Theatrical vs Commercial Headshot: Similarity & Difference

Theatrical vs Commercial Headshot

What are the theatrical and commercial headshots' similarities and differences? I will clear it for you. An actor needs to take both theatrical and commercial headshots for their portfolio but the poses, lighting, and wardrobe selection will be different.

For example, you need to wear a mute or dark-colored dress for theatrical headshots, while, light and high-saturated colors are the best choices for commercial headshots. See the difference? There’s more. So, continue reading our theatrical vs commercial headshot article and learn the similarities, and dissimilarities, and where to use them to take fantastic headshots.

The Similarities Between Commercial and Theatre Headshots

Before we talk about distinguishing between commercial headshots and theater headshots, let’s see some similarities between both kinds of headshot examples.

1. Look directly at the camera: For both commercial and theatre headshots, you need to look directly at the camera like you are talking to your viewer one-on-one. Be confident and show passion for your acting career with your eyes.

2. Head to Chest: Like other headshots, the image covers from head to chest area. So, your expression and posture need to be appropriate according to the headshot category like a serious pose for a theatre headshot and a fun and relaxed pose for a commercial headshot.

3. Plain Wardrobe Selection: regardless of mute or saturated color clothes, both theatre headshot and commercial headshot dress need to be “simple”. By simple, I mean, it can not be designed with crazy patterns like animal or flowery prints or anything that may distract the audience from your face, eyes, and expression.

4. The Blurry Background: For both theatre and commercial headshots, the background needs to be blurry so that the subject can stay in focus. Like, if there’s a vase behind the subject or paint, it can not be clear or it will distract the viewer.

5. No Shadow: The images can not have any distracting shadows, only the full face should be seen clearly. So, if the lighting has cast shadows on or around the subject, you need to post-process the image and edit the shadows.

6. Studio Lighting: Both commercial and theatrical headshots are taken in studio lighting using different backgrounds. For example, theatre headshots are taken in dark backgrounds while commercial headshots are taken in bright as well as light backgrounds.

7. Simple Jewelry: You can wear simple accessories that complement your dress and face. However, nothing fancy because it may distract the audience if it stands out too much.

Theatrical vs Commercial Headshot: Photography Differences

While you can not distinguish theater headshots and commercial headshots from similarities, the simple yet important differences truly set them apart. I will explain them separately so that your headshot photography becomes easier.

Theatrical Headshot

As the name suggests, theatrical headshots are dramatic and used for casting on TV shows, plays, and films. So, the images need to portray your personality and emotions.

Serious Look

By serious look, I mean a look that kills. Just kidding! For theatrical shots, you can not smile in your images and need to show your personality in depth. A good example is Heath Ledger's headshots. If you see his theatrical headshots, they are serious, and somber yet showcase his personality like he is ready to nail any TV character.

Mute Clothing

You need to choose low-saturated colors like dark green, dark gray, brown, or dark blue. Also, the background needs to be dark colored that compliment your dress.

Emotion in the Eyes

A theatre headshot is all about showcasing emotion. You need to show your personality through your eyes and the viewer should be able to understand the passion and emotion you are portraying. Your eyes need to be clean, clear, and focused like piercing through your casting directors at first glance.

Theatrical Headshot

Commercial Headshot

Commercial acting headshots are taken for the advertising industry. Thus, the images need to be happy, bright, and smiling to build trust and sell the products. So, commercial shots are very much different from theatrical shots. Let’s see how.

Smiling with Teeth or Mid-laugh

For commercial headshots, you need to smile brightly with your teeth or mid-laugh to show your happy & confident expressions. The more natural your smile looks the better it will impress casting directors because if your expressions do not look trustworthy and natural, it will not convince any viewer.

Smiling Eyes

Your eyes need to smile as well as your mouth. Often people smile but their eyes do not smile. It looks fake. So, your whole posture needs to give a happy vibe containing a smiling face and eyes. And trust me, eye expressions are the best way to convince a person.

Showcase Your Natural Personality

Try different poses for commercial headshots. However, keep your eyes on the camera and ensure your natural personality is being portrayed in the image. Why? Because you aim to convince the audience. So, if your headshot looks like acting, the viewers will not be convinced let alone casting directors.

Vibrant Dress & Background

Unlike theatrical headshots, commercial headshots' clothing needs to have a color that pops like green, blue, purple, yellow, and so on. The dresses need to give a joyful vibe.

Also, the background needs to compliment your dresses and not look distracting. For example, do not wear a white dress for a white background. If you have a white background you can wear a green or light pink top. Or you can choose a background matching your lipstick or hair color.

Do some experiments with dress and background beforehand. It will help you understand which combination will highlight your headshot, and compliment your skin tone during the headshot session.

Commercial Headshot

What are the Purposes of Theatrical vs Commercial Headshots

One thing you need to understand is the purpose behind the headshots then the concept of commercial vs theatre headshot will be clearer and your images will turn out even better.

The purpose of “Theatrical Headshots” is theatre, film, independent films, TV, serials, short films, feature films, documentaries, and so on. This is why these headshots need to look more serious and focused and your eyes and face need to show dramatic expressions to prove you can pull off any type of role in TV.

The main purpose of “Commercial Headshots” is lifestyle advertisements and commercials that are run to convince the audience about the products you are selling. For example, a family in an aquarium or park or selling a car commercial. This is why the expression, dress, and overall image need to look happy and vibrant.

Importance of Retouching in Headshot Photography

While photographing headshots is challenging, retouching images is just as important because no photo comes out perfect. Here are the final touches you need to provide:

  • Fix the lighting and white balance. Due to exposure triangle and incorrect white balance, the lighting may become yellowy, or have different colors in places. You need to fix it and provide its natural color.
  • Remove eye bags, pimples, wrinkles, and smooth skin naturally. However, make the skin retouching realistic so that when you get called, the image and the person do not look different.
  • Retouch stray and flying hairs. You need to retouch every stray hair and flying hair that may reduce the image quality.
  • For commercial headshots, you need to whiten the teeth.
  • Sharpen the eyes. The eyes play a key role in both commercial and theatrical headshots. Thus, you need to ensure the eyes are looking clear and beautiful.
  • Reshape your face and put on makeup if needed. If you think a little face reshaping and makeup will enhance your beauty, retouch it. However, ensure the image looks realistic to impress casting directors.
  • Zoom out and see your final retouched image. If you think, the image looks stunning and flawless, save it and put it in your portfolio.

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Wrapping Up

Distinguishing theatrical vs commercial headshots is a bit tricky as actors use both. However, you need to understand the differences to accurately take the headshots and apply them in the right places. So, take both theatrical headshots and commercial headshots for your acting industry and make the best of them. For now, adieu!


Can I take a profile shot for a headshot?
Profile shots or side shots are not considered headshots. Your full face needs to be seen from the front.
Can I take both commercial and theatrical headshots from one headshot photographer?
Of course. Many headshot photographers take theatrical and commercial headshots. Search in Google or ask people around and check the photographer's portfolio. If the photography and review are good, consult with them.
How to choose lighting for the theatre and commercial headshots?
Theatre headshot lighting should be placed at about 45° angle to capture the shadow of the face and create a dramatic effect. However, the shadow can not be distracting. On the other hand, you need to use flat lighting for commercial headshots.
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