What’s the Difference Between Actor, Model & Business Headshots?

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Model Photography, Photography Tips, Portrait Photography

What's the Difference Between Actor, Model & Business Headshots? | Backdrop Express Photography Blog Headshots are a staple of portrait and studio photography, but not all are created equal. Clients from different industries and walks of life can come to a photographer in search of a new set of headshots every so often; however, depending upon their industry and aspirations, the mood, setting and style will be very different — at least, it should be, if the photographer is aware of key considerations and tips to keep in mind.

Sometimes clients aren’t exactly sure what they want or need. Many require assistance with their wardrobe, hair and makeup choices as well as posing and facial expressions. Photography background selection, lighting setup, composition and technique will influence the shot as well. It is the photographer’s responsibility to take the reins and guide the shoot to a successful result. However, the foundation of a successful headshot is rooted in the intent for its use. Is it a corporate or business headshot, or is it for a model or actor? Is the actor aiming for a commercial market or movie roles? Here are some basic tips for getting great results for the primary types of headshots:

Models and Actor Headshots

Models and actors tend to be the group most associated with needing headshots. However, there are differences between the two, as well as within commercial and theatrical types. The photographer should have a clear idea about the markets in which the actor or model is looking to work. If they are aiming for multiple specific markets, it is advisable to create a different headshot for each. The photographer should also consider the look and type of the subject; are they an all-American athletic type? Glam? Multi-racial? Blue collar? High fashion? The market or niche desired should be conveyed within the shot.

Commercial Headshots

Commercial headshots should have as broad an appeal as possible while also taking into consideration the subject’s niche. The shot should appeal to the potential roles and jobs within that market. An attractive but not overdone model flashing a bright smile, a sparkle in the eyes and wearing a brightly-colored top in front of a subdued backdrop will likely be able to sell commercial items that range from health insurance to mouthwash. Other models and actors with more specific “looks” might consider playing up their niche; a balding, middle aged actor looking to play “the trustworthy mechanic” or “the reliable carpet installer” in commercial media might dress in a denim shirt and pose against a dark blue or gray backdrop.

What's the Difference Between Actor, Model & Business Headshots?| Backdrop Express Blog

Theatrical Headshots

Film, television, and theater roles call for theatrical style headshots. These should depict and define the qualities and characteristics the actor or model naturally projects. Is the actor going for lead roles, the trustworthy best friend, the edgy bad boy, or an order parental type? Consider appropriate lighting and backdrops in each case. Musicians, comedians and performance artists should all receive different treatment in their headshots. A bright colored backdrop might be appropriate here. Unlike the commercial headshot, theatrical headshots should convey nuances that help the actor to land the role. There should be a versatility and widespread appeal that still falls within the spectrum of the roles they wish to play.

What's the Difference Between Actor, Model & Business Headshots?| Backdrop Express Blog

Business and Corporate Headshots

Business and corporate headshots are a different animal altogether. These subjects are not interested in the creative arts as much as they want to inspire trust, confidence and relatability in the viewer. Whether the subject is a small business owner, a real estate agent or a CEO, they should look like a trusted authority. However, the business itself should also be taken into consideration; the owner of an energy healing arts practice would be photographed differently than an insurance agent.

What's the Difference Between Actor, Model & Business Headshots?| Backdrop Express Blog Corporate and business headshots help to provide a “face to the name” so that clients feel familiar with them even before meeting in person. These photos are used on business cards, websites, print ads, quarterly reports and more. Business and corporate portraits usually benefit from the use of a neutral, solid photo background to convey professional appeal. Slightly mottled muslins can work very well, too. The client should be in business attire and a have clean, polished look, understated makeup and hair, and use their most genuine, natural smile. Lighting shouldn’t be too dramatic. The overall effect should serve to convey the desired business brand and reputation.

For successful headshots, make sure you and the client get onto the same page about the desired result early on. From there, lighting, backdrops, poses, technique, wardrobe, hair and makeup should all come together to help them land the gigs and clients of their dreams.

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in reading more head shot photography tips? Check out 10 Tips for Perfect Headshots!

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Comments (1)

  • Yannick von G


    This is actually quite good advice. Even though it is obvious, sometimes it’s good to be reminded about the basics.


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