Bad Headshots, Good Headshots III

The following example headshots accompany "The Actors Voice" column by Bonnie Gillespie posted here:

"Bad Headshots, Good Headshots III"


While "wasted space" headshots may look great in hard-copy, they really eat up
valuable real estate in your electronic version, where the thumbnail is everything.

It's totally fine to have a hard-copy that looks different (in terms of cropping) than your thumbnail did, online.

You can even keep a bit of the "off-center" cropping and maintain the mood
of the shot, but the closer crop really provides a better thumbnail.

Just a hint of the brick wall is more than enough for us to "get" that this is a playful boy.
Great "type" work, here. And so much stronger (in thumbnail) when cropped tighter.

The off-center version of this photo is awesome for postcards. Look at all of
that space for scribbling updates or stickering "tune in next week" labels!

I seriously love this original (2nd) photo, but when you're dealing with the online services (where the dimensions are 160x180 pixels), 
you'll have to choose between a TINY version of the full shot (1st position) or a squished version (4th position) unless you crop it (3rd position).


Now, don't start thinking that I mean you need to crop in so tightly that you start losing body parts (you know I've covered this issue before--and will do
so again, below), but if your primary headshot is a 3/4 shot, definitely crop it so that you have a better thumbnail. Otherwise, your tiny head will be lost!

In addition to having the "tiny head gets lost" problem, these shots are also very stark, in terms of their color balance. The white clothes blow out the
actor's face against that dark background. And, in the next set, that dark shirt against the white background "vibrates" a little too much. Cropping helps!

I actually like both of these actors' original headshots, but think cropping helps (at least at the thumbnail size). You still "get" the vibe from these actors.

An excellent character shot that remains excellent when cropped just
a little tighter. It's still off-center, so you don't lose the style either.

Just a slight crop is all that's needed on this shot. The first
version is just too "all about the wall" she's leaning on.

Young twins often have "together headshots" because they are so frequently
cast together. I love this shot, but would crop it a bit for online.

Yeah, I'd like some more room by this cute actor's right cheek, but even
so, cropping keeps this headshot from being "all about the shirt."


Two lessons on both sets of photos. Cropping helps with the thumbnail-sized version of the headshot, yes. But there are also little "wardrobe malfunctions"
happening in both shots. A good retoucher can remove a brastrap or fill in a "popping out" button area. Tiny fixes that will keep our focus on the ACTOR.


Okay, I get that you like the "border look" on your hard-copy headshot. Fine! But for the love of all that is holy, please, please, please never upload your
headshot without cropping out your border. Yeah, I know that means your name goes away, but we KNOW your name, since we're already looking at your online profile!

Here, I not only took out the border, but also cropped the photo a bit. You still get the actor's body type and general vibe, and his face gets a lot more space on the screen. I think an "inset photo" is a great way to show another look (as is printing a "mini
me" version of another headshot on your resumé), but I would never recommend
using that version of the headshot as your online thumbnail.

There are a few things wrong with the first set. Border is one, but the bigger issues are the "way too posed" look of having hand to chin and the fact that
the photo seems to be distorted in proportion. Since I know this actor in person, I can safely say that she is far less "wide" than the first shot has her looking.
On the second set, it's a really simple crop (very little change) and, voilà! A much better thumbnail.

What I really like about the cropping I did here is that you don't lose a thing! You still totally "get" this actor's primary character type and general vibe. And we can see those eyes!
While cropping helps this headshot quite a bit, there is still a little bit of a
"school picture" feel to it. I think it's the marbled sheet backdrop.

Cropping helps this photo "pop" a lot more--and I believe child actor advocate
groups will tell you to avoid photos with bare shoulders (a fetish).

In addition to the border issue, here, we have a "props" issue. You don't
need the toolbelt in order to "sell" that you are a blue collar type.

Okay, so this photo has three major problems: (1) too much border/white space; (2) a little bit
too much "wasted space" including the actor's leg; and (3) Where the heck is the top of your head?!?

Even a slight crop helps some headshots. These don't have the "border issue" as those above, but I found that a tiny bit
of cropping made each of them much stronger online thumbnails--without losing any of the actors' personality or style.

I really like these headshots. It's hard to tell the age of the actor, as she appears to be 18 TPY (but trying to look 25), but assuming these headshots do
accurately represent the way the actor looks when she walks in the room, a slight crop is all these need--and you still get a sense of her body type and vibe.

I am a major fan of the big, toothy grin. Especially when the young
actor has braces! Sometimes we need kids with braces! Show us what you've got!

There's a little bit of weirdness in this actor's arms. The best way to prevent
our eyes from going to anything other than her great smile is to crop!


I adore this headshot. This is a wonderful 18 TPY photo... except for
that weird right arm. A tighter crop minimizes the damage.

I've decided that even cropping doesn't save this headshot. It's just odd.
The pose is very forced and uncomfortable. Look at the tension in her neck!

Both sets of headshots are really great, but reveal more of the actors' bodies than we need to see. As long as we get a general sense of your build,
you're fine. And since thumbnail versions of headshots like these give you only about 10% to 20% "face space," you definitely want to crop!

Oh, this is such a precious headshot... but so ODD. Even with cropping, it's a little weird, because this
lovely little actor looks like an amputee (to channel Janice Dickinson). But the vibe that comes from this
photo is amazing. I'd use a shot like this in postcards, rather than as a primary headshot.

Another absolutely wonderful headshot, filled with so much information about the actor's primary
type and general vibe. The problem with the uncropped version is that it looks like an ad... and
if you're submitting your headshot commercially, why would you want anyone to think about
any other product? Cropping maintains the energy without screaming "conflict"!


Some rule-breakers work. Others don't. The first shot needs a little cropping (to minimize that upper arm bleeding off to infinity and beyond), but is very "indie film."
The second seems very natural, and could happen to lead to hand modeling gigs! While I like the third shot (as a photograph), I think it's a bad headshot... unless I already
know the actor and his work. It sells a great type and vibe, but I'm so very distracted by the photos on the wall and the shoe in the foreground otherwise. The fourth shot looks like it was ripped from a magazine. And that's not gonna help you get into an office you've never been in before. Another great "placeholder" headshot, but not a great first impression.


I know I covered this issue a lot in the previous series on headshots, but it's still happening. Entire chunks of actors are being
left out (and I really don't think this is the correct interpretation of the "leave 'em wanting more" maxim. *sigh* Oh, and no one needs a headshot
with a stethoscope (in a sweater??) nor does anyone need to appear as though he's trying to "leave" the frame.


This first shot is, face it, a mug shot. I don't care what you're going for, stylistically. That photo was taken by a man in uniform. I love, love, LOVE
the second shot... which is obviously a candid. But it captures the actor's spirit in a way that the others do not. If you're not comfortable with your headshot
photographer, CANCEL THE SHOOT! You should connect with that camera as if your best friend were behind it. The third shot here is a good commercial
shot, though I'm not a fan of the backdrop. The shot comes close to being good. The fourth shot is a much better theatrical shot than the first one, but still
feels a little disconnected (especially when compared to the wonderful second shot).


If this shot were taken in front of a different backdrop (and without the red border), it would be much better.
The über-green screen backdrop is way too intense. This headshot looks to be part passport photo, part special effects movie still.
Love it for MySpace. Leave it there.
I actually don't mind an actor taking a photo of "my current facial hair" and including it with a submission. But get dressed before going on camera.

These shots aren't actually "shots not to use," but I didn't know where to put them, otherwise. The first is way too "school photo" in feel. Perhaps going B&W with it
would help mute the background. I like the second one, but want to feel more connected to the actor somehow. And the final two are great to show a "curly hair/straight
hair" set of options. Problem is, unless you know which headshot got you called in, you may show up not quite right for what they're expecting. Also, I'd love to see
a little open-mouth smile action from all of these actors.


And we end this week with some of my favorite headshots! Here we have a great indie film/woman in trouble shot; a lovely,
thoughtful, classic shot; and two really fantastic kid actor shots. Awesome composition and cropping. I love 'em all!

Even though the first shot is against a backdrop I'd usually dislike, it works somehow. The second shot is one of my all-time favorites. Love it, love it, love it. The
third is nice and simple. Very clean and straightforward. And the fourth shot is so fun! I'd crop it maybe a few inches at the bottom, but that's just me being super nit-picky.

Four more great shots. I seriously want to cast all of these actors. These photos make me smile in their simple,
straightforward, "actors not trying to be anything other than who they are in real life" kind of feel. Awesome!

I just love these headshots! I don't know why. Maybe it's like watching Simon on American Idol and wondering what he means by "The IT
Factor." I just really love these photos and have a positive association with these actors because I totally believe that they ARE these people.

Another great set of shots. I love the "fringe" border on the first. I'd probably like a little more straight-face-on look in the second one. I'd crop the third
just a bit to get "more face" in the thumbnail. And that last photo is a great character shot. Absolutely, this is an actor who knows how he gets cast!