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Lights up on…you! Your path to success—your hero’s journey—is just getting started, and it’s about to be a wild one.

But whether you’re an experienced or new actor, the difference between getting your dream role or being another face in the crowd might be whether or not you decided to brush up on your acting headshot and resume.

Given the industry’s competitive and fast-evolving nature, how you present yourself in these documents can make or break your career. Below, we’ll unpack everything you need to know to create killer headshots and acting resumes to help you land the auditions of your dreams.

The Power of Headshots

A headshot is a professional photo actors submit to casting directors and agents to promote themselves. They aim to showcase an actor’s appearance and what makes them unique.

A headshot is oftentimes what gets your foot through the door, so the value of an effective headshot can’t be overstated.

Why Actors Need Headshots

When a casting director or agent selects talent for a particular project, they’re looking for specific traits and appearances.

A headshot is a sign that you take your acting career seriously. Taking the time and money to invest in a strong headshot demonstrates forethought and self-advocacy, which is crucial to making it in the business.

Likewise, a headshot helps actors showcase the elements of themselves they view as most relevant; maybe they’ve got a killer smile or kind eyes, or perhaps their icy stare makes them the perfect fit for a particular role.

Industry Standards for Headshots

Just any old photo of yourself won’t do for a professional headshot. Industry leaders expect high-quality and polished photos; if yours doesn’t fit the bill, it’ll end up in the “rejects” pile.

Never try to stage or edit headshots to look different or change who you are to fit a certain role—casting directors can tell, and they don’t want to see it. They want to see authenticity and a strong commitment to self.

Regarding formatting and editing your photo, there are a few things to keep in mind. Note that if you work with a professional to get headshots, most of the following considerations will likely be taken care of for you:

  • A vertical layout
  • Suitable for printing on 8″ x 10″ paper; should be shot with a high-resolution camera so the image appears sharp
  • No props and limited jewelry
  • Full-color printing, not black and white
  • A basic, solid background or a heavily blurred real-life background that doesn’t distract from the main image
  • Waist-up or chest-up framing

Also crucial is ensuring your headshot is recent and represents your current appearance. Its overall goal is to capture your “type,” or the kinds of roles directors should place you in. Embrace your natural qualities and find ways to highlight them as you prepare for your headshots.

Acting Headshots Tips and Examples

When it comes time to take your headshots, take full advantage of your resources. The following tips will help you make the best of your photography session.

  • Find the best lighting. Some actors prefer studio lights, and others lean toward natural light. Either choice is fine. Natural lighting tends to make things look very “real” and lifelike, but studio lights give a more polished look. The best choice comes down to the type of role you’re after. For example, casting calls for commercial or reality TV programs may be more ideal contexts for studio lights.
  • Choose expressions carefully. Make sure you look directly into the camera and use your eyes to communicate. Lively, focused eyes tend to communicate life and emotion, but glazed-over or nervous eyes can ruin even the most professional shot.
  • Select an appropriate outfit. Choose a simple and clean outfit that stands out from your background. A plain white or black T-shirt is a great option. Stay away from clothing with patterns, logos, or other distractions.
  • Show what makes you unique. Lean on the traits that make you stand out. If you have a gorgeous smile or kind, soulful eyes, make sure you show it.
  • Keep it simple. This applies to clothing, makeup, props, etc. The less you pile on in a headshot, the better. You want to look like your best self, but not because you’ve loaded on accessories.

To illustrate how these considerations look in action, let’s look at some examples of great, and not-so-great headshots.

Example #1: Strong, Professional Headshot

Asian actor smiling in front of a grey background. Photo credit: Joseph Gonzalez / Unsplash

Why it works: The headshot is well lit and contains no distractions to draw attention away from the model’s face. The model gives a slight, warm smile that lights up the eyes, but doesn’t significantly alter his face. He wears a simple white top that helps him pop from the darker background.

Perks: Good lighting, simple appearance, high-quality and professional

A red-headed actress in a green shirt in front of a green wall. Photo credit: Meg Wagener / Unsplash

Example #2: Weaker, Amateur Headshot

Why it doesn’t work: There is clearly a filter over the image that impacts the lighting and colors. The model’s top matches the background and blends together. While the colors certainly pop, they draw attention from her face. The overall look is more editorial than professional.

Mistakes: Editing creates uncertainty about true appearance, shirt blends with background, bored expression

Pros and Cons of Professional Headshots

While many actors seek professional support to get their headshots, hiring a pro isn’t always necessary. If it’s within your means, it’s probably easier to take this route; however, if finances or other obstacles limit you, you might find that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.


  • Quality. A professional can deliver the best quality images using top-notch photography, editing and printing equipment.
  • Consistency. An experienced pro will have a method established for taking headshots, which makes it simple to take multiple shots in different styles or poses.
  • Professionalism. It’s easy to spot the difference between a professional headshot and a DIY headshot. Casting directors tend to prefer actors who commit to their craft by investing in professional photos.
  • Artistry. A photographer can help you maximize your headshots’ effects by staging and photographing your best traits in unique ways.


  • Cost. Depending on your location and photographer rates, it can cost several hundred, or $1,000–$2,000 or more for a headshot session. It may even cost extra to print physical copies of your headshots.
  • Accessibility. Not all areas grant access to professional photographers, and those that do may have fierce competition that limits opportunities to book.

DIY Headshots: Can You Take Your Own?

If you need or want to, you can certainly take headshots on your own. However, it’s important to do so with care and caution. It’s easy to make mistakes if you aren’t an experienced professional, and you’ll need to ensure your final product is as polished as possible.

Always use a high-resolution camera to take headshots rather than your mobile phone. You may be able to rent photography equipment from a local library. It also helps to consider investing in a tripod to help keep your camera stable.

Choose areas with good lighting and set up a “stage” for your photos to help them stay consistent from shot to shot. And, above all else, take a good look at your photos as you go and adjust anything that looks wonky.

Crafting a Winning Resume

Once you’ve mastered the headshot, you can move on to your resume. Just like any other field, acting requires a good resume. But how you prepare one can look slightly different than what you might experience in other industries.

Do Actors Need Resumes?

Actors absolutely need resumes to convey their experiences and skills. A resume helps casting directors make informed decisions about roles by providing vital information about an actor’s capabilities (beyond looking the part).

What to Include on an Acting Resume

Critical elements of any acting resume include the following details:

  • Personal information: full name, contact information, etc.
  • Experience
  • Training
  • Special skills or certifications

Most resumes should be a maximum of a single page unless you have decades of experience in the field. That means every word you include must count.

It’s generally best to list your experience and training near the top of your resume—perhaps side by side. Your personal information should always come first, followed by the experiences and skills you view as most important.

Use bullet points under each qualification to quickly spell out its biggest points: what did you do in the role, and what did you learn? Opt for quality over quantity here; if you can’t fit all your experiences, choose the most recent and relevant options that demonstrate your current talent.

Also, make sure to note any specific training or certifications you’ve received. These might cover skills like dancing, singing, particular acting styles, instrument performance and more.

Common Pitfalls: What Not to Put on an Acting Resume

Common mistakes like these often hold acting resumes back from their true potential:

Information Overload: Research suggests that the average recruiter screens and decides whether to continue reading a resume within 7.4 seconds. If you can’t give them something interesting in that time, they’ll move right past your resume. Likewise, if you give them too much to process, they’re unlikely to stick around for more.

Too General: Having different headshots and versions of your resume for different gigs is important. You shouldn’t try to land a commercial audition using the same photos and resume you would to play a hardened war veteran.

Irrelevance: Your resume is your chance to clearly communicate why you fit the bill, not to generally showcase your talent. Don’t waste space with experiences or skills that don’t add up to a successful audition. Keep it concise, readable, and, above all else, professional.

Standing Out: Making an Acting Resume Unique

There are many ways you can help your resume stand out, from bold color or design choices to demonstrations of unique skills.

Consider creating a “special skills” section near the end, or off to the side, to list bonus details. If you have a large following on social media, for example, that could be relevant to include.

If you’re using design to stand out, consider colors that help your appearance pop or fit the “brand” you want to sell. Remember to keep most of your resume white or to use earth tones so that it doesn’t become overwhelming to look at or read.

Should You Put Your Headshot on Your Acting Resume?

Putting your headshot in or on your acting resume is standard practice. Many actors attach copies of their resumes—whether digitally or in-person—to the back of their headshots for easy navigation. Others may submit their documents as separate files or merge the two together under one file type.

No matter what, it’s a good idea to include your headshot and resume in the same document or file. Attaching a name to your resume makes it simple for directors to quickly find and compare you to others, thus boosting your chance of leaving an impact.

Like a cover letter, a headshot serves as the introduction to the rest of your resume, and combining the two documents offers casting directors all the information they need in one place. The less work a casting director needs to do to view your information, the better.

How to Combine Your Headshot and Resume Effectively

Save Files as PDFs. PDFs are the golden standard when it comes to accessibility. Anyone can open a PDF and view it as intended without changes to format or size.

Combine Properly. If you’re combining printed materials, either staple or carefully glue your documents together. You may need to trim your resume to fit the size of your headshot. Avoid using tape, which may damage your photos or look unprofessional.

Key Takeaways

While there’s much to consider when creating an acting headshot and resume, you now have the know-how to get the job done right. Below are some of the most important points discussed above:

  • Successful actors need quality headshots and resumes to compete with others in the industry and stand out.
  • The best actor headshots are taken in good lighting with high-resolution cameras and professional staging.
  • Attaching a resume to your headshot makes it easy for casting directors to view all of your information at once.
  • What’s most important is that your resume and headshot are genuine representations of you—your skills, appearance and special features should be clear and honest.

Investing in your acting career is always worthwhile. So is doing what you can to connect with casting directors and other industry experts.

Casting Frontier makes it easy to find talent or professionals who match what you’re looking for so you can put your resume and headshot to the test. Use your resume and headshot to reach out today by creating a free, basic account or upgrade to Premium or Premium Plus membership for unlimited headshots and role submissions.

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