Should I smile in my headshot?
Are you a smiley person? Do you like to smile? Do you like your teeth? These are just a few of the things to think about when you ask the question should I smile in my headshot?
Starting at the beginning I don’t think it’s essential to have a smile to make a great actors headshot. Think of the types of character you are likely to be cast as and does your face/look suit the roles you are applying for? Are those the kind of roles where you be expected to smile a lot i.e. the nice girl next door or perhaps a genial Doctor for instance. If you understand your ‘casting’ then you should be aware of those points and also understand whether or not you need a headshot with a smile.
There is of course another thing to consider, the difference between a commercial headshot and a theatrical headshot. One is used mainly to promote and sell things and the other is used mainly to represent the characteristics of an actor. Normally the commercial headshot has a smile and a light feel to the photograph. Essentially that’s what sells you as far as getting yourself commercial work regardless of the character and idea behind the commercial itself.
Often your headshots are going up against the headshots of models in commercial castings so there is a little more leeway in how the shot is framed or cropped. On the other hand a theatrical headshot has to conform a little more to the norm of a 10×8. Even though great actors headshots can be warm, light and friendly Casting Directors and Agents are looking for ‘substance’ in a headshot, they want to see an actor rather than a smiley face.
There are those among us who like to smile, who love their smile and can’t wait to flash their brilliant white teeth, then there are most of the rest of us, those who are a little self-conscious about their smile and some who really don’t like to smile at all. We have that little “Green Devil’ on our shoulders whispering self doubts in our ears such as, “my teeth are awful” or “my face wrinkles too much” or any number of other things we allow it to come up with. As a headshot photographer in London I see all of these types of actor come through my studio on a regular basis and spend quite a bit of time encouraging actors to get past these self imposed negativities, to relax and enjoy the fact that they can smile comfortably in their headshot. As much of this is about being comfortable with your photographer and feeling as though you can express yourself.
Trying to ‘force a smile’ doesn’t work at all. For a smile to look natural it needs to be from the heart, the actor needs to feel as though they are smiling, it’s impossible to hold a natural small as the face needs to be moving and fluid to look real. It also needs the back up of the eyes. If the eyes are not smiling too, then the smile looks flat and lifeless – just plain false. When on stage and performing it”s possible to hold a stage smile and look perfectly natural and at ease as the audience is some distance away. However as soon as the still camera has to capture that split second of a smile the same stage smile looks unnatural, this is why it is imperative that the smile comes from the heart and is genuine.