Winter came into my studio for a headshot session this past week. He is a computer guy, finishing up his final year of study at the University of Washington. After undergrad, he will leave our rainy Seattle and head to a sunnier home near San Diego to attend grad school. I’m really rooting for this kid. He is one of my favorite clients to date.
Winter came to the U.S. from Beijing, where his parents work as travel agents. They’ve invested a lot into his education; International students pay a jaw-dropping $47,000 + per year (compared to $14,000+ for residents) in tuition at U.W. That is an insane amount to pay for school. It pretty much broke my heart to hear what his parents had to sacrifice so that he could attend school here. It reminded me of the sacrifices my own parents made so that my siblings and I could have a better life here in Washington state.
Since Winter only needed one headshot, I offered him a special discount, but when his parents saw their great kid’s pictures in his online gallery, they couldn’t bear to see some of them go, and so they wanted to pay full price for 5. I offered to throw the photos in for free, but kind and generous soul that Winter is, he insisted on paying full price. We came to an agreement on a discount, and I think that is the first time I’ve actually had to haggle someone down!
I really hope Winter lands his dream job at Amazon. He deserves all the success in the world. Wherever he lands, I know his parents will be proud, and rightfully so.
Sara A., one of my awesome friends, came into the studio for a (very belated) birthday shoot last week. We had actually planned to shoot two years ago, but life got complicated for the both of us, and so we weren’t able to make it happen then. Last week, I FINALLY got this girl into my studio, and she was absolutely amazing.
Sara is a tough as nails New Yorker with a no nonsense attitude. But don’t let that sassy exterior fool you. She’s a softie. Once you are in her good graces, I imagine you’ll be there for life. Just don’t dare say no to her, or she’ll give you this look, and you’ll wither in a New York Minute.
Class, style, elegance, and grace are just some of the words I’d use to describe Sara (also impatient, stubborn, and difficult—in the best way possible).
Sara loved her previous photos from our first shoot, and so I really felt the pressure to give her some shots that were as good (if not better) this time around. I always feel this pressure with returning clients, and I channel all that nervous energy into the shoot. Nerves are a good thing. To lazily paraphrase a random musician, or athlete whose name I can’t remember, “if you don’t have nerves, it means you don’t care.” I care a lot, especially with good friends.
An experienced singer and stage actor, Matthew Pirtle made the trek from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest to follow his dreams. He is funny, kind, and multi-talented (I dare you to find an instrument he doesn’t play). Matt is also a great sport. I threw some goofy stuff at him and he took it all in stride.
Matt has a busy week coming up with multiple auditions. Hopefully that headshot up there helps him out on his journey, which I’ll be following here.
I’m really rooting for this guy!
I had the privilege to shoot with Kate Joncas, Seattle’s long-standing president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). In 2014, she was named as Seattle’s deputy mayor of operations.
I have two basic types of clients: creative types and business types, and both require a specific need. For creative headshots, a wide range of expression is important. For business headshots, the aim is always to deliver a headshot that conveys: authenticity, confidence, and approachability. Kate, as a media-savvy veteran, was already good at presenting herself with confidence and approachability. What we needed was to nail authenticity. Specifically, we needed a smile, a bright, genuine, approachable smile.
Smiles are tricky. If you ask someone to smile on command, more often than not they’ll come with something that looks canned, or painful. I call it the JC Penny smile The best smiles come from making your clients crack up, or getting them to talk about their kids, beloved pet, or Johnny Depp. With Kate, I tried a different approach: we took a series of shots where she looked away from the camera, thought of a happy memory, and delivered a smile. Within a few minutes, she produced a usable, approachable shot that satisfied her.
“I think we got it,” she said.
“It’s a good shot,” I said. “But while you’re here, let’s see if we can get a better one.”
We fired off another round of headshots, then another, and another, and with every new set, her smiles became warmer, brighter, more approachable. Every time we thought we had a great one, we shot a few more and found an even better one. 30 minutes in, we landed a shot that couldn’t be topped no matter how hard we tried. In a long series of A’s, we needed the A+, and I think we got it!
Hopefully this headshot serves Kate well for many more dedicated years of public service!]]>
When I started out in photography, headshots were my specialty. I loved the glamorous aspect of shooting actors and models. Soon I began doing model tests, with more glamorous visions of being published in Vogue Italia. Portraiture wasn’t yet on the radar. It was almost a dirty word for me, as I never understood the value of a portrait, and thought they had to be done without a hint of glamour and style. Now as 2016 begins, I find myself ready to delve into fashion-inspired portraiture as a new brand focus.
Portraiture is the preservation of a moment in time. You can never go back in time to this moment, and so portraits (and video) are a great way to document your legacy, and the legacy of your family, your people. I read an excellent book by Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon) that delves into the importance of your legacy. I have only a single, faded photograph of my grand parents on my father’s side, and so their faces live mostly in misty memories. They are strangers to me, actors in stories told by my parents. Had they been able to take more photographs, I might know them better.
Anyone can take a snap shot and preserve a moment, and candid shots are beautiful treasures in their own right. Portraiture, however, comes with unique style. Any good photographer can introduce their aesthetic styling to a photograph, with posing direction, light, composition, props, and choice of backdrop. My own visual style will come out in every portrait I take. My goal for the coming year is to create a visual world, one of classic beauty and moody elegance, and populate it with people of any age and shape. We all deserve to own beautiful memories.]]>
Sarah came in with her daughter Sofia and her husband Murtaza for a portrait shoot. She is a professional, and a mom, and a no-nonsense, all-around bad ass from New York. She had but one request: to look hot. No problem, I said. She is a stylish, naturally beautiful woman, with self-confidence up the wazoo, and as we all know, confidence is sexy.
Sarah commands the attention of the room, and I’m not going to lie, corralling her energy was tough! But Sarah is my kind of girl, who calls it exactly how she sees it, and so I was excited to make her feel like a rock star. She already looked the part, with a fresh new hairstyle that complemented her exotic features perfectly. We gave her a dark, sexy, smokey eye to make her look smokin’ hot.
Although it was Sarah’s special day, I also wanted to give her daughter Sofia a little birthday gift, so we spent about 45 minutes shooting while Sarah was finishing up her makeup. Sofia is an out-going little girl, but on this day she was extremely shy in front of the camera (who wouldn’t be shy in front of 2 studio strobes mounted on gigantic octabanks almost as big as she is). Sofia wouldn’t look up at the camera, so I dragged her daddy into the shot and, like a great sport, he helped get her smiling. It took her a little while before she finally warmed up….
Sofia with Daddy
After a few priceless shots with her mom and dad, it was time to get Sarah’s shoot underway…
As confident as Sarah is, model posing was 100% foreign to her, and so it took a little while to get into the “flow.” But once she did, Sarah pulled off stunning shot after stunning shot. The longer we went, the better she got, and we finished with one special request, a traditional shot to honor her Persian culture. Gorgeous photograph from a gorgeous woman. Sarah has already booked another shoot, this time a wedding dress makeover. She didn’t have a wedding photographer, and so I am going to help her get some absolutely beautiful shots in a wedding dress. For this shoot I will be pulling out Oliphant-style backdrop that I spent more hours than I care to admit hand painting! Should be FUN!]]>
Although the deal was pretty good for the price, Irina wasn’t 100% happy with her shot. I asked her what she didn’t like about it, and she mentioned that the skin tone was too bright, too washed out, and overall, the girl in the photo just didn’t seem like her. She was also distracted by the bright background, and wanted something slightly darker.
After analyzing the shot, I came to the conclusion that:
I shot with a portrait lens to get rid of any weird distortion. As for lighting, I set up a similar beauty dish clamshell lighting setup that the first photographer used, only I went with a diffused softbox instead of a silver reflector. I opted for the softbox because the silver reflector is too high contrast for a business professional headshot. In terms of lighting, her skin lost the “punch,” of her previous headshot, but I was ok with that, because glamour wasn’t the look Irina was going for. And here is a very important lesson I learned in design school: give the client exactly what they need! If Irina were a model, glamour lighting would have been perfectly appropriate. For a financial consultant, however, a glitzy LinkedIn headshot just doesn’t make sense. Irina wanted a practical, authentic headshot that represented her accurately, and that is what I tried to give her.
She was happy with the result, and I was happy to have another client walk out of my studio 100% happy with her new profile shot!
Diego and his mom came in for a model test to build up his portfolio to take to talent agencies. She had mentioned beforehand that Diego absolutely loved being in front of the camera, and sure enough, he seemed over the moon happy. From my experience, kids have about a ten minute window of shooting before they start to get bored, which means they get very silly. This is a good thing; silly kids are happy kids, and you can get really funny shots, but you’ve got to get a few straight ones first. With Diego I didn’t have to worry about getting him to sit still, because the kid just has it. He knows when to goof off and also when to get serious, takes direction like a pro, and throughout the shoot I kept saying to myself, “wow, is he really this young??” I’ve had experienced models who were tougher to direct than this guy!
Back to the subject of silliness, here is Diego’s first shot out of the gate. I knew after this one that he was going to give me some winners. He’s got loads of personality, and in this shot it’s bursting.
But when I asked him to get serious, he delivered a mighty fine set of headshots…
A serious look, with great expression!
Some people are just meant to be in front of the camera. Diego is certainly one of them, and it shows in every single picture. I’m not kidding; after going through his reel, I was amazed to see that he genuinely looks to be having a good time in every single shot. He never complained or got tired. Whenever I gave him direction he was on point, and loving every minute of it. It makes me feel like a million helping someone this happy.
I’m eager to see where this kid goes with his modeling career. He has a meeting coming up with a talent agent. Fingers crossed!!!
Yes, they might have a few headshots in their portfolio, but headshot photography and wedding photography are completely different animals. You want someone who knows how to give coaching direction specific to headshots.
Casting directors want to see an intriguing expression will make them pause. They do not, however, want over the top crazy expression. So keep the cool guy double finger-revolvers in their holsters and go for something authentic.
We want to concentrate on the face only. No loud jewelry. No stripes or noisy patterns.
Just because your aunt or best friend owns a DSLR doesn’t mean they know how to light a subject or coax the right expression out of you. If you are serious about this profession, hire a professional.
Headshots should be cropped tightly, and can even have part of the top of the head missing, but casting directors will want to see some sense of body shape. Ask your headshot photographer to keep enough of the shoulders in the shot that its obvious what you are wearing.
If you have a sultry, Sophia Vergara vibe going on, make sure your headshot communicates it. If you are a metrosexual, romantic lead actor, don’t show up wearing hip hop clothing. Tell your photographer what your type is and ask them to help communicate it for you. Use expression, hairstyle, clothing etc. (just don’t go overboard). Casting directors match headshots to roles. If a role in question is for a girl next door, and your only headshot makes you look like a sexy lounge singer, you aren’t going to get the role.
No matter what “type” you are, you still need to show versatility. Ask your headshot photographer to give you a range of different expressions, from serious to friendly. Have a minimum of two headshots and as many as 5 for different roles.
Don’t go for big hair or smokey eyes. Stay away from too-tight t-shirts and ultra low cut tops. The natural look is best. Eliminate as much distraction as possible!]]>
So you are in the market for a headshot. The first, and toughest task you will face is in finding the right photographer in your area. Hopefully price isn’t the sticking point (in most instances, quality does come with a price tag), and instead you are selecting your photographer based on her or his portfolio. How do you know which one’s right? First, you have to understand what exactly makes a good headshot. So here are a few good starting points to help make yourself a more educated customer.
Expression is the single most important aspect to a headshot. If you look at fashion magazines, models tend to have a dreary, blank stare, which is fine for what they do. But in headshots, whether it be for acting or business, it’s all about selling personality. You are trying to sell yourself to casting directors, potential clients, etc. No matter how attractive you are, a blank stare just won’t do; you need expression.
When people are nervous in front of the camera, they go “stone-faced.” When you see expression in a photographer’s portfolio, you know the photographer knows how to give direction. Compare the photos below to see the difference between an expressionless headshot and a headshot with personality.
When you are clicking through a photographer’s online gallery, ask yourself if the people in the headshots are conveying any sort of emotion or feeling. Is the person confident? Approachable? Sexy? Sophisticated? If your headshot photographer is worth anything, his or her portfolio will be bursting with different expressions.
The second most important aspect to a good subject after expression is good lighting. The way to tell a hobby photographer from a true professional is whether she or he knows how to light a subject. As a general rule, your headshot should have soft, even lighting, with just enough shadowing to give the subject 3 dimensionality. When judging lighting in headshots, ask yourself these questions:
Do the eyes sparkle with light, or do they appear flat and lifeless?
Can you see all features clearly, or are there too many distracting, dark shadows hiding part of the face?
Does the light make the skin look soft and clean, or can you see harsh wrinkles and laugh lines?
The right photographer will know how to craft the light. The wrong photographer can make you look like you belong in a horror film.
If your photographer doesn’t know photoshop (a surprising number do not), you will see things like blemishes, blotchy skin tone, yellow teeth, and bloodshot eyes. On the other hand, if your photographer is a photoshop addict, you may see unnaturally bright eyes or teeth, and skin that is so smooth it is almost completely absent of pores. If your photographer knows retouching well, or outsources to a high quality retoucher, you will see subjects with skin that is clean, even, and also with realistic texture. The whites of the eyes will look bright and clean, without looking too weird. Many people really like the ultra processed photoshop look, but the majority of us can spot it right away, which will undoubtedly lead to the question, “what are they hiding?”
In the below headshot example, I over-did the retouching. At first glance it may seem ok, but on closer inspection the skin tone starts to look surreal.
Not everyone is a model, but with the right direction, we all have the ability to look amazing. It’s up to your photographer to find your good side, highlight your good qualities, and minimize flaws. When you click through your photographer’s portfolio, try to judge whether the photographer presented her/his subjects in a way that makes them look good. If you see headshots that look “off”, chances are your photographer isn’t using good judgment. Everyone takes bad photos. It’s up to your photographer to shoot until he/she gets the good ones.
These pointers will help you figure out which photographer to go for. Please do not skimp on the price and hope your photographer gets lucky. Chances are you’ll have to invest more time and money for a re-shoot.]]>