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Black and White or Colour Headshots, What Do I Need?

Pete Bartlett Actor Headshot Photography



Increasingly I get asked by actors whether I shoot in colour or black and white and which is recommended these days for Spotlight and general casting purposes. So I thought I’d give a brief outline of how it is at the moment and, as far as I can see, where it’s headed.


How it was and how it is

In recent years there’s been a sea change as far as actors’ headshots are concerned. For years we’ve been black and white in this country. When I started shooting headshots, almost ten years ago, it was staunchly black and white here whilst in the US it was colour. I was already shooting in digital at that stage so I had the option to deliver the pictures in either colour or black and white but there was no point in delievery in colour because no one wanted them. I think this was largely dictated by the fact that the Spotlight book printed only black and white actor headshots. However, the online option of displaying headshots has changed that. The Spotlight book remains black and white however they accept both colour and black and white on the website.Also, pretty much all photographers are shooting headshots on digital cameras, more about what that means in a minute.


When I asked Spotlight what the current recommendation was regarding colour or black and white headshots they said that they suggest actors post half and half, ie. a couple in colour and black and white. When I asked what they thought was currently favoured by Casting Directors the official line was that “whether colour or black or white the headshot should be an accurate representation of how you would look arriving for an audition”, meaning you should be immediately recognisable from your headshot.

Black and White or Colour Headshots by Pete Bartlett Headshot by Pete Bartlett Photography

Choosing a Photographer in this regard

As I said, pretty much all of us headshot photographers are shooting in digital these days. It’s worth checking with your photographer though. If he shoots film you’ll only get one or the other. However, presuming it is in digital then what they’ll do is to capture (take the picture) in colour and then change to black and white during the post-production process on the computer.

What I do, and I imagine we’re all similar in this, is to send out all the images in both colour and black and white. There is an art to turning colour images into black and white so have a look at a photographers black and whites and see if you like the contrast and tone of them. You’ll see from the image above how I like my black and white images to look. It’s a matter of taste really but I like nice deep blacks with the right degree of contrast to bring drama to the picture whilst keeping it truthful to the sitter. This is an example above is typical of my output, in this case from a session this week with Spanish actress Iris Lezcano. Below are a few examples of how different that might have looked with different processing.

Black and White or Colour Headshots by Pete Bartlett Headshot by Pete Bartlett Photography


The Future

As far as I can see it’s only heading in one direction and that’s towards all colour. Although I’ve always thought it’s typically old fashioned of us here to have stuck to black and white for so long, it’s a bit of a shame too as black and white is usually way more flattering. At the same time, when someone walked into my studio with flame red hair for example, what a waste black and white is.

So, for now I’ll go on sending out pictures in colour and black and white. As for the distant future, maybe it’ll be about 3D headshots, or possibly holograms or maybe we’ll plug telepathically into each, who knows. Watch this space!