Standfirst: Terrified of the stills camera? Finding it hard to relax in your headshot shoots? Not sure how to use your performance skills in a photo session? ‘Well, Top Theatre Photographer’ (The Stage) and Surviving Actors sponsor Michael Wharley is on hand with to help you ‘act’ yourself for stills.

The Headshot Fear Factor

Most actors who walk into my studio for a shoot say one thing first: ‘I hate having my photo taken.’ But I believe the skills that make you a good actor on stage or screen are just as relevant in a headshot shoot, so these 9 simple tips aim to help you relax, pose naturally & communicate more effectively in your next stills shoot.

Watch the ‘How to Pose forActors Headshots’ video with practical demos on my YouTube Channel: you can watch my video ‘How to Pose for Actors Headshots’

1: You’re not doing it wrong.

There isn’t one way to act & there isn’t one way to pose for headshots. Different photographers will work to get a response from you in very different ways, whether it’s chatting and snapping, having you hold precise and strange-seeming positions, or talking you through you relationship with your first pet(!). These are simply different tactics to help you relax and express yourself, so be open to where they take you and trust your well-trained acting instincts.

2: Stay Loose

Everyone’s face and body tenses up at the start of a session, so make sure you warm up your body and wake up your face, just as you would to go on stage. During the shoot it can be easy to settle into a thought or expression. Remember to breathe deeply and take every opportunity to ‘reset’ your body and face.

3: Posture

Bad posture interferes with both vocal projection and status on stage or screen. No matter what the pose or thought you are working with for stills, a shot rarely looks better because of rounded shoulders or a head sunk onto the shoulders. Practice sitting or standing naturally in your Alexander Technique or yoga poses.

4: Make an Offer

If you stand inert on stage, or do zero on film, there’s little for a castmate, audience or viewer to respond to: do nothing for the stills camera and you’ll get detached shots that are equally boring to view.  Offer the camera energy, connection, and subtle variations of thought, feeling and intention. Try to find the truth in each thought and a way to make it feel active on the inside, even though it is you and not a character, you’re ‘playing’.

5: Learn to Love Your Face

You wouldn’t expect to pull off a killer performance without rehearsing, so treat headshots the same way. The more you know your face and its range of expression – inside out, back to front – the more you’ll be able to bring control and subtle communication of feeling to your shoot. Practice in a mirror!

6: Know Where to Look

It’s simple: the ‘audience’ you want to connect with is the casting director or employer looking at your photos. If you look right, smack, bang down the middle of the lens, to the back of the camera, and ‘send’ your thoughts there too, you have a much better chance of getting striking, impactful photos, that feel connected, present and alive to the viewer.

7: Communicate with Your Eyes

Think of a headshot shoot as acting in a register for screen, rather than for stage. It’s about subtlety and nuance; small changes of thought and feeling that lead to tiny changes in expression.

8: Using Your Review Time

Most actors are brilliant at taking notes from a director in rehearsals. You make an offer, get a note, change it up. So, (assuming you work with a photographer who allows review of the shots), make the most of every  every opportunity to look at the images between setups. It’ll let you see how your ‘performance’ is reading on camera, and help shape the rest of the shoot.

  1. Trust Your Photographer

You can prepare and practice ahead of a session, but the photographer will be the outside eye during your shoot, so do listen if he/she gently suggests your go-to selfie pout isn’t reading well in a headshot!


Hope those help and for my practical advice, you can watch my video ‘How to Pose for Actors Headshots’
Find Michael




Twitter: @MichaelWharley