How to properly crop actor headshots and why

One of my jobs as a photographer is to capture the most compelling and interesting photos I can. Casting directors for television, film and theater have specific tastes when it comes to actor headshots. For them, one of the most important aspects of an actors headshot is just how compelling it is. They want to feel they can make a connection with you. This goes beyond the physical attributes of the person they may potentially cast. Casting directors sift through hundreds of headshots a day. A good first impression is vital to the success of your headshot and if they aren’t drawn to you in a compelling way with in seconds then chances are your going to be skipped over. 

The crop if your headshot is part of this communication. It needs to have a way of drawing a casting director in so that they want to get to know more about you. I often see headshots that, in my opinion are cropped in a way that does not effectively do this. When it comes to acting headshots I believe (and so should you) and trust in the Rule of Thirds. If you’ve never heard of this rule it’s the science based idea that the human eye is drawn in, and captivated intuitively to certain parts of an image. By dividing an image into thirds you get four intersections. It is at or near these four main intersections that the human eye can be first drawn to if there is a compelling aspect of an image in it. With that in mind the best way to crop the image is to put my subject at or near one of these intersections. For headshots it’s typically one of the upper two intersections or the upper third portion. It’s not just any part of my subject though. It needs to be the most compelling part, the part that will make a viewer feel that connection,… the eyes or brow line. We connect with people on an intimate personal level through our eyes. Whether it’s one eye, both eyes or the center of your brow line if it’s properly placed within your headshot then according to science the odds are that will be the first thing a viewer will be drawn to. In the screenshot below you will see this Rule of Thirds in play. 

As viewers we are automatically lured into her eyes. Notice how her far eye in place directly at the intersection but her near eye is at the center of the upper third. 

Another very important aspect of the headshot crop is how tight it’s cropped. The example image above is the ideal cropping for an acting headshot. It’s typical for a actor headshot to have a portion of the top of the head cropped off.  (Note:This is NOT a good idea when shooting executive or corporate headshots) It’s also typical to have it cropped to mid chest or three quarters. Why ? Because again, it all helps draw the viewer into the eyes. There are no  distractions. Your measurements and physical attributes should be outlined in your bio. A casting director doesn’t always need to see your hips, your bulging bi-cepts or your trendy jeans. Again, they want to make a connection. Remember,  first impressions! 

Now, with all that said. Because, I know there are some of you cringing in disagreement. Rules are made to be broken. What I just spoke about is ideal, perfect, the quintessential headshot that should be used as your main headshot when sending to casting directors. It also should be how your first headshot should look. For those who already have a main headshot, those who want to have different looks or want to create a comp card then it is ok to ditch this rule and have three quarter length or even full body images. As long as you use at least one main headshot pic in your collection. A poor comp card or portfolio is one that has three or four images with the same cropping and just different clothes. If you book me for a three look session then it would ideally consist of images with different cropping. I will always, always recommend the tightly cropped image as one of your images though. In fact, I will most likely take it upon myself to produce this as your main acting headshot.  It’s the one “money” image that will hold someone attention. 

Happy Headshots……. : ) Frank

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