Headshots 101: Casting Directors’ Pet Peeves

emmy young

Belinda Keller Photography

It’s that time and things are gonna get real busy.  So as an actor you really need to make sure you got everything in order.  I spoke with some casting directors and here is what they believe you need to know.

“Headshots need to be shot right, head on and from the shoulders up.  They should look like the person, be interesting and always have a truthful, well organized resume.” ~Jackie Burch

“Look like you, have good energy in the eyes.” ~Marty Siu

Some Casting Directors prefer you have two of them.  One for “commercial” open smile, happy.  The other for “theatrical” closed mouth with some sort of attitude in the eyes.  You always want to submit the theatrical shots for Film and TV.  The commercial, well for commercials.  Always keep at least 5 of them with you at all times.


I also thought it best to widen the spectrum and reach out to some more casting directors in town and find out what their biggest pet peeves were. I spoke with Emmy Young, Susan Cunningham, Missy Rose and Vanessa Neimeyer.  After a round table discussion of sorts, here is the group discussion.

Ladies, what are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to headshots?

EMMY: Too glamourous looking. ALSO…It is a big no-no to send in a headshot and then show up looking nothing like it.

SUSAN: White backgrounds- I really don’t like white backgrounds because it throws off the white balance and therefore skin tone and I agree with Em- a headshot that is too made up, etc is not a true representation of the actor.  I prefer shots in natural light but that’s just a personal preference.

MISSY: Yes, no severe touch ups… We want to see what you actually look like and I can spot altering/photoshop a mile away. If you want to take a pimple off or something, fine, but I want to see your true skin color and overall true complexion.

MISSY: As far as backgrounds go, I don’t mind white backgrounds as long as it is done naturally and correctly… Like David Pascua does white backdrops sometimes but he also knows how. As for the other, I agree with Susan, there is a difference of what you are selling when applying for model/print work vs acting… Mostly we are looking for an honest, true image of who you are.   But if we are looking for a “hot waitress” etc… It actually helps to send in an image that fits the part. In general, it depends on what you are applying for… But if you are sending in that kind of shot, always send a headshot, too.

VANESSA: I don’t like when headshots aren’t a good representation of the actor. Meaning the shots are too old or the actor now has red hair and the shot had blond or they had a beard and now the actor doesn’t.  I also personally prefer color to black and white photos that way the Director and the Casting Directors know what you will look like behind a film camera lens. Good lighting is always the key to great headshots!! I love outside and natural lighting. For me the subject pops off the photo.

A good example of a great headshot?  The ladies agreed that Emmy Young’s is perfect (pictured above).

Susan said, “This  is a good example of what I would look for in a good headshot.  For speaking roles for film, TV, etc and Em’s headshot works great for theater too.  It is a true representation of who Emmy is.”

Missy agreed.  “It’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen. It captures her features and emotion, it’s exactly what people are aiming for in their own photo session.”

There ya have it. I hope this was helpful. Got any other questions or comments?  Submit them below.


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  2. I went to a Jackie Burch Workshop and she reviewed all the headshots. The ones she didn’t like ended on the floor and the ones she liked ended up on the wall. It was so helpful. Another thing not really mentioned here is that they like straight on shots. In other words, the body and face are straight on like the headshot above. Your not sideways leaning against a wall with your head turned. Don’t cock that neck either.

  3. Good article Sheila and your choices regarding your panel were interesting. However, although I respect Belinda’s work was disappointed you failed to meantion other talented photographers here in Wilmington like Patricia Roseman, Anthony Reynolds and others. Still, excellent advice from one of the most respected Casting Directors in our indusrty, Jackie Burch, along with the “experienced” members of your casting panel.

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