Back in the days of film, getting a headshot was a major ordeal. It involved going to a photographer, surrounded by lights, running through the paces of faces, and then waiting for the proof sheets. Proof sheets were 8×10 prints with a couple dozen images on it that you had to look at with a magnifying glass to try and find just the right look. You’d use a grease pencil to circle and crop the best one and then wait for the photographer to get it reproduced. If you were lucky, the entire process would only take a week. Most of the time, it was longer. And it was almost always black and white because the processes were easy for a photographer to do it all in studio.
Digital photography improved the process. Color slowly worked its way into being the norm, but the methods were still very much the same. You’d get back dozens (sometimes hundreds if you got a photographer new to the scene) of potential headshots and you’d have to go through them all – one by one – looking for that best shot. You’d end up with all of these digital files on a CD – and there they would stay because you were too overwhelmed by the process of narrowing down your selections.
Finally, the methods have caught up with the technology. Instant feedback means that not only can you pick out the best image with your photographer (or agent) right away, but you spend a lot less time in front of the camera – making it less expensive for both you and the photographer. When it comes to headshots, you really only need that one good image – and once selected, it is retouched and formatted for 8×10 complete with border and your name. This saves you even more time and money since the printer no longer has to make these modifications. If your budget is tight, you can print one at a time as you need them or you can save money in the long run by printing quantities – it has become your choice.
Now another change is happening. Actors are expected not only to have their normal, smiling, “commercial” headshot – they are finding better call numbers by having a handful of “character” headshots available. Digital makes this affordable and more actors are doing it every day. If you think about it from a casting director’s position – when you are casting an edgy role, what will get your attention faster – a smiling, well lit headshot or a moody headshot? Remember – a casting director spends less than a second on each headshot when going through submissions. In order to get that first audition you have to get in the “maybe” stack.