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What is the Perfect Headshot Size for an Actor or Actress?

October 31, 2016 0 Comments

When I first got started in the acting industry I was told that in order to get work I first needed a great headshot. I knew what a mug shot and yearbook photo looked like, but a headshot, I was clueless.

I asked my friend how I go about getting a head shot taken and what size does it need to be?

He gave me the name of a photographer and information about the size needed that surprised me.

He told me that the headshot always needs to be 8X10, but I was curious as to why that specific size.  It wasn’t until after my photo shoot that I understood why 8X10 was considered the industry standard.

I know the Size, but Why THAT size?

Many people don’t know that the acting industry didn’t set the standard for headshots being 8×10.

It was actually the photographic paper industry that set the standards. People in the acting industry knew that it was easier to get actors to cut their resumes down to 8×10 then to get the photographic paper industry to change their format.

Don’t Make This Mistake During Your Headshot Session

When I arrived at the photographer’s studio for my first headshot, I asked him what I should do during the photo shoot. He told me to smile, show some different expressions.

I was very lucky. With all of the horrible and goofy photos taken during that session, there was one picture that was salvageable. That one picture started getting me acting work.

This headshot has a quirky look, and was one of the few shots that I could salvage from one of my first sessions

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It took me many headshot sessions to figure out exactly how actors need to prepare and practice before their photo session.

Through years of trial and error, I have learned the insider secrets for creating the perfect headshot along with how and why they are used.

Why is this information so crucial to your career? Without a powerful and effective headshot, it is nearly impossible to get an agent or acting work.

The information I have learned as a full-time actor for over 30 years, has gotten me auditions and bookings for shows like House of Cards, Gotham, The Wire, Halt and Catch Fire, and over 1,200 other acting and commercial modeling jobs.

As you continue reading, I will share my headshot insider secrets with you.

Why are headshots so important?

Quite often, the only way casting directors decide on who gets to audition is by them looking at headshots. Many agents want actors who are searching for representation to upload their headshot on their website.

Effective photos will get you noticed. Bad headshots will prevent you from auditioning, getting an agent and acting jobs.

When I market myself and get work on my own, I send a hard copy of my head shot/resume to many industry professionals.

One of the groups who will receive my headshot are the art and creative directors at advertising agencies. Sometimes they decide who gets cast in TV commercials, radio spots and even commercial modeling ads.

To find advertising agencies in your area, you can The American Association of Advertising Agencies to see if there are ad agencies near you.

And you can contact your local Chamber of Commerce to see if there are listings of ad agencies in your area.

The Best Way to Get Your Head Shot Made Into the Perfect Size

After I have my headshot session, decide which photo to use, then I need to find a printer that specializes in reproducing photos into an 8X10 format.

Before hiring a printer, I always visit their web site. I want to see what styles, costs and options they offer.

To make sure the photos I see on the printer’s web site really look and feel great, I always ask to have a few sample headshots sent to me in the mail. Here are a few well known printers that do this type of work.

It does not matter where the printers are located. I have had my head shots printed from many cities throughout the United States. You can simply upload your photo, chose the design and quantity that you want and they will ship the head shots to you.

I want to take you back to (Cave Man times) – the mid-1980’s when I was first started in the acting industry. This information will give you a better idea of how things use to work and how the industry works now.

Years ago all my agents needed between 25-40 head shots for their office in order to physically mail pictures to clients. I would have to print thousands of copies in order to make sure each agent always had enough headshots.

Since agents only submit head shots electronically now, I only order a few hundred at a time.

Still, it is essential for all actors and actresses to have hard copies of their head shot so they can be brought to every audition and left with the casting director (if requested).

If you are marketing yourself to other industry professionals, I learned that most people will not open up an unsolicited attachment in an e-mail, so it is always best to send a hard copy hard copy of your head shot.

What type of paper should your headshot be printed on

When you are deciding on the type of paper you want your headshot printed on, you have a few options.

Having a headshot printed on photographic paper will look great and also cost more. Another option, is to have the photo printed on a medium to heavy weight paper stock (165 gsm or heavier).

What I do is split the printing orders. I will have some headshots printed on photographic paper and use those headshots when auditioning for a big project.

In addition, I will save some money, and have my headshot printed on high quality paper. I use those photos for “regular” auditions.

Gloss or no Gloss

Throughout the years I have seen headshot styles change, but in today’s time, I would highly recommend that actors use a matte finish as opposed to a glossy finish.

The glossy finish can leave finger prints and scratch marks on the photo more easily than a matte finish.

This headshot has a matt finish

Aaron R Marcus

Does it Matter if its Black and White or Color?

Years ago, all actors and actresses used Black and White photos. The reason was mostly due to the cost. In the past, printing photos in color was a very expensive process.

With all of the technology changes that have taken place, printing in color is very reasonable today. In the United States almost all head shots are printed in color. In the United Kingdom, many actors use Black and White headshots.

This is true for many industry related questions that you have. It is always best to ask your agent what he or she prefers before getting your headshot printed.

You can see the difference between how a color and black and white headshot look.


If you don’t have representation yet, then find someone like me, who has been in the industry for a long time and can give you an honest, realistic and helpful answer.

Borders or No Borders

Some talent prefer the look of having a White border around the headshot with a name on the bottom. They think that the borders will frame your face. Others like the look of the photo without any border and have your image “bleed” off the page.

This is simply a decision you can make. There is no right or wrong answer or industry standard for this option. When you visit the printer’s web site, look at both options and then make your decision.

This old headshot has a border


Two Critical Mistakes New Actors Make that you need to know about

After my first few headshot sessions, I understood that I needed to learn how to prepare before another photo shoot.

I did not want to make the same mistakes that I and most people make during their photo session.

First I had to figure out how I was going to be cast. What types of characters would I realistically book?

Was I the nice friendly young dad or the scary looking head of a motorcycle gang type?  Then, I needed to learn how to get the right emotions and show them to the camera.

Wearing the proper wardrobe is also a major error that many actors make. Your clothing should be like nice wall paper. It should enhance your image, but you don’t want people looking at it.

If someone looks at your head shot and admires your jewelry, blouse or sweater that is a problem. That means that they are not looking at you.

So, to make sure you don’t make the errors that most actors make during a headshot photo shoot. Always show real expressions and emotions (and not just blank smiles).

And, make sure your wardrobe/jewelry does not take the attention away from your face.

This headshot has the feel of a doctor, lawyer, teacher, professor etc… Those of some of the character descriptions of the roles I am cast.


The wardrobe doesn’t stand out. It only helps create the image I want to project.  



A headshot is the most important tool actors and actresses need in order to have success in the industry. It will be incredibly difficult to book jobs and get an agent if you don’t have an effective headshot.

There are not many absolutes in the acting industry. One of them is having your headshot printed in an 8X10 size format.

Filed in: Acting, Blog

About the Author:

Aaron Marcus has been a full-time actor and commercial model for over 30 years.

His new book, How to Become a Successful Actor and Model is an Amazon Best Seller.

Aaron has given his seminar: “Book the Job” over 600 times spanning 3 continents.

He also offers online workshops.

Aaron saves 5 days each month to give private on-line coaching sessions.

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