Headshots – Practical Stuff (Mostly)

A professional headshot is an important investment and doesn’t have to be super expensive, but sometimes finding a photographer can be tricky.  Photography studios don’t always advertise whether or not they do actors’ headshots, and independent photographers who often do headshots may not have an online presence where they advertise what they offer.  I’m in the midst of creating a headshot photographer listing for Perth so watch this space, but in the meantime it’s still worth doing your own research before you choose someone, and it’s definitely worth reading up on what makes a good headshot before you go to your shoot.

It’s best to work with people who have done headshots for actors before because they’ll know what works and what’s expected, plus they’ll give you the rights to the material so you can reproduce the photos as needed.  As I explained previously, you can’t use glamour shots from companies where you are expected to buy prints directly from their company; those companies have strict copyright on their shots and you will not be able to reproduce or distribute them as needed.  Invest a little bit of time asking around and looking at websites before you decide on a photographer.  It’s also a good idea to check out the headshots of professional actors (have a look on imdb.com for the real pros) to get an idea of what makes a good headshot, what’s popular and acceptable and what you would like yours to look like (poses, colours, clothes, hair and makeup, etc).  There are trends in headshots as much as anything else, so it’s a good idea to be aware of what’s ‘fashionable’, even if you decide to go with a more classic approach.

The average deal for a headshot photoshoot in Perth is $150-$300 for 1-2 hours, with a disc of untouched images given to you at the end, and around 2-4 images photoshopped and formatted to 8×10.  Photographers will sometimes offer prints, but you don’t really need them so don’t worry too much if they don’t.  Since you’ll have the rights to your photos, if you really want a print you can go to your nearest photo outlet and print one for $10, or buy some photo paper and print them at home.  Most of the time you’ll probably be asked to email your headshot rather than bring one with you anyway, so the disc is the most important thing.

Some photographers will have their own studios but many will work from home or be happy to come to your house or any location you want.  If you have an idea for your shot (perhaps you want an outdoorsy look), then talk about it with them, as they may have a favourite location they can suggest where they know how to work the light and colours.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, or just tell them you’re not sure and you need their guidance.  If in doubt, use a plain, light-coloured wall as a background.  Your photographer should be able to help you with an appropriate location and background, so it’s ok to say when you’re not sure of what you want – but as always, any research and planning you do will usually work in your favour.

Most photographers in Perth don’t offer hair and makeup, but you can always ask – sometimes it can be arranged for an additional fee.  It’s really in your best interest to do your own, so you’ll be able to reproduce that look easily for auditions.  Again, how you look in your shot is how you should look in your auditions.  Your main goal is to look natural – but do keep in mind that photography will reduce the appearance of your makeup by up to 50%, so you will need to apply a bit more than usual, just stick with neutral tones.

Guys: it may be in your best interest to borrow some powder from a girlfriend (or buy your own, you’ll probably use it again if you do stage work) if you tend to have shiny skin or sweat a lot.  It’s very common and it won’t make you look made-up, it’ll just stop the light reflecting off your face and make it a bit easier for your photographer.  If you’re embarrassed, take a girlfriend with you and get her to attack you with powder if you start to look shiny.  Photographers are generally not going to take responsibility for that.  Otherwise, put some on before you go and by the time you get there you’ll be in a nice natural state of in-between shiny and powdered.  If it makes you feel better, have a look at shots of young stars on the red carpet – you can tell a lot of them are wearing foundation.  It’s normal.

Girls: the one thing that could possibly render your shoot worthless is frizzy hair.  Stray hairs can be extremely difficult to photoshop, and messy hair will make your headshot, and therefore you, look unprofessional.  If your hair has a tendency to frizz or be unruly, straighten or curl it before you go and use hair products to keep it in check.  It should look natural but neat.

In general, guys and girls, you need to take responsibility for how you look throughout the shoot.  Photographers will do their best to keep any major cosmetic distractions to a minimum, but generally they are just aiming to take a shot that looks honest, and like the ‘real you’, so they will consider what’s in front of them as the ‘real you’.  So that may mean your hair is frizzy and your face is shiny, which you might not want in a photo, but that will be what they see as the ‘real you’.  So take a mirror to check your face, watch for any typical untidiness of clothing (bra straps showing, collars sticking up in weird places), and if in doubt, take a friend who can be your spotter.  In that case though, be sure to inform your photographer that you’re bringing someone for that purpose, just as a courtesy.

But… do I even need one?

Now that I’ve waxed lyrical about headshots, maybe we should quickly consider whether you actually NEED one.  I’ve left it til now to talk about this possibility because I think it’s worth getting a headshot at any stage of your career, because it will help you look and feel professional.  But if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of a professional shot of your face, then it’s worth asking yourself whether you actually need a headshot yet.

The easiest way to tell if you need a headshot is if you’re being asked for one a lot.  If you’re auditioning, or submitting to schools, that’s when you might need one, but not every company or school will require one, especially if it’s unpaid work or a short course.  So if you’ve noticed that you’ve had to say a lot lately: “Sorry, I don’t have a headshot yet” or “Mum, can you please take a photo of me up against this wall”, then it’s probably time to get one.  If not, save yourself the bother until you get to that stage.

 

DIY Headshots

One thing you can do as a backup, if you’re not sure whether you need a headshot yet or you’re not quite ready to get one done professionally, is a DIY shot.  It’s pretty common for amateur photographers to have good cameras these days, so chances are someone in your circle of friends or family has one you could borrow.  You probably won’t be able to do anything terribly fancy, but as long as it’s a good, honest shot of you then it will do for the time being.  Aim to get a professional shot done within the year  – that should give you time to research, save and get comfortable with the idea of a professional shoot.

For DIY, you need to make sure:

-       It’s only you in the picture – don’t photoshop other people out of a group picture!

-       It’s a good quality shot – needs to be as high res as possible.  Borrow a good camera for a day if you can.

-       It’s flattering without being overly glam.

-       It’s portrait rather than landscape.

 Consider formatting it to 8”x10” if possible.  It’s not essential, but it can be helpful.  You can do this simply with cropping tools in most image preview programs.

But I’m not photogenic…

This is a surprisingly big factor that holds young actors back when it comes to getting headshots – the fear, rather than the reality, of not being photogenic.  Firstly, let me say again: actors are supposed to look like REAL PEOPLE, not models.  So you are not expected to look like a model in your shot.  In fact, you SHOULDN’T look like a model in your shot, unless you happen to look like one in real life.  Also, being photogenic is a skill more than god-given gift.  Most of it comes from being relaxed and knowing what works for you.

With that in mind, here are a few little tips that can help you on your journey to photogenicity:

It’s ok to be a little bit vain and have a ‘good side’.  If you really believe your face looks better from one side than the other, you’re probably right.  You look at your face every day so you’ll know it better than anyone else.  So just position yourself without the photographer asking and then they will be able to adjust you from there.  Some photographers will want you to have a big grin in all your shots, but it’s ok to overrule them and ask to take a few serious shots, or a few ‘small smile’ shots.  Not everyone does the ‘big grin’ as well as Julia Roberts, trust me.  It’s ok to go with facial expressions that you believe work for you – but I’d recommend also challenging yourself to run with what your photographer suggests.  You might be surprised as to what looks good – and what looks right for your type!

My final word on headshots is – relax.  Just relax and focus on getting a good connection with the camera.  Use your acting skills – it’s not just smile and say cheese.  Get some good energy in your belly, as you would if you were acting on stage or screen, and project it out through your eyes.  It might sound like a lot of bollocks, but it works.  And you won’t be able to get that energy going if you’re shit scared, so take a deep breath and revel in the wonderful vanity of ‘it’s all about me’.  Just for an hour or two.  See?  Just like acting.

So that post was supposed to be more practical, but it went a little bit artsy-fartsy at the end there, sorry about that.  And sorry about the swearing.  But hopefully you get my point.  Chill out.  You don’t need to look like a model, you need to look like you, glorious you.  Enjoy it.

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