For an entertainment professional, or someone looking to get into the entertainment business, your headshots are one of the single most important investments you’ll ever make. More than just a photograph, they are, Indeed-in most cases, the difference between getting the job you want, or, spending another morning in your dressing gown watching people fail lie detectors on Jeremy Kyle.
Your headshots should simultaneously reflect you as a person on your best day, but also show your distinct ability to take on a whole new identity. Think less “Here’s actor X as a businessman”, and more “Here’s the businessman, Mr X”. Their narrative should be instantly recognisable, and they have to be very striking, yet subtle enough to be believable.
Headshots are deceptively complex. You’d be surprised just how much goes on above the shoulders; it can, and should, go way beyond letting the collar in the shot tell the casting director what roles you’re going for.
Take your “corporate” headshot for instance. You might think it’s enough to just throw on a shirt and tie, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, it might. Most of the time, though, it won’t be enough, so it’s important for you and the photographer to add some extra dimensions to the shot. This is achieved using angle, lighting, composition and facial expression. Let’s take it beyond the collar and tie and think about your motivation for this shot. Let’s pretend this is actually the job, not the session, and that you’re in character. You’ve got the part and this is your first day filming. Are you playing a young or older executive? Because that would possibly change how you’d be looking into the camera. Youth might imply a hint of arrogance, or, maybe if that’s too strong, a touch of pride. If you’re an older executive, this isn’t your first rodeo, so you might be quietly confident, relaxed and self-assured. Your motivation will show in your eyes, and if you get it right, you’ll have a believable headshot. Again, to stress, you don’t want a shot of you dressed as the character, you just want a shot of the character. The line between you and the role must be seamless.
But is that all? No, most definitely not. What about the mood of the shot? We create that with lighting. We use lighting to build on the narrative of you as an executive. When I think of an executive, I’m thinking of a brightly lit office, clean facial features and even, vibrant skin tones. I’m thinking your position in the photograph should be aspirational to those viewing it. Obviously, since it’s a headshot, we can’t have an office in the background, but we can use lighting to create that ambience. If we combine the right lighting with the right facial expression and the right clothing, if everything comes together for just one shot, then you have a winning headshot right there.
Then we tear the lights down and we move onto the next headshot. It’s hard work doing it right!
The same goes for every shot you take on the day throughout the clothing and scene changes. Meticulous planning and attention to detail is what gets you an amazing headshot.
So the opening wasn’t really advice as such, just a fairly broad description of what you can expect at a headshot session, and what will be expected of you.
Now onto what you need to bring with you for the session.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING TO A SESSION
This one is simple: Whatever will help sell the illusion. You’ve probably got a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses, and the roles you intend to audition for, so bring any clothing that will compliment the characters you want to play.
Discuss with your agent before hand about what ‘looks’ you’re going for (corporate, parent, profile picture). They can help you get together both a list of the looks you want to achieve, and the things you’ll be using.
As a rule of thumb, no headshot session should be without the following:
Shirt (white or a soft, neutral colour)
Plain t-shirts/tops of varying colours, along with dark grey and white.
V-neck tops if you’re male
That’s assuming you’re going for something very standard, along with a couple of all-purpose profile headshots, that is about the minimum you’ll need. But don’t just bring that, or you’ll be in for a boring session! Bring anything you like, anything you love, anything that makes you feel good. Remember, this is about capturing you on your best day. If you think of something you want to bring, then think “Naah, that might be silly”, bring it anyway! I cannot stress enough that you absolutely can not, under any circumstances, ever bring too much stuff to a session. The more variety in your clothing, the more variety in your headshots.
Make a list of everything you’ll likely need, and pack it all in a bag, freshly washed, the night before.
If you’re shooting with specific roles in mind, then consider clothing to suit that role’s time-period, and if you don’t have any, get to the charity shops! I’m not saying you should rock up to the studio dressed like Henry VIII, but attention to detail can add that extra edge to the shot. What I’m really saying is that if you’re auditioning for a role in Pride and Prejudice, don’t bring the clothes you’d expect to wear in an episode of Casualty.
MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS TO BRING
This is a list of things that sweeten the deal and give you a bit more control over your output.
Make up (Nothing heavy, just the basics. Foundation for men is good)
Just a few things there that will help you hold your sheen for the whole shoot.
WHAT TO AVOID:
Not everything works for headshots, and often, it can detract from the final result. Here are some things to leave at home:
Contact lenses (Especially ones that change your eye colour)
Wide open V-neck tops if you’re female
Makeup or foundation that is powder based (Can be a nightmare to retouch if it starts flaking!)
Generally anything that is deep blue or black
High collars that hide the neck[/list]
That list is not exhaustive, but those can be followed as a general rule.
HOW TO PREPARE:
If you’re going out clubbing the night before your session, I’m sad to say that it probably won’t be beneficial to the shoot. In a perfect world, you’d moonwalk up to the studio at 9am after 3 hours sleep and nail the session with the same grace you showed on the dancefloor as you cut rugs three hours previous. Unfortunately, unless you’re auditioning for a part in Eastenders, the tar-black dustbin liner eye bags and the expression of perpetual mental anguish is likely to detract from the headshots you take.
So make sure you’re well rested. Drink plenty of water the night before and moisturise in the days leading up to the shoot. That goes for men as well!
If you’re male and the headshots call for you to be clean shaven, do so carefully. Use a sharp razor and moisturise afterwards, because razor burn is a bugger to remove in Photoshop.
Whether male or female, make sure your hair has been washed and conditioned the evening before, and in most instances, it’s best to avoid styling it until you arrive at the session. Once everything has been discussed, you’re then in a better position to work out how you want your hair. Same for men and shaving. Try to shave at the studio if you can, because a bit of stubble can work really well for certain headshots, and if you’re prone to the previously mentioned razor burn, you might be able to shoot before it appears.
THINGS NOT TO WORRY ABOUT:
If, the evening before, you find yourself pacing the room and hurling random expletives into the mirror at a brand new spot, zit or pimple, I’m here to tell you it’s not the end of the world. Pimples, spots, blemishes, and anything that is considered temporary (as in, it won’t be there next week) can be flawlessly removed in photoshop.
Don’t be discouraged if the shoot isn’t going how you expected it to. Every session is a journey, and expecting to walk in there and start nailing headshots first time is a recipe for disaster. Stay relaxed, stay focused, have fun, and let it all come naturally.