“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Ansel Adams offers consolation as I try to figure out what guidance we could possibly give about headshots. In preparation, my colleague and I surfed through all of the photos that have been submitted to date (about 420), trying to get some sense of current trends and articulate some caveats that we could share. It was surprisingly difficult to draw global conclusions, for the range of acceptable shots was quite wide. We share these observations – take them or leave them, as you wish. (Most of the good stuff is Rahree’s. This is not an area in which I have any expertise – the fact that I have opinions about this at all is scary…)

Highly Subjective Random Headshot Advice

Your headshot should bear some resemblance to what you actually look like. Simple. We’re not always as well put-together in person as we are in our headshots, but you shouldn’t make yourself over so completely that we don’t recognize you at all.

Makeup should accentuate, not overpower. The first impression should not be all about the makeup.

Solid color tops, no patterns. Or very gentle ones. They overwhelm facial features so easily.

Here’s a weird one: It’s actually somewhat useful to have your facial expression telegraph something about your Fach – in a general sense. I find it reassuring to know that the soubrette looking out at me from the computer screen can radiate energy in her headshot. Or that the dramatic soprano or bass-baritone can throw out some intensity. But not too much intensity… see next…

A level of “pleasantness” (yeah, I know, that’s probably not a legit word, but I can’t come up with anything better) is appreciated. If when asked to write a caption for your headshot, the first things that occur to me are unprintable, this is a problem. And truly, a few photos look like they would spit nails if they could. Angry, pissy, people. Some look as if they were caught in the split second after they smelled something really bad. You don’t have to show all your teeth or look as if you’re ready to start a clown act, but it’s helpful if you look like someone of whom I shouldn’t be afraid.

Technical photographic things:

  • Shoot for sufficient contrast to reveal your facial features. You don’t want to look like you’ve had some unfortunate plastic surgery.
  • Shadows shouldn’t obscure your features.
  • No need to do extensive artsy post-production. I’m not sure that sepia or an extreme soft focus gradient is helpful.

We want to hire you, not be seduced by you. Yes, your headshot can be too sexy.

Completely subjective on our part, but photos shot looking into the camera seem more communicative. I guess aloof has its place, but as a default headshot, I get far less of a feeling for you than I do when I can see your eyes.

Environmental settings and extra context are great, but be sure that you – and not the gak around you – are the primary focus of the shot.

Above all, please try not to radiate craziness. When you have a satellite headshot taken to use in the Playbill when you sing Elettra, you can trot it out. But for a general audition, it just makes me scared.

The quality of the headshots we see these days is exponentially better than it was just five years ago. There are two sides to this scenario, though.

The good news is that due to digitals formats and the availability of good equipment, even dedicated amateurs are doing some fabulous work. And it costs far less to get yourself a good shot – easily down into the mid-3-figures, where it used to be well over $1,000 just to start.

The tough thing is that the bar is being raised for everyone. I used to see an unfortunate shot and shake my head, suspecting that the aspiring singer probably simply didn’t have the money to get a decent one. Now that’s not necessarily the case. It’s still not terribly cheap, but it’s within most people’s reach. And you tend to be judged a bit more harshly if your shot isn’t competitive.


Since my own most recent headshot session was not a rousing success due to the 30 extra pounds that have crept back on my frame, I am forcing the entire fall fulltime staff of the WTOC (well, that’s Rahree and me…) to take the October Eat.Sweat.Blog challenge. 20 days of workouts, 10 Feats of Healthy Eating, and opportunity to whine about it online! (Not here, of course.) Looking for a kick start for a healthier you? Join us. We’ll be the ones on the audition tour with stinky luggage reeking of gym clothes.

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