Actor Headshots: posing tips
Posing for Actor Headshots:
Actor headshots are one of those necessary, important things. But they aren’t always everyone’s favourite thing to do. One of the things that gets some people stuck is the posing – that feeling of not knowing what to do in front of a camera. Feeling awkward. Overthinking and stressing.
Of course your headshot photographer should be able to direct you and give you some cues that will help with the posing. I also believe it helps a LOT if you feel comfortable and get to know your photographer beforehand. FYI, you can learn all about me by clicking on the ‘Julia Nance’ filter on my Tips & Advice page.
Whilst it is up to your photographer to help on the day, there is nothing wrong with being prepared. I’ve decided to write a little about the various considerations when it comes to posing for actor headshots.
My subjects often here me say ‘lean forward at the torso a little bit’. In my experience, this helps a little with perspective, and makes the shot warmer. Even though it can feel strange, leaning forward often makes your headshot more balanced and approachable.
So let’s look at some horrendous photographs of myself, so I can help show you what I’m discussing. Here is a blank mug-shot style portrait of me. I was pretty tired on this day, but I’m pretty tired most days so I imagine this is what my face must look like 90% of the time.
Compare the shot above, with no posing with the next image, of me leaning forward. The only change here is that I am leaning my body forward. Please note that I am deliberately not doing anything else with my pose or expression. You can see with the images side my side, that the first shot looks a lot more standoffish. The second shot feels warmer and more connected, even though I’m not doing any amazing posing or expressions here.
The next technique is the chin forward/down technique. This is discussed a lot, and you can view on youtube Peter Hurley discuss and demonstrate this at length. There is a subtle art to this, and of course it is going to work better on some people than others. The idea is to subtly extend the neck forwards, towards the camera, and slightly down. It helps accentuate the jawline.
You can see Matt pull this off in the image below. You can see his strong jawline by applying this technique. The trick is to keep it subtle. It is not about pushing your neck out as far as it can go, but moving it slightly to make that jawline strong. You shouldn’t be able to tell in the final image that your neck is slightly forward at all.
Head position: little tilts.
A little change in head position can help bring a headshot to life. In the example image below, you can see how it adds a little bit more life into the shot. It feels slightly more interactive. I’m still not doing any expression with my face here. This is all about building the pose.
Body Position: angles
Next up is angling the body. In your shoot you should explore and review a range of angles, and decide what you think is working. Switching up from front on, to various sides can help you figure out what you like best, and get a range of images. You can see in these two images how that slight angling of the body, paired with the head tilt, vastly changes up the headshot appearance.
If you have a preferred side of the face/body, make sure you tell your photographer. If you don’t mind – perhaps try both and see if you have a preference.
The eyes: Warming up that expression.
Now we’re starting to get into more of the expression. They eyes are really the key to a powerful actor headshot. They need to be sharp, and they need to say something. There should be communication happening here. Amazing catchlights can really enhance the feeling (this is all to do with the lighting though). But there are some things you can do to get that amazing stare.
I find a lot of actors already have amazing ability to control their eyes to portray emotion. It is all in your craft after all. They key is to think of the eyes as a tool to express. Avoid blank, dead eyes, and consider what you want to say in the shot. You’re going to have different looks for an image that is intended to be moody and dramatic, than to a headshot that is intended to be happy and carefree.
Creating a softer look is all about controlling the lower eyelids. Bringing them up slightly helps warm them up, as you can see in the image on the right. If you look in the mirror and cover your mouth, you can see a similarity between not smiling, and then smiling. When you’re smiling those lower lids raise. You can practice this in the mirror before you headshot session to get a feel for it, and see the results.
You can have a look in the comparison below the effect of the softer eyes, and even a very slight smile in this one (on the right).
Mixing up everything:
During your headshot session it is best to mix everything up with your pose. Discuss it with your photographer, but don’t be afraid to move slightly between images. I review all the images as we go during my sessions – so you can immediately see what you’re liking and not liking. If you’re working with a photographer, don’t be afraid to ask to review the shots to see how you’re going with pose and expression.
Some more examples (that aren’t of me):
Hopefully the photos above helped indicate the things I was discussing. While they’re not glamour shots, I’ve tried to demonstrate exactly what each little change can make.
Have a look at some of my previous actor headshots to have a look at what other poses and expressions have been explored. I think it is also important to consider the type of characters you are usually cast for, and the roles you are wanting to audition for as well.
Everything should come together with your pose and expression: the photographer should take care of the lighting, composition and the background. A discussion on outfit and mood should be ongoing, so you can both stay on track.