Lighting, Lighting, Lighting is the Key to Good Acting Headshots

I recently had conversations with two different casting directors about what type of headshots help get you or your child paid acting jobs. One casts a studio sitcom (situation comedy), the other does some films and a lot of TV commercials. I asked them each about headshots and got most of the same preferences as outlined in the advice in my previous articles.

(Whew, would not my face be red if they totally disagreed with what I've already told you.)

The one item they differed on was lighting. They both agreed that a properly lit photo is as important, even more important than some of the other guidelines I've given you. Where they differ is in the type of lighting. The Sitcom CD prefers studio lighting – which gives a better idea of ​​skin tone, eye color and general appearance on screen. The Commercial / Film CD prefers natural lighting.

However, they both agreed that while they have a preference, the MOST important thing about lighting is that it is good, clear and colorless. Here are the tips I gleaned from those conversations and my own experience.

Headshot Lighting Tips:

1) Make sure the entire face is lit – no shadows, or dramatic effects. Use a reflector to even out existing light.

2) Too much light is as bad at too little. Overly bright washes out skin tone and eyes.

3) Make sure the eyes are lit – a well-lit shot generally has some light reflection.

4) Use indirect light –
a) squinting into a bright light distorts the face.
b) heavy backlight turns the face dark.
c) for outdoor shots, try shooting under a tree or slightly shady side of the building or shoot an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset.

5) Do not use color lighting
a) "regular" household bulbs give off a color – this is often a yellow tone giving a jaundiced tone to the skin.
b) fluorescent lighting can be too bright or too blue giving the washed out vampire look (yes I know vampire shows and films are currently all the rage, but not what is needed for the other 90% of films, commercials and TV shows being cast .)
c) Color bulbs distort skin tone and eye color – that pretty green tint may be great for the cast photo for "Wicked", but not for a headshot.

6) If you think the lighting is good, but are not 100% sure, move the subject and the camera to try different angles of light to get it right.