What’s a good rule of thumb for getting new headshots?

This question appeared on a singer’s discussion board recently. GREAT QUESTION!

Short answer is: “when it doesn’t look like you any more”.  You must be recognizable when you walk into the room – those who are making the casting decisions (in all branches of the performing arts) HATE when the person they called in to audition looks nothing like the person in the photo attached to the resume!   Above and beyond getting new shots simply because of the march of time, this means:

  • If you have a significant change of hairstyle
    if you go from waist-length hair to a pixie cut (or vice versa!), or have a significant color-change, it’s time.   If you change your hairstyle a lot, consider doing multiple sessions across several months with different looks so you’re covered for a couple of years.
  • If you gain/lose significant amounts of weight
    most people are fine +/- a size or two, but more than that – or if it particularly shows in your face – you need a new headshot.
  • If you have had any kind of surgery (or injury) which noticeably alters your appearance
    The person who walks in must look like the person in the image
  • If your headshot isn’t current
    If your headshot is more than 1-2 years old (actor) or 4-5 years old (singer), you likely need a new one. If it’s more than 7-10 years old (or still in black and white), you DEFINITELY need a new one! Kidding aside, even if it’s still a good likeness trends in fashion and photography do change, and if your shot is noticeably out of date it can subtly impact how those who are doing the casting perceive you (and usually not in a good way).
  • If your fach or “type” has significantly changed
    While a headshot should never be specifically costumed, subtle hints of the kinds of roles you sing or characters you play through styling and expression can be appropriate and helpful to those who are casting. A soubrette may want to show she can be perky; a dramatic soprano to show some gravitas. Similarly, a Macbeth needs a different vibe than somebody looking for boy-next-door roles on TV.  Hair and wardrobe styling are part of this, but it’s also about expression. Think about what you want to project as well as the essence of who you are – both personally and as a performer – and what you want to look like.
  • If you don’t have a range of shots, it may be time to add some new looks!
    Singers and actors should have a range of shots which they can match to the opportunity being sought, or just the way the photo is being used. For actors, this may mean commercial/theatrical/bodyshot all with a range of looks and expressions; this can also cover various hairstyles if you’re somebody who changes up your look a lot, or beard/no beard for the guys. For singers, this may mean a more casual look as well as formal-styled diva; a lot of singers like to have different shots for opera, concert, and website needs. It’s very rare that a single shot covers everything, and in this digital age there’s no reason it should have to!

In the section below are some then-and-now shots colleagues have share, as well as some from my own archive. In some cases, the difference is simply keeping up with the years. In others, there’s a definite difference in vibe that has changed their look or shifted what they want to project in their images.

Do YOU have old and new shots, or contrasting looks, to compare? Share and leave a comment below! 

The shot on the left was taken only about 18 months before the one on the right, but this singer had made a big change in look and career focus.
kunzcomp(photo credit: divatography)

Great pair of shots showing a young singer growing into herself

Jenny Dyer comp(photo credits: Devon Cass; Shawn Flint Blair)

Same guy,  similar suit, even similar lighting, but  very different vibe and expression.
JJ Comp

(Photo credits: Melissa Sweazy; Kristin Mulligan)

Although these are older shots the singer no longer uses, they perfectly demonstrate how you can need an updated shot to reflect a new vibe and look just a couple of years later. These were shot about three years apart.
(photo credits: Nancy Hall; Willow Vanderbosch)


Here’s a young singer with a foot in both the operatic and theater worlds; even though these are from the same session, he needed two very different looks.

(photo credit: divatography)

The exception that proves the rule: talk about somebody who knows herself and what she wants to project! These three shots are all taken years apart, yet despite the changes in styling and hair colour, there is a clear consistency of expression and intention.
SEY comp(photocredits: Unknown; Richard Blinkoff; James Alexander)


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