How to tell when a Talent Agent is trying to screw you

When you first handed your headshots to a Talent Agent, what did they say to you?

His name was Brian, and he was one of the very first headshots that I had done professionally.

At the time, there were only 3 photographers in Chicago who made a living off of headshots. But Brian knew me, and he wanted something different. He took a chance on an unknown.

In all fairness, it was impossible to fuck up Brian’s headshot.  He’s a boyish guy with an infectious grin, and I knew several women that had a crush on him on sight. On top of it, his looks were made for B&W film, the format of the time.  I couldn’t mess it up.

We shot two rolls and Brian bought the proof sheets to an agent that he was working with.  The agent had tried to push another photographer, so Brian knew that the agent would give him grief.  But he didn’t expect the sheer volume of static that he ran into.  Brian had been very happy with our photos.

The talent agent circled two images, and passed them back to Brian… telling him that those were the only two images that were worth anything.
Brian came back to me with the proof sheets in hand.  I knew that something was up.  Without comment, he asked me what I thought of the agent’s choices.

They were literally the worst two images from our shoot.
Which is what I told Brian.

Brian had thought the same thing, and he never went back to that agent.  It was clear that the agent had been getting kickbacks from the photographer that they were recommending.

At the time, it confirmed to me something that I had found out while trying to meet with certain talent agents in Chicago; there are, unfortunately, talent agents that get kickbacks from photographers.  I know, because I was told as much when I tried to meet with one, that they had an ‘arrangement’ with ‘another’ photographer.

I still remember the instant where I put two and two together.  It had never occurred to me up until that point that Talent Agents are people who’s job description is to make a commission off of getting you work.
-And I imagine that an agent could easily transition to the prospect of getting a commission from a photographer for sending actors there.

In the years since then, I’ve heard about this happening less and less.  It was harder for Talent Agents to argue that someone needed to use _______ photographer with so many talented photographers out there who take headshots.  And I count myself among them.

Which brings me to the impetus of writing this post.
I don’t want to expose the performer to scrutiny, but I did photograph a client within the last couple of years.  We both liked the images.  So much so, that the pictures are among my favorite. But when the client took the photos to an agent, they were told that the images were awful.  Then the agent did something kinda slimy, and insisted that my client be photographed by a photographer that the agent recommended.
Just that one photographer.
As if there was only one photographer in Chicago capable of delivering great headshots.

My client knew that the photos were great.  Not just because of what I said, or what they felt, but because they had other performers tell them so.

My client walked out of the agents office. So should you.

Lynn and John’s entries…

If you want to enter the “worst” picture-you-ever-turned-in-as-a-headshot, contest, click on the link on the banner (above) for details.


Lynn Sciaraffa

Lynn Sciaraffa

Here is the worst headshot I ever sent in. It was for a Nutrisystem spokesperson spot. Needless to say I never even received a call to audition!


John Mobley

John Mobley

This was taken for the programs for a community college show. It was at an actual studio. I can’t recall the photographer’s name, nor would I want to, because as you know John, my hair is not red.

(Disclaimer: I know John, but will not be voting for him, in order to remain fair.)

Please vote for your favorite. And as always, I appreciate everyone who’s entered just to admit that it wasn’t their best day.

More entries in the “Worst Headshot” contest

If you want to enter this contest, go to the original post and read through the rules.
All of the entries are in the gallery below. You can only vote once.

Jon Becker

Jon Becker

Jon Becker:

I took this “headshot” with a Palm Pilot’s built-in camera in a Kinko’s parking lot (immediately before printing it inside said Kinko’s) in Pleasant Hill, CA on the way to an audition for a short film in Santa Cruz. I somehow managed to land a part, but the production never happened. The quality is just mesmerizing.




This headshot was taken with a cell phone in the summer of 2008.

This contest ends at the end of June. So if you have an headshot that you kinda regret, there is still time to share it, and win a headshot in the process.

Show me the worst picture you’ve used as a headshot, and Win one!



Yes; I actually used this pic as a headshot a long time ago.

It happens every time.
I’m an auditor at an audition.  As people hand in their resumes and headshots, I try not to look.  Because I know that someone is going to turn in a photo that was taken from their cell phone and printed on normal paper from their desktop printer. Or they’ll turn in a photo that was taken like… a decade ago.  Or a picture that their friend who’s learning photography has taken.  Quite naturally – as a photographer – I cringe.

Usually, one of the other auditors will say something. But I keep my mouth shut, because there is literally nothing I can do about it.

At least until now.

This is a contest. Its one where we get to all have a little bit of fun, and confess the worst shot that we’ve used as a headshot.  You e-mail me the image, and I’ll post it to a gallery like the one, below, and send you a link to it.  I’ll add other images to the gallery as I get them until the end of June.

Anyone can vote for the worst of the worst.  The person with the most votes for the “worst” image on July 1st gets a free headshot package from me.  Its that simple.
I feel like I’m setting the standard with the image, above.  I took that picture while I was attending college, as a self-portrait.  Years later, I needed a headshot.  I pulled that out of storage.  Beat that.

Now I know what you’re thinking:  what if someone cheats?  I am adding some safeguards.  I won’t tell you what they are.  I will say this, however; don’t take this too seriously, and please don’t cheat!  I have no problem with you lobbying your friends to vote for you.  But don’t hire your hacker-friend to do something nasty to my website… please!  This is just for fun!

One last caveat;  if you hire me to take your headshot before the contest ends, and you “win”, I’ll refund the cost of your headshot.  Yep… I’d do that.

So go dig in your filing cabinet and/or cell phone and find a copy of that picture that you used. It should be in digital form.  (If you need me to scan it… I can do that too.)

Just e-mail me your worst headshot, with a short description…

…And Win A Headshot.

*This only applies to people in the Chicago area.  I’m not traveling to Canada to fulfill this contest.  The value of a headshot package is $250.   But to someone who’s about to get a phone call from a casting agent?  Its priceless.