I recently had the opportunity to produce some headshots for a budding actor named Andrew Pagliara. Being based in Wilmington, NC which has the largest film studio outside of Hollywood (so I’m told) in the US, the headshot market has the potential to be significant. So what are the considerations when you are looking to produce a viable headshot? Subject, location, and style.
1) When considering your subject you need to ask yourself is the subject young or old, male or female. In general a person becomes lens aware around the age of 10-12 years. What this means is they may be conscious of the lens and become too preoccupied/distracted by it and that is something we as photographers don’t want. Also if they are young they will likely be accompanied by a guardian, which certainly should be encouraged. However, if there is a guardian your subject may be preoccupied with pleasing them rather than be themselves. It is up to the photographer to take control of the shoot and direct as necessary, not the guardian. If the subject is female she should be encouraged to bring someone with her, she needs to be as comfortable as can be. I have been told I look like an axe murderer and have the tendency to speak bluntly and to the point. Not conducive to instilling a comfort level, ergo “Feel free to bring Fedor with you..!” When I spoke via the telephone with Andrew about his prospective shoot I quickly ascertained he was a relaxed, easy going character who was receptive and open to guidance. Regardless of that when I followed up with an email I included the line “Feel free to bring someone with you.”
2) As for location, scheduling considerations need to be taken into account, along with equipment, and type of end result required. Do they have an overly busy schedule that is not conducive to travel? Would they be self conscious being out in the public arena during the shoot? Is your schedule swamped? Do you want an environmental type head shot, with foliage/landscape as the backdrop? If so what about weather? Do you have a studio? If not where are you going to shoot and how’re you going achieve your desired end result? I’m certainly not going to try to reinvent the wheel that has been so artfully sculpted by David Hobby over at Strobist, he would probably say the studio is wherever you and your equipment is, or is capable of going. While all of my equipment is portable it is still a lot to hump around. So Andrew’s shoot was conducted in my apartment as I wanted play around with lighting using the below setup. Note: Half empty bag of chips and dogs toy not required for shooting!
3) There are in general three styles of headshots. East Coast, West Coast, and Character. East Coast is something those who have been in NYC’s theater district will recognize. Theaters typically have headshots of actors appearing in their production posted outside along with a mini bio. The East Coast is shot typically as neck up type deal. West Coast, or Three Quarter type head shots is a style derived from the demands of the film industry and does not encompass ¾ of the head and body as most lay people would assume. The base of the image would start mid-chest area and include all of the shoulder(s), neck and of course face and head. The Character style shot is typically used by comedic types, think Charlie Chaplain as The Tramp and you’ll get the idea.
The end result
The shoot lasted approximately 30 minutes and I ended up producing around 50 workable images with different lighting styles. Incidentally, each time I made a change to the lighting I explained to Andrew what it was I was doing and why. He seemed genuinely interested and made a comment along the lines of no photographer had ever explained things to him before. I didn’t baffle him with science but it was a cool way to keep conversation going and to maintain the relaxed atmosphere. I’m not saying this will work for every subject but conversation is a critical element and is often overlooked.