Coleman PhotoGraphix
(917) 447-8056 [email protected] 330 West 38th Street, #1204
Vintage camera on a desk

Should NYC Actors Take Their Own Headshots?

  /  Do It Yourself   /  Should NYC Actors Take Their Own Headshots?

Should NYC Actors Take Their Own Headshots?

As a professional NYC headshot photographer, I like to pay attention to how actors find my website (through Google searches, from other sites like Reproductions, Facebook, etc.) . Recently, I saw a visitor (presumably an actor or actress) who reached my site through a search that I thought I could address:

  • “how to take professional headshots yourself”

What You Will Need to Take Your Own Headshot

On the surface, this seems like it could be a good idea– I’m a New York actor, in need of a new headshot, and I’m looking to save a few dollars. So, why not figure out how to take my own professional headshots?

First, you’re going to need equipment. In the headshot studio where I shoot, that includes:

  • Camera (Nikon D700)
  • Lenses (70-200mm f2.8 zoom)
  • Tripod (Manfrotto 804RC2)
  • Bounce boards (6ft x 4ft foam core)
  • Light stands (12ft extensions)
  • Flashes (Nikon SB-900)
  • Wireless flash controllers (Pocket Wizard)
  • CF cards (memory for the camera)
  • Computer (Mac running Photoshop CS4)
  • Monitor (capable of hi-resolution, color-accurate output)
  • Color calibration hardware (Spyder2 Pro)
  • …and various other secondary devices

Second, if you’re an actress, you’re going to need a makeup artist. I only use makeup artists who work in the industry, as either strictly photography and actor headshot based makeup artists, or who work in entertainment (Broadway, Television, Film, etc).

Third, you will need a place to shoot. Since I shoot natural light headshots, that means a studio space with large windows (eight-foot window banks are great, but smaller windows will work if your camera can shoot in low-light). You can always shoot outside, but I already have an opinion on why outdoor headshots are not necessarily the best idea.

Fourth, you will need experience. This requirement is actually the most important.

Why Equipment Doesn’t Make a Great Headshot

There is definitely a difference between a consumer-grade camera like a Sony or Canon point and shoot and a Nikon Pro level DSLR, but the thing that makes a photographer a professional is not his or her gear–it’s the experience and knowledge he or she has accumulated, and how that knowledge is applied. Gear only comes into play once all other things are equal (that’s a subject for another post).

When an actor submits a headshot for an audition, or to find an agent, that headshot will be sitting next to headshots taken by some of the best headshot photographers in New York, LA, and even the world. In order for your headshot to be considered, in order for your shot to stay out of the trashcan, it must be just as high quality, and just as stunning as the headshots next to it.

Assuming you can afford to go out and buy the necessary equipment to take your own headshots (and even the least expensive options are going to quickly add up to thousands of dollars), you still will not have the most important, most valuable asset necessary for taking a professional NYC headshot–a history of producing quality photos for actors.

Not to be discouraging!

If you are interested in photography, already own the equipment, or just think the experience might be fun, you should absolutely take your own headshot. This is actually quite a good way to learn what your good angles are, how to relax in front of the camera, how your smile looks to others, etc. But don’t plan on using the results for professional purposes.

Are You Looking for Cheap Headshots?

When I have talked to other actors about taking their own headshots, it usually isn’t because they want to learn how to shoot headshots, or because they are interested in photography– it’s because they are looking to save money. It’s a simple fact that headshots–especially high-quality, stunning headshots–can be expensive. But most photographers (including me) have packages designed for budget-conscious actors, beginners, and students. Most of our services are geared towards working professionals, but most actors do not become pro’s overnight, and we are sensitive to those needs. One of the things I talk about when picking a headshot photographer is that you shouldn’t make your decision based on cost. If you love a particular photographer’s work, open a dialogue about what you can afford and what you can’t– you might be surprised to find some flexibility on pricing, or packages.


  • James
    July 18, 2009

    I suggest you rename this article to “How to scare actors into thinking that headshot photography is a specialized field that needs to be done by ‘professionals”. Even lighting, shallow depth of field, and a 10 minute photoshop touchup are not hard to explain. This is why I shoot headshots for my working actor friends for free. Guys like you are greedy @$$holes that spread disinformation. Nice DIY category, can I expect any updates soon?

  • Nick Coleman
    July 20, 2009

    Hi James,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog… I appreciate your attempt to stick up for actors (and the money they spend on their careers), but I think you might be missing some valuable information on why headshot photography is a specialized field, done by professionals, and why actors should get their headshots done by a pro.

    In fact, I wrote an entire post dedicated to the subject–so thank you for helping me put this misconception to rest.

    As far as the do it yourself articles, you reached my site searching for “taking headshots”, so I’m assuming you’re looking for more guidance on the nitty-gritty details. And while this sort of contradicts what you say in your comment, yes, I will be posting more of that kind of info–aimed at people outside of New York, LA, and other major acting centers… where it’s appropriate for an actor to have a friend shoot his or her shots.

  • Dan
    July 22, 2009

    I have to agree with James that while some is useful (list of equipment) having the title as ‘How to take professional headshots – yourself’ and then not actually give ant real information over is a bit insipid.

  • Nick Coleman
    July 24, 2009

    Hi Dan,

    This particular post wasn’t intended to be a “how to” post, but a response to a search term that kept pinging my website (I thought I made that clear in the first paragraph of the entry).

    I do intend to post some “how to” articles in the future, so check back from time to time. Being located in London, you have an entirely different set of current trends in headshots though, so take everything here with a grain of salt (it may not apply to London). This site is aimed at New York headshots, and to some degree, LA and other major US markets.

  • Ryan
    August 5, 2009

    Yeah you should rename this article…where is the how? This seemed more like a rant about some sort of frustration you had. I was looking forward to learning how to take professional headshots. You should take the time write something positive and helpful if you have this knowledge and experience. Or just rename the title something clever and appropriate to the content.

  • Nick Coleman
    August 6, 2009

    Hi Ryan,

    The first paragraph of this post ends with: “Recently, I saw a visitor (presumably an actor or actress) who reached my site through a search that I thought I could address.” The introduction of the post doesn’t claim to offer nuts and bolts info on where to put a camera, what settings to use, framing, or anything else. And it’s no frustration to me that actors search for this, and I’m certainly not ranting… just providing good advice.

    As you may have noticed in my previous comment, this blog post isn’t aimed at artists or photographers wanting advice on how to shoot headshots for others–it’s aimed at New York actors who are considering taking their own headshot for professional use in the New York market. Which is a very, very bad idea. Don’t take my word for it! Take the word of the many casting directors and agents who have spoken about this in books, blogs, industry magazines, newspapers, etc.

    As I said in the final paragraph of this post, most actors are only interested in taking their own headshots for money reasons… and this post is, yes, designed to get the attention of the actor intending to do just that, and encourage them to evaluate why they are taking their own headshot. Because if you do take your own headshots, you are heavily damaging your own career as an actor in NYC.

    My primary purpose in being a NYC headshot photographer is helping actors book work. And when I write blog posts, it’s with the intention of providing solid advice to New York actors. And the most solid advice on the topic “Taking My Own Headshot” is: Don’t take your own headshot–especially if you are an actor in New York City.

    I’m sorry if that’s not the advice you were looking for, but again, this post is aimed at helping NYC actors–not artists or photographers. And any advice suggesting that a New York actor can or should take his or her own headshot is just irresponsible.

    If you are looking for hands on photography advice for your own photo business, I would suggest looking into as a good starting point. The other option is the track I took–apprenticing with a headshot photographer in your area. In Louisiana, I would recommend

    I do intend to post some nuts and bolts how-to advice (along the lines of what I posted recently for Taking a Twitter Headshot in 10 Steps). If you’re interested in finding out when those posts go live, you can follow me on Twitter.

    But fair warning–my tweets aren’t about photography as much as they are about the business of acting. A good actor headshot photographer is equal parts photographer and marketing manager.

    Good luck in your photography career, and if you have specific questions, you’re welcome to ask actor headshot questions on Twitter!

  • Rosalind
    December 2, 2009

    The title for this post is misleading. You made it seem like you were going to give a tutorial, but all you did was itemize an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink equipment list, before trying to discourage readers from using the equipment to take their own photos. Very lame, dude.

  • Nick Coleman
    December 2, 2009

    Hi Rosalind,

    Thanks for visiting my site… and I’m guessing you reached it by trying to find out how to take your own headshot.


    So why write about it at all? Because many actors don’t know they shouldn’t. In the long run, it will only hurt your career.

  • Fuerie
    January 26, 2010

    I find your inability to acknowledge your intentional mislead to be the most jarring element of this post. What you done here is essentially lure actors to your site to frighten them with high end equipment and branding, manfrotto, CS4? Let’s be realistic here, almost anyone can take a decent photo if they invest in gear that can essentially do it without you . Then you present yourself as a viable alternative. It’s called advertising so let’s not pretend that you’re trying to be helpful in anyway. Your indepth and patronising responses are cleverly designed to portray you in the best light as someone concerned and informed as well as someone who takes the time to update and respond to issues raised in their forum. But you’re not, you’re just selling yourself and your business. Own up. It will make you appear to be less of a prat.

  • Nick Coleman
    January 28, 2010

    Hi Fuerie,

    I always approve comments like this because I certainly felt the same way when I first started out as an actor. And also as a photographer! Expensive equipment means nothing. It’s all the person using it. I can take a great headshot with a cheap camera and zero equipment, and an actor with no knowledge of how to take great headshots will take a horrible headshot using amazing equipment.

    I encourage every actor who visits my site to interview with multiple photographers… because rapport is also incredibly important to the process. Feel free to ask casting directors and agents this question, and see what response you get. I’m not hoping to frighten actors into hiring me… I’m hoping to jar actors into actually doing something *helpful* for their careers instead of wasting valuable time, resources, and emotional baggage.

    Anyone who hopes to compete against the multitude of talented actors in New York or LA needs a professional headshot, taken by a professional photographer. End of story. It doesn’t have to be me! But it does need to be a pro… otherwise your headshot will not open doors, and you will not get called in to audition for paying jobs.

    By the way, this post is not a featured article on my site, nor is it promoted in any way… so no… it isn’t advertising. The posts on the front page? Those definitely are!

  • Tyler
    April 14, 2010

    There’s no denying there will always be a place for professional photographers like Nick. He offers a valuable service, and I think this post is an attempt to explain his skill set.

    HOWEVER, I also believe that almost anyone has the ability to take their own headshots if they can learn a few basic techniques. I’m an LA-based photographer who’s taken headshots for years, and I’ve developed an online program specifically designed for actors, musicians, and other performers who need quality headshots but currently can’t afford to hire someone of Nick’s stature and experience.

    If you can afford to hire a professional, by all means it’s the way to go. But I wanted everyone to have the option of getting great headshots, no matter their budget. And I think many people Googling this post are looking specifically for this information.

  • Nick Coleman
    April 16, 2010

    Oh boy… this comment thread is getting a little out of control!

    I edited the above comment to remove a link–a link pointing to a site charging people for information on how to “shoot your own headshots”. The site has no information on *who* is providing the info! No address, no name, nothing, and it uses a phone number registered to a voice mail company. If anything screams buyer beware more loudly that that, I don’t know that I’ve seen it.

    Look… I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Professional Actors, especially in LA or NYC, should NOT take their own headshots. It will hurt your career.

    If you live somewhere else, and/or you want to take your own headshot for non-professional purposes–go for it!

    But please, actors, do NOT pay for the info on how to do it! There’s no need! If you are in a market where professional photos are not the norm, or are not needed, then you do not need to pay for the info. And if you *are* in a market where professional shots are needed, then no amount of information is going to make up for the expertise and *personal attention to you* that a professional headshot photographer can provide.

    Any advice to the contrary is just bad advice.

    But don’t take it from me!

    Check out the advice from respected casting director Duncan Stewart:

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.