What To Wear For Acting Headshots

Headshots · Photo Work · Tips And Tricks
atlanta high school senior actor headshot
Commercial Actor Headshot

When most people get headshots, they typically only need one or two. This is standard for corporate types who work in a business setting. However, actor headshots are a completely different ballgame. Not only do actors need to have consistently fresh headshots, but they also need multiple looks. To achieve all of these different looks, you’ll need to know what to wear for acting headshots. I’ve compiled a list of suggestions to find the right colors, fits, and pieces to help you get booked.

The Goal of Acting Headshots

Yes, it’s to get booked. But how? Casting directors are scrolling through endless pages of headshots. How do they pick someone out from the masses? The same thing as going through the explore tab on Instagram, they click on images that stand out from the rest. Your headshots need to EXPLODE off of a page packed with actor headshot thumbnails. The photographer is in charge of the lighting and composition. As the actor, you have to bring the wardrobe and the personality. All four elements (lighting, composition, personality, and wardrobe) influence you getting booked. Let’s get it right starting with clothing.

Research Characters For Clothing Inspiration

As an actor, you’re trying to get booked for certain roles. Your headshots are critical to getting an audition because casting directors need to imagine you in the role they’re trying to fill. You don’t want to bring your entire closet to ask your photographer, “What should I wear for my acting headshots?” No, you need to come in with a reasonable game plan. So when picking clothes for your headshots, you should select pieces that make you look like the characters you want to play. You can find inspiration in several locations:

Audition Breakdowns

Use these to understand the characters you want to play. For example, sometimes there will be suggestions for how a character looks: disheveled, clean, organized, sloppy, bright, etc. Use these cues to pick clothes that match those descriptions.

Google Image Search

Go to Google and search for characters. For instance, if I search: “Nerdy high schooler headshot” and click the “Images” tab – I get all of these awesome examples shown in the image below! Now you’ve got visual concepts and pieces you can replicate with your own wardrobe at your headshot session. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the tools at your disposal! Pinterest is another great resource for this kind of research. 

google image search for what to wear for nerdy high school acting headshots

Don’t Bring Your Entire Closet

I know I already mentioned it, but I’m serious. If a client shows up with suitcases full of clothes, I know they are completely lost and have no idea what kinds of actor headshots they want. So research the characters you want to play, and then bring two to three outfits for each. That’s it. 

Character Clothing Examples

Here’s an awesome list of character clothing examples from LAphotospot.com to help you decide what to wear for your acting headshots:

  • Girl next door – A sweater or conservative top. Light and fresh looking. Primary colors.
  • Lovable Nerd – Glasses (With the lenses popped out). Colorful tee shirt with a cardigan sweater. Colorful tee shirt and a hoody – Think “Big Bang Theory.” 
  • Tough Street Look – Tee shirt and leather jacket.
  • Handsome Leading Man – Tee shirt or sweater with a brown leather jacket.
  • Detective – Suit jacket with a tie for men. Blouse and jacket for women.
  • Business – Blouse and jacket for women and suit jacket and tie for men.
  • Young Mom – Sweater or colorful tee with a layered shirt.
  • Young Dad – Sweater or colorful tee with a layered shirt.

Colors to Wear for Acting Headshots

So. Many. Choices. Okay, you’ve got a list of characters and some pieces but together. Now we need to make sure the colors work as well. Try to avoid colors that match your skin. Depending on the lighting your headshot photographer uses, it may look like you’re not wearing a shirt at all. Also, keep in mind that certain colors have certain associations for moods and feelings. I’ve got a thorough blog post that talks about what colors to wear for portraits applicable for headshots. Below are some high-level suggestions for what colors to wear for your acting headshots:

  • Light Skin – darker colors
  • Dark Skin – lighter colors
  • Warm Tones – approachable
  • Cool Tones – distant
  • Black works, but it’s overdone

Remember, you want to create a headshot that will jump off the page as a thumbnail image. Colors are crazy helpful here.

Other Suggestions For What to Wear for Acting Headshots

Wear Fitted Clothing

Loose, baggy clothing may be the comfiest thing ever, but I’d steer away from it for your photos. Clothing that fits your figure is not only more comfortable to pose but also looks more flattering. Also, with looser clothing, you will look bigger in your headshots.

atlanta actor headshot layered with jacket

Layer Up

Layers like jackets, scarves, vests, and sweaters are great additions to an outfit because they add texture and dimension. They’re subtle pieces that can add touches of your personality and style to your headshots. They can also drastically change the appearance of your character. You can easily get two or more character headshot looks by simply adding or removing a jacket.

Wear Sleeves

Longer sleeves work better for photos, in my opinion. Too much skin can be distracting from your face. And even if you have thin or toned arms, long sleeves tend to make all arms look better. Sleeveless or spaghetti straps will make your shoulders look much broader, which may not be super flattering.

Glasses

If you usually wear glasses, you should wear them for some of your headshots. The lenses of glasses make taking pictures tricky, though. Clear lenses will occasionally reflect light, which can be distracting and block your face. Transition lenses not only reflect light, but if it’s bright outside, then they’ll effectively act as sunglasses. If you can, I’d recommend removing the lenses and wearing contacts simultaneously for the best images.

V-Necks For The Win

Especially for guys, V-neck shirts are very flattering. It reduces some wrinkling and bunching in the shirt, and it makes you appear to have a long neck which is considered more attractive. 

Hair & Beards

headshot of atlanta actor

Change it up! You should absolutely try to change up your hairstyle during your headshots. Ladies, most of your headshots will look best with your hair down straight or curly, but it’s worth getting a few images with your hair pulled back in a ponytail. Guys, your hair may not have a lot of variety if it’s short. But, you can change things up with your facial hair. Come in with a simple beard for your first set of headshots. Then shave so we can get some shots with stubble, and then shave again for a clean look to finish out your headshots. Tons of variety and tons of looks for various characters.

Actor Headshot Clothing Don’ts

No Costumes

Clothing should add and complement the character, but it should never distract from your face. Yes, your personality may be that level of quirky but keep it within reason. Remember, casting directors want to see your face as their next role. Most of the time, that’s not super ostentatious.

No Patterns, Logos, Graphics, or Illustrations

Pretty straightforward here; they can be distracting. Also, cameras do weird things with tight patterns and produce a funky pixelation effect called moire that’s impossible to edit. 

No Jewelry

Not only can they create reflections, but jewelry can be very distracting. The cardinal sin of a headshot is to wear or do something that distracts from your face. 

No Sheer or See-Through Clothing

This ain’t that kind of headshot. If you really like the look of a top that’s see-through, wear another layer underneath it to make it look more solid. We’re also trying to eliminate any bra straps or similar. 

No Wrinkles

Iron your clothes the night before your headshot session. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a wrinkled top in your headshots. It gives off negative connotations, and casting directors may assume you don’t prepare or take things seriously. Yes, your photographer can edit some wrinkles, but it isn’t easy, and sometimes, we can’t get them all out. So don’t risk it – steam it.

Wrap Up

I hope you found this information helpful and have some new ideas for how to approach your next acting headshot session! If you’d like some more information on how to prepare for your headshots, you can read this blog post about preparing for your photo session. If you have any suggestions for other tips and tricks, comment below! I’d love to share them with my headshot clients!

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