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New York Headshots – Inside or Out?

I once knew an actor whose agent asked him to get new headshots in the middle of winter. With pilot season approaching, the agent wanted to make sure his actor had fresh new head shots that looked up to date, and weren’t the same shots he’d been sending out for the past year.

The only problem? The actor chose to shoot with a photographer who only shoots outdoors.

62 degrees today, 40 degrees with snow tomorrow. Not my idea of headshot weather.
62 degrees today, 40 degrees with snow tomorrow. Not my idea of headshot weather.

On an average day, shooting outdoor headshots isn’t necessarily a problem–but on this particular day, the temperature was hovering just a bit above freezing. And the photographer still shot the photos!

In every shot, my actor friend had a red, red nose and cheeks, watery eyes, and looked at the least, mildly uncomfortable. Yes, some of those things can be addressed in retouching– but not the comfort factor.

I’m not averse to shooting outdoors–I will sometimes shoot a head shot session outside, but only for the right reasons.

When to Shoot Outdoor Headshots?

In LA or other moderate climes, it can make a lot of sense to shoot outside–fresh air, bright light, etc. In New York, shooting outside can be a major gamble. On a perfect day, when everything goes right, outdoor shots in New York can look great (especially if they’re shot by a very capable photographer with a lot of experience in outdoor head shot photography). But on an imperfect day–or just your average day–shooting outside can result in unusable headshots (requiring a reshoot), or mediocre headshots (usable, but not great) all because of circumstances completely out of your control.

So when should an actor shoot outdoor headshots in New York?

  • You are only at home outside (being indoors is some kind of major downer for you)
  • You are pitching yourself as an outdoor type (think athletes, climbers, runners, golfers)
  • You are shooting shots for a particular role or project (not many actors will have this need)
  • You have an agent that insists on outdoor headshot photography (this could definitely happen)
  • You have a friend who has offered to shoot you for free (this is how most photographers get started)

If you fall into one of the above categories, then shooting outdoor headshots would fall in line with your goals. I’m not sure how you go about doing that reliably in New York in the middle of winter, but planning ahead (and expecting to reschedule a lot) might make it a possibility.

Why Should I Shoot My Head Shot Indoors?

Shooting your head shot indoors has a number of benefits over shooting an outdoor head shot:

  • Control over lighting conditions (even when shooting natural light indoors)
  • Control over hair and makeup (for women, wind and the elements can wreak havoc on an outdoor shoot)
  • Comfort during the shoot (ever tried to smile convincingly in 100 degree heat or 30 degree chill?)
  • Protection of images (shooting outdoors involves risk–water or clumsy transport can ruin digital equipment)
  • Ease of clothing changes (no need to strip in public)
  • Less necessary retouching (no red or runny nose, etc)
  • Privacy from prying eyes (for women especially, nearby strangers can make your shoot uncomfortable)

Despite all of the benefits of shooting inside, there are still actors who will disagree and pine for outdoor headshots. If this is you, then by all means shoot outdoors–if you aren’t excited about your headshot session, it will show in your photos. But keep in mind that actor headshots are intended to advance your career and your business–and since the average headshot is used for about two years, leaving it up to chance (and weather) is a decision that could impact your career for a long time.


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