Updated: Jan 14, 2019
If you are an actor, the clothes you wear to your headshot session are one of the most important first steps to getting the very best headshots. It’s a fine balance between accentuating your features while not detracting from your face.
Here’s seven helpful tips to help you select just the right clothing for the perfect headshot.
My overall advice is to keep it simple while wearing clothes that are comfortable and make you feel confident.
1. Colours and Tones
The best colours for your headshot photography session are ones that make your features stand out - emphasising your eyes primarily but also your smile and shape of your face. What you don’t want is your clothing to distract from your face.
My recommendation is to stick with neutral, sober colours and gentle tones.
“What are those?” I hear you say – does that mean black and white? Not really, in fact, black and white are sometimes the worst colours for Actor’s headshots because they are too severe. Think more creams or light greys instead of whites, and dark charcoal instead of a very saturated black.
In my opinion, darker hues usually work better than their brighter counterparts. For example, instead of a bright red, opt for a maroon or burgundy colour. Autumnal burnt colours such as burgundy, olive, beige, dark green and mustard often look really nice in headshots.
If these don’t “colour match” your skin tone and you are more of a “summer” colour person, choose something in the cooler tones, for example baby blue, light grey, ashy brown.
Rule: Avoid colours that are too similar to your skin tone as these will not provide any contrast in the photos and can make you appear washed out. And at the opposite end of the scale, avoid bright reds and fluorescent clothing.
Check out some examples below of successful colour choices for each actor!
2. Stars and Stripes; Slogans and Logos
Well, not literally, stars and stripes, but patterns, stripes, polka dots and prints are to be avoided. These not only detract from your headshot, but they can play games with the camera. On the odd occasion I have shot some headshots where someone’s worn a floral pattern and damn, has it looked good! 9/10 it’s a hard NO from me to the Hawaiian shirt.
In addition, anything with advertising, large printed letters and logos of horses, should be left at home. Adidas and Ralph Lauren don’t need anymore free advertising! Besides, your headshot is about you and your brand so I want that to be the focus. Trust me, some casting directors are put off at the mere glimpse of a Nike tick.
3. Style, Neckline and Layers
"Which fashion trend should I follow for my headshots?"
“Should I go for the hipster-hobo look, or the uptight Tory?”
The problem with fashion is that it goes “out of fashion” shortly after it comes in. That’s why I suggest you stick with something that’s simple to allow the photo to show you off at your very best, and timelessly. T-shirts have been around since the late 1800’s (yes, I did google that…) so they’re not likely to go out of style any time soon. Remember you might be using these headshots for up to 2 years and unfortunately that vintage Harrington jacket you overpaid for at Urban Outfitters went out of 'fashion’ in about 20 minutes. *ahem* I’m speaking from personal experience here…*ahem*
As for the neckline, here’s where you need to be very thoughtful and choose carefully. Bear in mind that tight necklines can make people look uncomfortable and 'cut off' so slightly scooped or shaped necklines are very flattering, especially for Musical theatre headshots that often show off a bit more of your physique. (If we can also get those collar bones to pop, it can add a very nice frame to your face and makes you look even more dynamic)!
As an actor, you’re constantly told to be vulnerable. Nothing makes you look less vulnerable and less easy-to-work-with than a black Fruit of the Loom t-shirt with awkwardly long sleeves, which also happens to cut off your neck circulation if you move your head in the wrong direction.
I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here, because turtle necks can sometimes be the perfect neckline for the right person with the right hair style. If you have a turtle neck that makes you look like a spy or a period-drama matriarch, you can bet your bottom dollar your headshot photographer is going to want to use it. Like this shot of Rosaleen.
Layers can look very good in headshots, they can effortlessly add perspective and dimension, making you look more 3D and ‘like a real person’ to casting directors. That said, you need to find the right jacket for you. Softer looking fabrics with a bit of texture that contrast and compliment a top underneath are best. For example, If you want to look a bit younger, denim is great for that. Well fitting coats can instantly make you look intelligent and sophisticated. Suede usually looks soft with good colour balance under the light. Leather can go two ways - Insanely tacky or badass girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo vibes. (Bear in mind that vegan leather can be a little reflective under the lights).
4. Shirts, Tops and Blouses or Jumpers and Sweaters? … what about suits?
My recommendation is always to go with T-shirts, tops and blouses with flattering necklines. Frills and overly large collars are not a good idea for your headshot as they will detract from you.
What you also want to avoid are bulky or baggy clothes, such as heavy sweaters, as these might make you look bigger than you are. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t wear anything that is too tight, too small or doesn’t really fit well as this will also have a negative effect on your end headshot.
I’m just gonna come out and say it… I’M NOT A FAN OF A SUIT IN A HEADSHOT. I think it plays to a character too much and looks way too corporate. If you are under the age of 40, I just wouldn’t bother bringing it. Over 40 and you start getting put up for doctor and lawyer roles… that's the time to bring the suit to your headshot session.
5. How many changes of outfit shall I bring?
I suggest you bring lots of choices of things to wear so that we can play around and see what works best with the camera. Sometimes something looks great on, but doesn't look as nice behind the lens. We normally have about 4 or 5 changes of outfit in a Standard 1 hour, 30 minute session, so whilst you won’t want to bring your whole wardrobe, I would suggest that you carefully choose about 7 or 8 items.
Different things work for different people and sometimes even I can be surprised by what works best for you!
6. Get the washing machine on and the iron out!
Hey, I’m the last person to judge you about your greasy pizza stained t-shirt, trust me. And I can’t remember the last time I bought clothes that need to be ironed, BUT… a sure fire way to "P" off any headshot photographer is to turn up with wrinkled, sloppy, unwashed clothes. No photographer has time to retouch out your sweat stains. Sorry, not sorry.
Worst comes to worst, go to Primark (or hopefully somewhere a little more ethical) , buy 5 t-shirts in different colours, keep the labels on them, return them straight after the shoot.
There is zero excuse for bringing the wrong clothes to your shoot! Just do the prep: whether that means going on a 10 minute detour to the shops or getting out the iron you haven’t used in 5 years.
7. What about accessories and jewellery?
For actors headshots, the general rule of thumb is to keep your shot jewellery and accessory free. However (and it’s a big HOWEVER), the fact is jewellery and accessories such as hats and scarves are sometimes what contributes to a persons identity. You are unique, there is no one else like you and before I start sounding like a wellness and life coach: you need to capitalise on that. By neutralising everything about your personal identity down to just a face, we are in danger of also stripping away your personality.
So when I shoot, I always tell my clients 'we’ll start simple and add as we go along'. For example, I might start with a grey t-shirt, no accessories or earrings and against a white wall. That way we can nail the agent-and-casting-director-friendly headshot off the bat, leaving more time to add in the fun stuff. As the session goes on, we can get a bit more creative and start adding some finer details to the shots, whether that's a pair of hoops, a scarf, or a pop of lipstick. I think it’s best to get all the options.
Same with glasses - generally it’s a no, mostly because they are hard to shoot with the glass flare.... But, if you do normally wear glasses, or if one of your characters wears glasses, then BRING THE GLASSES! They can look really great, but like I said, I can’t guarantee they will work (glasses flares are a photographers nightmare) but we can try our best. See this shot of Andy below rocking the no-flare-awesome-glasses headshot.
I hope I’ve covered everything here in this article. If you still have some doubts, pop on over to my Gallery page where you can see tons more examples of what people wear for headshots. If you are still unsure, or you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for reading!