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What are the three elements of a great headshot?

What are the three elements of a great headshot?

Kathy Luu – Photographer/ actor extraordinaire lays down


What is the story you want us to see?

There is a mystique around what makes a great headshot. In this blog I’m going to break down the three main elements I believe makes a great headshot.

I’ve been shooting actors for over 10 years in Sydney, Melbourne, LA and NYC and during this time I have also been in the roles of cinematographer, director, actor, designer, casting, production design and other creative arms.

My work requires me to feel a lot. I’m a professional feeler.

I’m also required to produce results. Thus I have to know how to create and deliver every time. I have to know how to take a great headshot and be able to do it every time – in any environment at any location since I shoot in natural lighting and travel……. a lot.

The final je ne sais quoi of a great headshot ultimately comes down to that moment of alignment between you, your photographer and the quarks in universe.

But truth be told,  you don’t need the greatest headshot in the world, you just need a headshot that is in the ballpark of great – one that will get you interest and in the room.

The relationship between you and your photographer is everything.

It is up to your photographer to understand your brief and deliver.

It is up to you to deliver a clear brief that translates easily for the viewer to understand.

This can be done by way of background, lighting, makeup and costume.

You provide the makeup and costume, and discuss your lighting and background (location) with your photographer.

Now let’s get down to it:

A great acting headshot has three main elements:


Yes, it’s that simple.




Clarity is something that has to be achieved at a base level for a headshot to be usable.
The photo is clear and lit, you are not disappearing into the background and clarity means it looks like you.

It is practical like your passport photo.

Have you ever seen a good passport photo? I seriously doubt it!

Why is it not very good? Great question! Besides the flash lighting and cheap digital camera usually used, it’s because there is no presence – you were an empty shell, and the person taking the photo at the store was also an empty shell worker who couldn’t wait for their lunch break.

But I’m going to share with you a useful headshot photo hack here.

If you are a new actor, who can’t afford headshots yet, but need some basic photos to start submitting for short films and TVCS – get someone who cares and loves you to take your photo. For they will be present, they will want to take your best photo and you will also be relaxed in their presence.

Just keep it simple – leaning or sitting against a white wall, indirectly lit by a window.
Have fun – there’ll definitely be one in there you can use… why?…. Because you’ll be full of…


Presence is the most beautiful thing to experience for both you and the photographer.
Presence is just that, you are present, you are connected, you are engaged, you are ready – it’s an aliveness.

Aliveness is a major element for engaging headshots. You can do this test by looking into their eyes in a headshot. There is also an aliveness in the body. Everything is alive.You are alive and secretly cannot wait to kick some ass and for the world to experience and see something that is really you.

I have never met an ordinary human. A person might be wearing the layers of the roles that society (and maybe themselves) have thrown on them for years (it’s pretty heavy sometimes) – but under all that, under all that, everytime there is a unique and rich soul that has so much inner life that wants to come out and play.

I see it in a person’s eyes everytime I shoot. We are all cups that are already full without even knowing it. So bring all this YOU to your headshots – you are already full of stories, life and presence, you just have to open the door for it. So take a very deep breath in, feel it, relax, trust and open that door to who you are.

You’ll be delighted as to who comes to meet you.


Mood is what makes your headshot a little bit different than all the rest. This is what triggers the imagination. It makes it more 3D and tangible and creates an impulse of wanting to touch the photo and feel it, or at times bite into the photo to see what it actually tastes like. It’s like a mist of intangible texture.

This is something of an artform that involves both you and the photographer.

For you the actor, what is the atmosphere you want to give off, what is the story you want us to feel? This is something you need to be clear about.

If you are doing character headshots the atmosphere should speak of that character – we should be able to see you in that specified world of Marvel, or Austen or Home and Away or Games of Thrones.


Allow the background to inform the character

CD’s need to see your energy and mood of the character, while your photographer needs to understand lighting, background, angle and help you enhance and capture this mood.

If you only have atmosphere and mood, what you have most of the time is an editorial style photo – a photo that feels amazing but the CD is left with…”who is this person?Nice photo but I can’t really see them in anything that I’m casting at the moment…are they even a professional actor or model?”

So if you choose to shoot in an editorial style (which is a current trend) make sure you also have clarity and presence, so there is a direction and story to your photos.

The last ingredient, which isn’t an ingredient, is to choose the right photographer for you.


Choose someone whose work you like and are excited about.

Don’t be lazy with this by choosing someone based on flashiness, popularity or price.Expensive does not always mean better, but neither does cheap.

You need to do your research.

You want to choose the photographer that is right for you. Go through all their photos so you know they are consistent and confident in their work.

Engage your sense of feeling and your intuition. How do their photos make you feel? Is that the photo you want to be in. There will be a pull towards the photographer that is right for you. And like all things that matters in life, if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no.

Now you have a basic guide and measure to check yours and friends headshots with, and most importantly to recognise and know what element might be missing.

Look and feel for clarity, presence and atmosphere/mood.
And above all, think about the story you want to be told.

I wish you all the very best with your headshots and career. Go forth and be you.