If you’re an actor you know that one of the most important tools of our trade is the headshot. This is nothing more than a picture of our faces, so, you know, it’s aptly named.
The problem with shooting headshots is that it’s one of the most nerve wracking things we have to do. Not only does the picture have to look exactly like us, it also has to convey personality and the wide world of possible characters we can play.
In one picture.
And when the people who are in a position to hire us for work as actors see these photos they will see them as teensy, tiny thumbnails amongst dozens or hundreds of similar pictures, so it has to stand out.
And this picture is the first impression we make on casting directors, directors and producers. If they don’t like your headshot they won’t bother to find out anything else about you. So… sort of a tall order.
No wonder, then, that actors freak out when it comes time to take headshots. It’s you, a photographer you may or may not know at all and perhaps a makeup artist, if you can afford one. And once you’ve laid out $300 – $400 for a photographer, $150 for a makeup artist and you’ve hauled your entire wardrobe to the photographer’s home or studio you have to really really hope you get that magical shot. Because you won’t get a free re-shoot just because you didn’t nail it. It’s up to you to be thinking something fascinating in your head which will translate into something eye catching in the photo.
So, yeah, this process makes actors tense. And as a person who’s had my fair share of bad headshots (I was even on the cover of Backstage West’s headshot issue holding up a bad one and a good one) I thought it was high time I did something to make it an easier process.
And thus was born the headshot party.
What casting directors look for in a headshot is personality, something they can identify with in 2 seconds. They are not looking for photographic artistry. They need a picture that’s in focus and well lit, sure, but it’s not going to hang in the Louvre. So why not take our own pictures?
We have a good camera and a lens that’s ideal for up close pictures of the human head. We also have a flash called a ring flash which evenly lights the face and smooths out the little things that we don’t want to see, like under eye shadows.
We invited a few friends over and they dragged all their clothing to our home where instead of a sterile work environment they found a party.
I’d imagined we’d get together, advise each other, joke around, drink a few shots then take a few headshots. We did that and more. Everyone looked out for one another. We all stood together while shooting and made each other laugh, or think those deep thoughts and then we’d run back and change clothes again. We helped each other find the most flattering looks, even swapping outfits occasionally, and everyone kept an eye on everyone else’s hair and makeup.
Most importantly, though, and this is what I really wanted, we had fun. At the end of the session I’d shot pictures of 7 other people and some of them had shot me and I was exhausted. Truly, all photo shoots are tiring; you have to be ‘on’ the entire time and you’re overseeing a million details. But in this case, though the workload was greater the results were also much much better than they are in those high stress shoots. Because this didn’t cost any money and everyone was focused on having a good time, there was very little pressure to get the best headshot and we got out of our own way and we all got some fantastic shots.
And, as an added bonus, we got to spend a few hours with people we love and have a few laughs.
These are some of our shots from the headshot party. They’ve not yet been retouched or color corrected but the personalities come through and I think everyone looks phenomenal.
This is the way I always want to shoot headshots. Anything done with a large group of friends is always more fun and I like feeling in charge of my own success.