Headshot Photography

Commercial vs Theatrical Headshots – 6 Key Differences

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Written By Nate Torres

You’re an aspiring actor or actress, ready to take the entertainment industry by storm.

You’ve polished your skills, honed your craft, and now it’s time to showcase your talent to casting directors and agents.

But before you embark on this journey, there’s an important decision to make: What type of headshot should you choose?

In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing world of headshots, specifically the distinction between commercial and theatrical headshots, to help you understand their nuances and make an informed choice that will captivate industry professionals.

So, let’s dive in and unravel the secrets behind these two headshot styles!

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

6 Differences Between Commercial and Theatrical Headshots

These 6 differences are what is usually seen, but not hard-set differences.

1. Setting

Commercial headshots tend to be taken in a studio setting, while theatrical headshots are usually shot on location or outside the studio environment.

2. Emotion and Expression

Commercial headshots include neutral expressions or smiles with a slight squint, theatrical headshots show range of emotions.

theatrical headshot

3. Purpose

A commercial headshots’ purpose is for commercial, marketing, and resume purposes. Therefore, a neutral expression or a slight smile with a squint is often preferred.

In contrast, theatrical headshots should include a variety of looks to show range or detail specific features of your appearance.

4. Crop

Commercial headshots are (usually) taken from a straight-on angle, directly at head level and theatrical headshots are taken from shoulder up.

theatrical vs commercial headshot crop (1)
commercial vs theatrical headshot crop

5. Details and Range

Commercial headshots are sleek and simple, typically with close-up shots of the face. Theatre headshots on the other hand should include a variety of looks and specific details (hair and makeup included) to show range.

6. Distance

Commercial headshots are typically taken close to the face, while theatre headshots can be taken from any distance.

However, it is not recommended to include shots that are too far away because they may make the actor/actress appear unrecognizable.

To further explore the differences between the two, we also recommend this video by NGM Modeling:

Acting Headshot Tips | Commercial Vs. Theatrical Acting Headshots

What is a Commercial Headshot?

A commercial headshot is a portrait of an actor or model for use in marketing and commercial purposes such as TV commercials, magazines, and billboards.

It’s different from an actor headshot that is used for actors to find gigs.

The most important aspects of commercial headshots include:

  • Anticipating the light source and angling yourself to create shadows that define facial features and carve out cheekbones, etc.
  • Using your hands to create symmetry in the frame, drawing attention to your eyes and face.
  • Maintaining a neutral facial expression or a smile (often a smile with teeth), with a slight squint in the eyes.
commercial headshot example

What is a Theatrical Headshot?

A theatrical headshot showcases an actor’s range of emotions with close-up shots of their face. It includes a close-up portrait and an action shot, which allows the director to see the actor’s ability to transform for a role.

It should include:

  • A variety of looks that showcase range or show a specific detail of the actor/actress’ appearance (ex., piercing eyes, sharp jaw, full lips, etc.)
  • A headshot that is one color and an action shot in black and white (or another color).
actor headshot example
theatrical headshot example

How Can I Get Both Types of Photographs?

If you’re looking to get both a commercial and theatrical shoot while trying to maximize your cost or time efficiency:

You will want to book a professional photographer. The cost of this shoot (as a minimum) will be around $100-400, depending on the photographer and experience level.

When Should I Get Each One?

You usually get both taken at the same time so you can have both with you depending on the role you are going for.

When To Get a Commercial Headshot

You want to schedule your commercial shoot around the time you’re starting to do more auditions and meetings with agents and managers.

This typically happens when actors start booking commercials and print ads, but it varies from person to person.

When to Get a Theatrical Headshot

You want to schedule your theatrical headshot shoot around the time you’re doing more auditions as well.

Final Remarks

We hope you enjoyed this guide on commercial vs theatrical headshots.

This guide is also a part of our Headshot Photography Hub, so be sure to check that out for further headshot photography tips and insights.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between theatrical and commercial photo?

Theatrical headshots are typically more dramatic and intense, capturing the essence of a character or conveying a specific mood for roles in film, television, or theater. Commercial headshots, on the other hand, have a more approachable and friendly appeal, focusing on versatility and suitability for advertising and commercial campaigns.

What are the different types of theatrical headshots?

There are several types of theatrical headshots that cater to different acting genres and roles. These include dramatic headshots for intense or serious characters, comedic headshots for comedic or lighthearted roles, character headshots showcasing specific character types or period looks, and action headshots for roles that involve physicality or stunts.