A question I get asked a lot is “should my headshots be horizontal or vertical?” Flipping through portfolios you’ll see that some photographers clearly favor one over the other. Peter Hurley, for example, almost exclusively shoots horizontal shots, while Theo and Juliet have a tendency to favor vertical headshots. There are many schools of thought on this.
Horizontal headshots allow you to fill more of the page in a printed headshot, but it’s important to note that the printed copy of your headshot has become secondary to the file that your agent uses to submit you for projects online. If you’ve ever sorted submissions in Breakdown Services (the primary way casting directors receive submissions from agents and managers) or even Actors Access then you know that casting directors are sifting through page after page of thumbnails. I was recently talking about the horizontal/vertical debate with a commercial agent who told me he requires his clients to have vertical headshots because they “pop” more when people are scanning through thumbnails in breakdown services . Take a look at the smaller thumbnails below:
In my opinion, there are advantages to both vertical and horizontal headshots. Vertical headshots may “pop” more in a gallery of thumbnails, but it isn’t as though horizontal headshots are invisible, and they may in fact “pop” more when the submission is actually opened. Keep in mind that the agent I mentioned before was a commercial agent– in most commercial castings your headshot is the sole deciding factor of wether or not you get called in for an audition (or your submission even gets opened!) You’re essentially trying to get picked out of a lineup. With theatrical auditions, your headshot is important, but your resume (or your agent’s pedigree) could have as much or more to do with you landing that audition than your thumbnail in a lineup.
All that being said, since people have such adamant opinions on the subject I make sure to capture every look, setup and expression that I can both vertically and horizontally. The client should leave the shoot with as many options as possible, so that they get their money’s worth. Some agents and managers are notorious for demanding new headshots of their clients, even if their look hasn’t changed dramatically– you could save yourself a lot of time and money by thinking ahead before you get your headshots taken and making sure you pack a wide variety of looks and styles into your first shoot so you’ll have options to go back and pull from.