Should an actor’s headshots be black and white or colour?

More and more these days, doubt seems to prevail as to whether an actor should have colour or black and white photographs taken. What is best these days for casting purposes, and what might the ‘state of play’ be in another five or 10 years’ time?

Black and white: the long-time norm

For many years, there would have been little discussion about the respective merits of actors’ headshots in black and white or colour. Black and white used to be the norm here in the UK, while colour headshots were favoured in the US.

There were obvious reasons for this. We were living in the pre-digital age as far as headshot photography was concerned, and even the book published by casting portal Spotlight included only black and white actor headshots.

Times have changed greatly since then. Almost all headshot photographers now shoot in digital, meaning they are able to choose between delivering their headshots in colour or black and white. It is now customary for headshots to be displayed online, and while the Spotlight book is still black and white, both colour and black and white are accepted on the Spotlight website.

So, what’s the most relevant solution today?

I would recommend that you assemble a portfolio consisting of both colour and black and white headshots. Bear in mind that if your chosen headshot photographer only shoots film, they will only be able to produce one or the other.

That’s why you may choose a single headshot photographer who can present you with a combination of black and white and colour images. This is likely to be someone who shoots in digital, capturing images in colour that are then converted to black and white on the computer in post-production.

As for the future...

When I consider the years immediately ahead, I find it hard to envisage any scenario other than everyone working in full colour. Black may already seem old-fashioned to some, which is a shame – after all, it’s usually much more flattering than colour.

In the meantime, I and other photographers like me will continue to produce actors’ headshots in both colour and black and white. Both ‘options’ undoubtedly have their strengths and uses, so why not look for a photographer who can draw upon both in producing the most beautiful headshots for you?

Steve Lawton is an APHP-approved London headshot photographer. Steve has been shooting actors headshots and corporate headshots for 25 years and is a trusted headshot photographer for some of the UK’s top talent agents, drama schools and organisations.