Yes, the right photographer is a huge piece of the puzzle. BUT, you as the actor, must also be prepared in order to get a *Great headshot.
What’s the difference between an okay headshot and a great one? Auditions! You’ll know you have a *Great headshot if it gets you in the door, if it makes people want to meet you.
An average headshot might look nice, even beautiful, but a *Great headshot has an energy that pulls people in. It’s the same thing that great film actors are able to do with the camera, they make it come to them, it communicates enough of who an actor is and yet it leaves room for interpretation. How do you do that?
1. It’s all in the eyes. This is the most important aspect of a *Great headshot. Your eyes must have energy, thought, activity, emotion behind them that beckons to the onlooker. What they say exactly depends on the type of parts you want to audition for. If you’re a Femme Fatale type, then it’s something like “Hey there stranger…” If you’re an action hero type then it’s maybe “I’ve got this.” What this means is that while the photographer is taking your photo you should be ACTING, not MODELING. You don’t have to be speaking to be acting, you can be doing a “silent solo” as Stephen Book used to call it, where you engage in an active inner monologue without speaking. Or, if it works better for you, go ahead and speak your monologue or a scene, talk to the photographer, but let there be life in your body and your EYES.
2. Know who you are. If you know the types of parts you are likely to play, you can come in character to your photoshoot. I don’t mean go out and buy an LAPD uniform because you play cops all the time. I DO mean that if you play cops, you can have the body language of a police office in your headshot: squared shoulders, chest out, at attention. And if you play cops you probably also play military, thugs, maybe even villains. So how can you dress in a way that SUGGESTS all these roles are in your wheelhouse? Maybe a dark blue or green or black t-shirt? And maybe your attitude and body language is “I’ve got this” like a hero, but you’re thinking, “And you don’t want to piss me off.” So it’s layered, like your performances will be. This picture should represent probably at least the 3 main types you can play. NOW, you must be willing and prepared to communicate who you are (as an actor) to the photographer. If you’re one of my Act Now clients, look back at the TYPES I PLAY and the TEASER we created. If you’re not, use your “logline” if you have one from Lesley Khan’s class or your essence statements from Sam Christiansen. Be comfortable talking to the photographer about the parts you are marketing yourself for so they can help you get a *Great headshot!
3. Now you are ready to research photographers. My first suggestion: DO that research. DON’T be lazy. You will save yourself money and heartache and possibly years of spinning your wheels. You can look at websites, you can see books for various photographers at REPRODUCTIONS in Studio City (also, in my opinion the best place to print). Also ask the actors who have what you want (a *Great headshot), who took theirs? Once you find AT LEAST 3 photographers whose work you like, and you’ve seen their websites, call them on the telephone. Ask them what thier process is like, how do they generally work with actors to get the best out of them? Do they use natural light or studio light? Do they have an in-house makeup artist? Do they shoot digital or film? Can you bring your own if you want? Can you bring some music? Now, if you like what you hear, ask if you can meet with the photographer for a quick 5 minutes. The idea is that you can see if you jibe well together. Nothing sucks more than showing up on the day of your shoot and discovering that the photographer’s energy feels yucky to you–they’re type A and you’re type B, it’s just not a match. Perhaps that sounds too airy-fairy, but we’re actors right?
4. Don’t rush. Not in your research. Not in your preparation. Not in your shoot. Not in choosing the final photo. Not in the printing. BE PRESENT. You can help yourself relax by setting a date where you’ll have plenty of time to rest the night before, you won’t have to race to get to the location. Plan ahead, you don’t want to shoot in the middle of August in LA when it’s hot as hell if you’re shooting outside, you’ll be all sweaty and gross. And make sure there aren’t nine million actors also scheduled before and after you (if at all possible), so the photographer is not rushed either. This may be tough with the popular ones but if you schedule for a less busy time of year (say, December) you’ll have more wiggle room.
5. Choose Wisely. Many photographers are shooting on digital now so you have LOTS of choices. Personally I still prefer film for the depth it offers. But digital does get you more choices. Once you get that CD or proofsheet, see what jumps out at you right away. Then print out 4X6 copies of the ones you like. Pass them around to other actors and tell them to put a check mark on the backs of the ones they like. Narrow it down to maybe 10-15. Now, run those 10-15 by your agent and any Casting Directors you know who will give you feedback. (This way you are sure YOU get a headshot YOU like because you chose the original 10-15 that you printed). If you have a manager who is more hands-on bravo. Perhaps the BEST headshot is not the one you like. But if you’re a wise actor, you’re looking for that sparkle in the eyes and a broad range of castability, rather than just the one where you look the most attractive. Eventually, you’ll have one or two photos with more checkmarks on the back than the others, and voila! There’s a *Great headshot.
6. Your headshot is your LOGO. You know how when you see the red circles within red circles on white background you think of Target? Or when you see the golden arches you think of McDonalds? That’s marketing– using a logo, an image, to represent a product. For an actor the headshot IS THAT LOGO. So, this photo goes everywhere: Your Facebook page, your Twitter icon, your IMDB page, your Actors Access or Breakdown Services page, your LA Casting Page, your Instagram account, your website. It’s one image that is constant. That doesn’t mean there can’t be others that perhaps represent more of you, but ONE is the main image that represents all of YOU. It represents your product. And it should be consistent.
7. Present it well. It’s worth the money for quality printing. I like the “photo heavy litho” at REPRODUCTIONS, it looks like a photo but has the thickness of a litho. (FYI they give 10% off to Act Now clients!). Wherever you go, don’t skimp now. And don’t over-retouch! It’s obvious and it makes you look like a model not an actor. But do SOME retouching, (whiten the eyes, the teeth) it should look professional but not like the cover of Cosmo. You want it to look like YOU, not like a cartoon of you.
* To assist in your research here are a few photographers I have personally shot with, and have gotten good results, CLICK TO SEE THIER SITE
VANIE POYEY Great for commercials and comedy, great for quirky types
GREG CROWDER Great for commercials, lots of color and energy
DANA PATRICK Great for film, soaps, pretty people, leading man/woman types, more polished-looking
DAVID MULLER Great for women (he’s cute and he makes you feel cute–ergo you look cute)
BJOERN KOMMERELL Great for film, sexy people, a bit more gritty, HBO-ish
IINNIS CASEY Also good http://inniscaseyphoto.com
THEO AND JULIET I hear great things but haven’t shot with them personally http://www.theoandjuliet.com
Here’s a nice article from BACKSTAGE WEST where several of these photographers are quoted!
Here’s a great bit of advice from CASTING DIRECTOR NANCY BISHOP on headshots.
* photos above credit to (L to R, Top to Bottom): Dana Patrick, Bjoern Kommerell, Greg Crowder