting directors about what they are looking for in an actor’s headshot.

LeeAnn Dowd

Casting Manager, California Shakespeare Theatre

What makes a good headshot? The best headshot is one that makes you feel more confident walking into the audition room. While it should look like you, don’t stress too much about small differences—casting teams can figure out that it’s you without the facial hair or with glasses. I find that headshots are so far from being the most important part of the package you’re bringing into the room, so don’t sweat it. Find a photographer who makes you comfortable, choose shots that make you happy, and, otherwise, don’t stress too much! On a less theoretical note: format your headshot with your name underneath the picture! It makes a big difference to have that done already when it comes time to spread out everyone’s pictures on a table following auditions.

Janet Foster

Director of Casting, American Conservatory Theatre

What makes a good headshot for theatre/film/TV? First thing it has to look like the actor. It shouldn’t be overly retouched. The age depicted in the photo should be close to the age that you currently are. The color of whatever shirt or top you have on should light up your complexion. And whatever rules there are, there are always exceptions. I don’t like super smiley pictures but of course there are always exceptions to that. For some people, that’s who they are and that’s their best photo. A headshot really is an important tool. It can get you in the door when someone doesn’t know your work.

What should you look for in a headshot photographer? I would get recommendations from fellow actors, then look at the websites, then maybe pick three options and go meet with them. Because the other key component of a good headshot is: did you like the person taking your headshot? Did they make you feel comfortable? Did they help you relax? Did you feel an affinity for them as a person? Which helps the headshot session go well.

How should you prepare for your headshot session? Ask: Do they have a makeup person they bring with them or are you responsible for your own makeup?

Now that we’re doing color photos the makeup has to be lighter. Unless you’re a super glamorous performer, keep the makeup to a minimum. And male actors should probably put on pore minimizer to cut the shine down, which is not like putting matte powder on—for a more natural look.

And after the shoot? When you get the proofs back don’t share them with your family, they’re not going up on your mantel. They’re a tool for your profession, So if you need help picking the best headshot go to people in the industry, don’t put your shots on Facebook and ask people to vote. Go to a casting director or a director that you’re friends with and say: Which one speaks and says “me” to you.

Jeffrey Lo

Casting Director, TheatreWorks

What makes a good headshot? A headshot helps me share with our guest directors at TheatreWorks why I brought in a certain actor. As casting director, I play the role of an advocate for the local actors here in the Bay Area and I love it when a headshot encapsulates what makes a performer unique and individual. Sometimes someone will have one of those “Law and Order” type of headshots—where they’re scowling at the camera—when what we called them in for, their strength, is how personable and warm and relatable they are. And in that case, having that really serious headshot is not very useful.

To that end I do think it’s useful to have two headshots to choose from, depending on what role you’re going for. It’s not necessarily about playing to type but about knowing what makes you a special individual. 

What’s so cool about what we’re doing in the theatre nowadays is that we’re trying to highlight unique personalities and unique traits. That’s what an actor should focus on in their headshot. It’s really not about what makes you look most like a model. 

Amy Potozkin

Director of Casting, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

What makes a good headshot? For theatre headshots, I recommend that actors have two shots: one a bit more dramatic/serious and one smiling. It’s all in the eyes and a good photographer can help you relax and allow your essence to shine through. It should reflect who you are now. One of the biggest mistakes I see with headshots is a picture that doesn’t look like the actor—either too glam and airbrushed or no longer representing the age and type of the actor. Go to a professional headshot photographer vs. taking a selfie or letting your friend shoot you in the backyard. The shot should be chest up, wear solid colors vs. prints, no jewelry or keep it very simple. The focus should be you. 

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, and teaching artist. Learn more about him at