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How do you pick a theme for your headshot?

There really is no need to pick a theme. Everyone needs a basic honest picture with good personality and energy that looks like them. You want to capture a real person on their best day.

Depending on the character you play, most people do three looks. First, you need a nice, honest, commercial shot that is friendly and approachable with lighter colors. Commercial photos are used for commercials as well as TV and sitcoms. Second, theatrical photos are used for TV and TV movies. Then, third, depending on the character that the person could play, I might do a leading lady or leading man shot with an upscale look. This is the working actor shot. It’s not the outfit that’s as important; it’s the way I light them. I bring more drama into those photos. Fourth, for people in their mid-30’s and up, I might do a business look. I have people smile and not smile in the business photos. Sometimes, I can also get a commercial and theatrical photo from the same look. So, the basic headshots involve a commercial casual shot, a theatrical shot, and a dramatic upscale shot, and maybe a business shot. For an edgy look, dramatic lighting helps with someone who might have tattoos or a muscular body or may play characters like a cop, detective, or gangster.

These days, casting directors want photos to feature close up head and shoulders. Now that everything is on the internet, it’s all about the web. Casting sites all want small thumbnail photos. Online casting sites are dictating the size of the actors’ headshots.

How should you study other actors and actresses’ headshots?

Instead of studying other people’s photos, actors and actresses should watch commercials to get an idea of what to wear for their own headshots. For commercial pictures, remember that you need to look approachable, and remember the commercials will be shown across the country, not just LA and NY. As far as the clothing, I don’t care if you’re comfortable in the clothes—you need to look good. For commercial headshots, I like the lighter colors. I like to save the darker colors for theatrical photos. I don’t like working with white clothing. White clothing is difficult because you want clothes to disappear, not stand out. Often times, white shirts stand out too much. The light has to be off the clothes and on the face. I can control white because I can control the light, but it’s more difficult. Black is my favorite color to shoot. A lot of beginning photographers don’t know how to light black clothes or black skin, but I do.

What is your best advice for the headshot session?

People try to figure out what works best for the camera, but they should figure out what works best for them. For instance, what colors look best on them? Do the clothes fit? Are the clothes pressed? For instance, I know blue is my color. If I was being photographed, I would choose blue for me. People sometimes do what they think the camera wants, instead of focusing on who they are. For the photo shoot, people need to put their heart into it and pack clothes that represent them well, instead of thinking of what they are “supposed” to do. Don’t fill up a suitcase of clothes. Bring two or three outfits for each of the four or five looks. If you bring a whole suitcase to a shoot, it is a sign that you didn’t think about what you are packing. Also, if it looks good on you, it will look good on film. Busy clothes will ruin your headshots. Sometimes, I’ve had to loan the clients my own clothes because they don’t take the time to pick things well. Also, I don’t like busy backgrounds because they take away from the face. You want to see the person’s face, not the background. Simple and solid is my favorite.

When choosing your photos, look for a picture where you are approachable with good eye contact and make a connection with the viewer. Depending on the look that you are going after, you might not want to be approachable and a bit more edgy.

How not to pose for headshots!

I don’t have people pose. I talk to them, or I get them to talk to me. I direct the person through the entire shoot. I direct you. I try to capture the honest energy. For instance, don’t use your hands in the photo for posing. Agents and managers usually request headshots without hands. I personally love hands in photos, and I find it funny that celebrities have hands in their photos, but agents and managers don’t think you can see a person’s face with hands in the photo. You want your face as direct as possible to the camera, to see both of your eyes. Profile shots are not for acting. If I want to clean up someone’s neck, I have them push their head out a bit and down, to clean up the double chin, but they can’t go down too far because then you start seeing the whites of their eyes.

How can you enhance your features in a headshot?

I study my subject’s face. I discovered over the years that symmetry makes people look the best. Most people have one eye bigger than the other. I pose people in a way to make their eyes look as even as possible. If their nose is crooked, you straighten it a little bit with the lighting, but we really don’t change anyone. It’s also all about the angles. I can find the best position for bone structure and jaw lines. When I first meet the client, I try to figure out the bigger or smaller eye. I try to figure out their better side. There is always one side that looks better than the other. I shoot up to 100 pictures, looking for the one perfect expression. Everyone gets so stressed coming to the photo session. The less they try, and the more they just come in here and be my friend, it will go better. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being real. I don’t want you acting in front of the camera. As soon as you start acting, it’s not real.

If you hire someone with experience, they will be able to do their job. Your eyes need a connection with the camera. Your photos can look pretty, but they might not be saying anything. When I started out 30 years ago, all of my clients looked beautiful, but the images were not usable because the images weren’t always saying something. Now I can pull out the personality and essence of a person. A photographer with experience will do more than a beginner. The industry is saturated with headshot photographers, and now everyone thinks they are experts, and they aren’t. When searching for a photographer, if you can figure out how much experience the photographer has and how long they’ve been shooting, then you can assume that they will do a better job than a beginner. Experience counts. I spend time with people and shoot one person in a day.

What are the myths associated with headshots?

One myth is that everyone thinks celebrities are more comfortable in front of the camera. They still hate taking headshots and want to get it over with. I spend less time with a celebrity. They don’t want to be here. An aspiring actor, I spend more time with them, helping them work their way through the session. A beginning actor gets a lot more love and attention. Unfortunately, some acting schools have students do group headshots. I warn you—don’t be one of the 30 people being photographed that day. If you are rushed, no one takes the time to capture your personality, energy, and essence. In a group setting, they might shoot 20 shots if you’re lucky, but in our studio, we shoot at least 100 pictures looking for one great expression.

Another important myth to debunk is that the most beautiful photo is always the best. Sometimes, you don’t pick the picture where you look the most beautiful, but the picture with the most energy that reflects the role that the person will be auditioning for or playing. Your eyes should be speaking. Show your personality.

Also, you don’t have to wait until you get an acting agent to get professional headshots. If you get great headshots, you can probably get an agent quicker and be a working actor faster.

What is your advice for makeup and hair for a headshot shoot?

As far as makeup, when you work with a photographer with experience, their team will also have experience. Don’t bring in a new makeup artist straight out of school to a shoot. The makeup artist doesn’t do what they want to do. They communicate with you and find out how you normally do you makeup and hair, and then add their skills. The headshots will look more professional with a professional makeup and hair artist. People who aren’t happy with their photos are usually the ones without the professional makeup and hair artist. Also, during the shoot, the makeup artist tweaks the hair and makeup of the client and points out things to the photographer that they missed. I don’t like doing a photoshoot without professional makeup.

Also, I shoot into a computer, and we see everything while we are shooting. We see how the hair and clothes look. We see the colors and look at the computer. If the color doesn’t work with the background, and it doesn’t pop, then we change it. Most photographers work from the back of their camera, but it’s not as effective as seeing a full size image on a computer. It takes off a lot of stress and pressure from the photo shoot when we have professional makeup. You will never be on a TV or film set without a professional makeup artist. Some people try to do their own makeup, and it always goes bad. You get totally washed out, and it doesn’t look the same as a professional makeup artist. Your makeup in a headshot photo doesn’t look the way it looks in the mirror. You would be surprised how different the makeup looks between the mirror and the computer screen. A little bit of powder isn’t the same as professional make up. You also don’t want to do too much makeup. We use the computer to make sure that no one has too much or too little makeup.

As a process, we first apply makeup for the commercial photo, and step up the makeup for the business photo, and then step it up even more for the theatrical photos, and then the working actor. The makeup has to complement the person’s clothes. When you blow up a photograph, you can see everything. When people do their own makeup, it’s never as polished and clean as a professional makeup artist. The lighting in front of the camera is different than in front of the mirror.

Come with your hair as close as possible to what you prefer; and let the makeup artist clean it up. Make sure you come with a clean face. We hire makeup artists who can also help with your hair, but they are not professional hairdressers. If you need a professional hairdresser, we can always find one for you.

How important is retouching headshots?

I believe retouching is really important. I have the retoucher bring out the client’s best features, not try to change you. When we get the picture retouched, we don’t just retouch it—we color correct it, so it can be printed. Also, every computer and monitor that you look at, even the browsers, Google, Firefox, or Safari, the colors are different. The PC computer screen doesn’t look as good as a Mac computer screen. The image always looks a little different, depending on the type of computer screen. The retouching helps bring out your eyes. People don’t know it’s retouching. The retouching is subtle, and it makes the pictures pop. Retouching helps with shine. We can accentuate your jawline with shadow. I highly recommend retouching, but it has to be done really well. Everybody these days with a camera claims to be a photographer, but it doesn’t mean they are any good. It is the same with a retoucher. You need an excellent retoucher with years of experience. We bring your best features forward, without making you looked “retouched.” The retoucher, like the photographer, has to be an expert. It is usually a bad sign if the photographer is a printer and retoucher as well.