actor headshots: studio or location?

actor's headshot of black teen in washington dc

studio allows for better control of catchlights in the eyes

if you’re thinking of having some headshots for castings, you may have weighed the options: studio or on location. though it may not be critical, it’s sometimes worth asking which is better for increasing chances of getting an audition. the answer is not clear-cut. some photographers prefer shooting in studio because of the control that it gives. but there are no distinct differences in quality between natural light and artificial lighting.

when shooting on location, there may be issues with the trees, building, cars passing by and even gawkers in the backdrop. the picture should be very carefully framed to crop out any distracting elements. one advantage of the studio is you can choose a plain background so the focus is on your face. the white walls eliminate all color casts.

actor's headshot of a young man in blue jacket and dark background

in a studio, you can change backgrounds in a snap

if you have to choose on-location for your photo shoot, discuss it in advance with your photographer. select an area with a lot of dynamism, without objects getting in the way. a wall without too much texture, a blue sky may be your best option. or out of focus backdrop, as long as it’s not too colorful.

you need to be also mindful, when you shoot outdoors, everything is a reflector. in a wooded area the trees around you will cast a lot of green from the foliage. another issue when shooting headshots outside is the sun. when it’s too bright it’s very hard for people not to squint. one technique is for the subject to close their eyes and open only when the photographer is ready to press the shutter release. it’s also important to look wide awake and let your eyes smile.

actor's headshot of a young man in the street

on location, objects in the background can be distracting

unlike a portrait which is purely for personal use, actors headshots are photos that will be viewed and judged by an agent or a casting director. one important thing is the ability to express something through the eyes. when you take photos in the shade, the eyes may become dull and lifeless. being able to show the color of your eyes is very important.

without any direct source of lighting, it may be hard for the eyes to show catch lights. being able to use a reflector to bounce back light on to the face can solve that issue. If you’re not sure, ask to see some pictures taken in natural light or go to the photographer’s website. the most important factor when shooting on location of course, nature has got to cooperate. if you have very little leeway in changing the date and time, it’s good to check the weather forecast.

actor's headshot of a black man sitting on the lawn

some backgrounds compete with the subject in brightness

the best times for taking portraits of people is when the sun is not too high. that’s about 2 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset. you should avoid cloudy days and of course, when it’s raining. the light may be pleasing to the eye but it has limited contrast and may affect the quality of the images. so the final word is that it depends on what you’re more comfortable with. also the weather and your photographer’s ability to pull off some tricks to get you the right shots. cost may be involved too. some photographers will charge more whether you shoot in a studio or on location. make sure you ask all the right questions before making your decision.

additional resources:
the challenges and advantages of studio and natural lighting