by Andi Whiskey September 17, 2023 5 min read

As an actor, it's important to have a stacked portfolio of quality photography to use to expand your career. Good photos can be used as your headshots to get your foot in the door with a casting director, or to grow your social media presence. They're also good to have as a portfolio on your own web site that you can send to casting directors and potential agents.

So Where Do You Start With Building Your Acting Photo Portfolio? 

You'll want to supplement your acting reels with photos for your acting portfolio, showing off a mix of stills and videos of you doing your thing.

According to Backstage, "An acting portfolio combines [your resume] with photos and videos to create a 360-degree view of your potential."

Why Do You Need Photos for Your Acting Portfolio?

It's an easy way to show your versatility beyond just what you have in your reel, so far. And it takes your web site up a level in professionalism, showing you're invested in your career. 

Great and eye-catching acting photos are key to a professional-looking website.

You also need to feed the social media beast to get your acting career off the ground, so a catalog of photos to post will help with that.

So where do you start with building your photo portfolio?

Actor dressed as school principal

1. Start With an Acting Goal  

You likely already have an idea of what types of roles you'll be best in. If not, make sure to at least have a few ideas for where to start here. 

Get outfits that match those roles that you'd like to try for, and bring those to a portrait shoot. For example, we've done photos of an actor whose manager wanted him to go for roles as a school principal or teacher, so he brought an outfit that looked like a school principal.

2. Don't Skimp on Your Headshots, Quality matters

Headshots are portraits that focus solely on your face, with no distractions. They are so important for your Acting Portfolio, because they're your first impression with casting directors.

This means it's important to hire a professional who knows what they're doing when it comes to acting headshots and portraits. They'll be able to create high quality looks to help catch the casting directors' attention.

Women Acting Portraits

3. Find a Pro Photographer With Experience in Actor Headshots & Portraits

So now you know why good photos are important. That means picking the right photographer is crucial. 

When you're searching for a photographer, don't pick just anyone with a camera. Make sure they have extensive experience with actor headshots

4. Practice Poses and Facial Expressions Before Your Photo Shoot

Actor making strong facial expressions in photo shoot

You're an actor, so make sure to do your homework and practice your poses and facial expressions. Still photography is a bit different from film, so you'll have to think a bit harder about how to convey all of the emotion into one frozen expression.

We also have another article on some photography poses for your modeling portraits. You can reference that for some basic portrait poses to practice. We recommend finding a full-length mirror and practicing some poses in the mirror. Maybe even set your phone up and record yourself hitting some poses. It'll help you notice some of the nuances of how to hold your body in poses.

Some quick tips:
Notice if your eyes get wide when you smile for the camera or not. Some people's eyes do look a little wide and crazy when they fake a smile. If so, don't be afraid to give your eyes a slight squint when you pose for the camera.

Notice if you have a naturally defined jaw line or if you need some natural help defining it. If you feel like it could be more defined, then practice having a nice tall forehead and sticking your chin out and down slightly when posing. This will help define your jawline more.

5. Prepare For Your Acting Portraits Shoot in Advance

There are a handful of things you can do to prepare for your shoot. Make sure you have your hair and makeup figured out well in advance of your shoot. 

If your hair looks better a few days after a fresh cut, then plan accordingly and schedule a hair cut with a trusted hair stylist a few days before your shoot. And spend some time picking out a good 

Have everything in place weeks in advance of your shoot so that you can be relaxed and ready when the shoot comes around. The idea of being on that side of the camera can already get nerves going, so you want to make sure you have everything else already in place so you don't have to worry about it.

6. Cross Your T's, Dot Your I's

Make sure you have found a photographer that uses good, standard photography contracts and that your contract is signed in time for the shoot. It's important to make sure that all the paperwork is in place, so that you have the license to use the photos in your portfolio. 

Important: Even if you found a photographer to do the shoot for free, make sure there is a contract in place that says they will deliver photos to you and that has a clause in it that allows you license to use the photos in your acting portfolio. This protects you from a lot of headaches in the future. Contracts are there to protect all involved.

Also make sure that you have put the photo shoot into your calendar! Everyone hates a no-show. 

7. Choose a Wardrobe That Matches Your Acting Goals

Our Long Beach studio always does a wardrobe consult on the day of the shoot, if not before. You'll want to have some different options that you bring to the shoot in case some of them don't work for the photographer's lighting setup, or in case they have some expert tips for you for outfits that will photograph well for you. 

Some things we look for in our Wardrobe Consult for Actor Portraits and Headshots:

  1. Have a "neutral" outfit choice. That essentially is just a black t-shirt and jeans.
  2. Avoid anything with logos or patterns. These will distract from your face and your features. A lot of guys love their plaid buttons ups, but unless the colors are fairly muted, this is still a no-go for headshots. If it's for a character, then bring it and let the photographer decide.
  3. Avoid faded clothes or clothes with a lot of fabric pilling. 
  4. Pick a few outfits based on characters that you feel you're a good fit for. Make sure the outfit is fairly complete. You want it to be convincing, and your expression and pose is half the battle, the outfit is the other half.
  5. Pick out outfits that you feel great and confident in. 
  6. Have a few different outfits to choose from, so the photographer can guide you with your selection.

8. Rest and Hydrate

It sounds silly, but seriously. Drink your water. 

Photo shoots are physically taxing. And you want to show up looking rested, healthy, and ready to go.

9. Bring Your A Game

If you take all these tips for your first shoot seriously, you should be able to walk confidently into that shoot and knock it out.

You have something to show off, so let's make it happen. Confidence is key in acting. Believe in yourself and your abilities.

Stay positive and open to direction from the photographer. And keep that energy up. Don't forget, acting is hard work. So bring your game face and get it done. 

Los Angeles Area, Schedule With Our Long Beach Studio

If you're ready to knock out your first acting portraits for your portfolio, we can help! Book a consultation with us to see what shoot works best for your goals, and then we'll get it scheduled!

We shoot at our Long Beach studio, or we can potentially come to you. We serve Los Angeles and Orange County.

Andi Whiskey
Andi Whiskey

Serial entrepreneur and photographer. Stand up comedian after hours.