Selecting Headshots, Not Selfies

Ellen's 2014 Oscar selfie, how to choose headshots

Tip for How to Pick Headshots: Your Headshot is Not Your Selfie


It can be complicated trying to figure out how to pick your headshots out of the tons and tons of options the photographer gives you after your shoot. With the advent of selfies came the heightened sense of self-awareness to look great. I loved this Wikipedia description of what a selfie is: “They are usually flattering and made to appear casual.”


However, here’s the distinction I want you to make: a headshot is meant to be your most authentic self that gets you work, which may not necessarily be your most “gorgeous” or “cool” photo.


I hear the voices in your head debating this already.

Yes, of course, you should pick headshots that makes you look super and professional. You should love the image that represents you.

But will that same photo get you working?


Picking your final headshot selection requires knowing where you ultimately fit in for casting and therefore how you want others to perceive you. 

If you do a Facebook survey on a few of your new headshots, you will get answers like this: “gorgeous,” “sexy,” “friendly,” “handsome,” “I’d hire you,” etc. So is that your type? Are you the beautiful, sexy type? Are you going to play the vixens or romantic leading men and women? Are you trying to do commercials, so the polished beautiful photo works for you? If not, that feedback won’t be so helpful other than making you feel great—which is also affirming, so no harm done!


Hone in like a laser. And then casting folks will know what to do with you.

Before you heavily retouch your most “beautiful” photo for headshot, have you checked in to make sure that the photo will inspire casting directors with very specific roles?

Should you be playing the doctors, lawyers, and moms? Or are you playing the action heroes, cops, and the best friend? YES, you can go for opposite types but be sooooo specific with each type.

And, yes you guessed it, don’t expect one photo to necessarily nail ALL of your types. That’s like asking you to show your entire acting range in one monologue. Right?


Final picks of your headshots needs to fulfill the categories of your top types.

Figuring out types takes a real knowing of an actor’s range. Survey friends and colleagues who have a real intimacy with your acting possibilities. (This is actually part of my first assignment for Part 1 Class! It’s a crucial step!)


Research your types with your current colleagues that know your work.

Beware: the type you played last year may not be the type you are playing today.

In fact, it probably isn’t. It’s probably expanded! Because your acting range has expanded. And something about your energy and your look is evolved.

This is why annual headshots have become the norm. I know, I’m sorry about another actor expense! But thankfully the digital era makes it so much more workable. Please note that casting directors expect and need extremely current photos.


Top Tips for How to Pick Headshots Based on Types


  • Ideally, before your photoshoot, make a list of your top 5 types. Hone in on your wardrobe selections purely by these types. If an outfit doesn’t suggest at least 2 of the types, then it won’t be useful in the end. A bright blue shirt that looks good on you may not do anything towards your type.
  • When you receive the photos, pick your headshots by selecting photos that fit at least 2 categories of types.
  • Keep narrowing down. Can you narrow down to 2 or 3 photos that cover all 5 types?
  • Test the market. Before you retouch your photos, load the photo to your Actors Access profile and start submitting with it. AUDITION YOUR PHOTO!
  • Select appropriate photo for appropriate Type. In the end, it will be a combination of several photos that will be in rotation in your submission process.


Bonus Tips for Actors on Picking Headshots


  • Different genres can also inspire different photo selections (and photographers).
  • Of course, please select a photo that you also feel good about! If your character type is “Crazy Looney Guy” then you can still pick a photo with a hint of that, and you still look nice, so we know you aren’t actually crazy.
  • When picking, look for duality and intrigue in the photo. Intrigue lures us in.

Attract the work that you want with the most perfect headshot selections!

Okay! Your turn. Share below any guidelines that you use to select your photo!


  1. Evangelia Kingsley says

    So so so so so so so helpful! And what perfect timing. Agent just told me that my pics (which are several years old now) are very sophisticated, but don’t get that village Greek thing going. Oh, yes, it’s time for new ones! Not to mention the other differences that aging has provided!

    • Heidi Marshall says

      Getting older. Well everyone is! And yes it’s the biggest thing to keep up with and be honest about. Show your style, Evangelia! X

  2. Jena Finn says

    Can I just say BEST TIMING EVER?!?!!?!
    I just got my images back from my HS photographer and have been narrowing them down all week. With the help of my manager, I think I have chosen the final 6! I am so glad for this post because it reaffirmed EVERYTHING that I have already done in my process. I learned from experience and from many classes and tidbits of advice from you and all of my trusted industry folk. I was extremely specific going in, did all my homework beforehand, had outfits picked out accordingly, and got into different character moods during the shoot. Now I have 6 very different looks for all scopes of characters that I will hopefully be auditioning for. And even though it’s been a while since I took your class, I always refer back to that list of types that everyone came up with for me, and always check that against sides CDs provide me with in seminars and auditions.

    • Heidi Marshall says

      Jena! Go back and do that Class 1 assignment again! It is a perfect time to do it. Do a quick survey and see what you find out. That should be super helpful exactly right now! Get a fresh round of feedback.

  3. Kendrick Mitchell says

    SO INTERESTING! These are the things I wish we learned in school HAHA! Type is the last thing on my mind when taking headshots– But it makes so much sense. It also makes the shots less awkward because you know what you’re aiming for, besides some smiling, and some not smiling. Ok, I think I just got really excited about my next shots! Thanks Heidi!

    • Heidi Marshall says

      Yes smiling vs not smiling gets you only so far, right? Someday Kendrick we will reach all of these training programs and get these new artists on track earlier!:)

    • Heidi Marshall says

      Lauren, I love sending actors to you because YOU totally understand this process. Actors should consider working with Actor Photographers for sure! It’s soooo much more than just a pretty photo!

  4. Hannah Doty says

    Thanks so much Heidi–great timing for me as well! I’m about to get new shots and was thinking about how this time I don’t want to try to hide any flaws or “come off” in a certain way that isn’t necessarily true to me or my type.

    This time around I want head shots that showcase that I’m a lithe more off-beat both in serious and comedic roles.

    I think there is always a fear of boxing myself in by having a headshot that’s too specific but I’m learning I need to get over that and have head shots that more obviously show me and not just a pretty shot!

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