WHAT TO CONSIDER
This is a list of what to look for when choosing an actor headshot photographer. It includes details of
- Shoot length
- What to wear
- Hair and makeup
- After the shoot
I've been an actor for over 25 years and a professional photographer for over 12 years, specialising in portraiture and headshots. Actor headshots are especially close to me heart, and I think my experience as both an actor and photographer gives me a unique insight into what actors need to look for when choosing a headshot photographer. This compilation is not complete or exhaustive to say the least, they're just my subjective observations and recommendations that I've built up over the years. And if there's anything you think I've missed out please feel free to comment!
You need to find a photographer whose style you like. There are so many photographers out there, a lot of them producing good work; excellent customer service and client care can often seperate them and make it easier to decide which one to go for, so ask your friends and other actors for referrals and recommendations. Also, see if the photographer has any testimonials by previous clients on their website.
If you have just joined an agency, or are about to, be aware that your new agent may well try and steer you towards a photographer that they like and use regularly. You may not like the photographer's style. This is a tough situation, but ultimately the decision is yours.
Look for consistency of style. Is the photographer replicating the same or similar setups as regards lighting and location in their photographs? If so, you know that you can expect the same style for your headshot session.
Natural light or studio? Some photographers only offer natural light photographs outside, others are purely studio-based, and some offer both. It comes down to personal preference: natural light outside can offer nice flat lighting, whereas flash can allow the photographer to shape the light and play with shadows more readily.
A factor to consider is that a shoot outside can be weather-dependent (is there a contingency plan if it's raining on the day of the shoot?).
I personally prefer photographing headshots in a studio environment as it is possible to achieve both flat, even lighting and more contrasty/dramatic lighting with flash heads. I'm able to use the highlights and shadows created by the lights to bring attention to or draw attention away from certain facial features, to portray my clients in the best way possible.
When looking at a photographer's portfolio pay attention to how much of the actors' faces are in focus. Many photographers shoot at a very wide aperture (a shallow depth of field), which means that only a small part of a person's face is in focus (only the eyes perhaps). This is fine, and comes down to personal taste again, but you may prefer to have more of your face in focus. I personally prefer to have the area from the nose to the start of the ears in focus, as this enables the viewer to get a better idea of your face and features. I shoot the bulk of the headshots in my sessions like this, then I might move on to shallower depth of field later on to achieve more creative portraits.
Ask how long the session will be. I remember going to one headshot session as an actor and I was only there for about 15 minutes! You want enough time to be able to relax, get used to the environment and lights and for the photographer to get the best out of you.
What to wear?
I've relaxed quite a bit with my recommendations over the years. I used to specify black or dark t-shirts or shirts, but now the most important thing for me is that the client is comfortable and happy in what they wear. An outfit you enjoy wearing can have an impact on how you feel during the shoot, helping you relax and be more yourself.
Try to avoid crazy patterns or colours (unless they are truly representative of you and make a statement), and no logos.
Make sure your clothes are clean and ironed.
Bring a lint roller with you - not all photographers keep one on hand.
Ask how many outfit changes are allowed. Different clothes can have a huge impact on headshots and portraits; it's a good idea to have a choice from at least 2 or 3 in case one doesn't look as good as you thought it might. I tell my clients to bring as many choices as they want; I'll go through them and between us we'll decide on around 3 to use during the shoot.
Some people decide to go shopping for new clothes before the shoot, keep the tags on then return them after the shoot!
Hair and Makeup
Will hair and makeup be provided? If not and you would like a makeup artist present, how much will this cost?
If you will be doing your own makeup or going to someone before the shoot try and go for a more matte look rather than glowing/shiny as this will look much better under flash. Bring some translucent powder with you to the shoot in case the photographer doesn't have any.
Ask whether you will be able to have different hair options (hair up/down etc) during the shoot. It's a good idea to start the shoot with your hair down then move on to the photographs with your hair up to prevent having to restyle your hair.
Some men decide to shave a beard/stubble mid-shoot to get a different look. Ask your photographer if they are happy for you to do this as it adds time to the shoot and potentially extra time in Photoshop to tone down aggravated skin/nicks.
Bring your own hairspray - espacially handy if the shoot will be outside. Also consider bringing your own blotting paper to the shoot to help with shine - this applies to both women and men.
No late night beforehand - just don't do it! You'll likely be paying a lot of money for your new headshots and you need to look and feel your best. It's nigh on impossible to Photoshop glazed/bloodshot eyes!
After the shoot
Ask how many photos you'll get to choose from and how many are included in the final selection.
How much Photoshopping does the photographer include? It's important not to Photoshop any distinguishing features out, but blemishes and stray hairs are a different matter because chances are you won't be going to an audition with the same spot on your face that you had during the shoot!
Are there any limitations on how you can use the photos? Headshots normally come with full release but it's worth checking just in case.
How long after the shoot will you have to wait to see your portfolio, and how long will it take for your chosen photos to be ready?
Also, ask if the photographer is willing to help you out with choosing your final photos. It can be overwhelming to see so many photos of yourself, and the photographer is able to see you more objectively than you see yourself. I always offer to give my clients my personal shortlist of which photos I think work best.
Your headshots are often the first encounter agents and casting directors have with you, and they can open as well as close doors. You have to believe in them and they have to be representative of you. Take your time to find a photographer who's work you like, and base your decision on style, referrals and recommendations. And don't be afraid to ask questions.