Thursday, April 1, 2010

Headshots- everything you did (and did not) want to know

Just like the term lens can be used to mean anything from a piece of my car to what is inside my glasses frame in the context of being a professional photographer when someone asks me what kind of lens I use I don't answer with my prescription.

Someone might say a headshot is just a shot of your head, or a very very good kill shot. BUT in the modeling, and acting world it means something different.

A headshot in the both the modeling and acting world refers to a very specific set of requirements. Now what is interesting is you do have several kinds of headshots, and those types differ depending on the type of work you are seeking.

Headshots are used for the casting process and promotional purposes, but they are not artistic endeavors. They are there to show what a person looks like in the best way possible. They need to be uniform in nature so a casting director is able to see if the person fits what they are casting for.

1. traditional theatrical headshots-
a traditional theatrical headshot is in black and white. You will see them in any playbill for any show you see.
And that is the exact reason for their cropping and treatment. Playbills are going to crop the photos of the actors to a certain ratio, and the shots are very tiny. That is why you see the actors to the top of their heads and maybe the collarbone. It is a tight shot to make them recognizable.
The lighting in a theatrical headshot is done one of two ways, with natural light and a reflector (more modern), or in a studio with a white, grey or (rarely) black background with a 3 light set-up. Front, hairlight, and background light (traditional).
In addition the headshots are shot from a slightly upward position, giving the actor the ability to look up at his/her viewer.
When printed as 8x10's, remember there is a border that makes the actual images size something like 7.5 by 9, the images have a bit more room like the below example

However, when printed in the playbill they are cropped even tighter

Now a new variation in the theatrical headshot is the horizontal headshot. This shots should really only be used for websites, actors business cards, and for the physical wall of photos placed at the theater. These shots are also used by television actors, but a TV or film person will have a color headshot they give to production, not a black and white shot. But i will go into that later.

Horizontal headshots are almost always done in color, and they are almost always shot outside at a low depth of field with mainly natural reflected light. Many times the top of the head to the collar bone are shown, but no further is really acceptable in a landscape headshot.

It is important to understand why a horizontal headshot is bad at the printed stage, and that is because if you print this shot and send it out to casting directors they put it in a pile. The majority of that pile is vertical headshots, the directors literally pick up the headshot look at it for 1.5 seconds before trashing or keeping it. If they have to pick up your shot, then right it so it is the correct orientation, they might just trash it before they do that. Remember, the whole point of headshots is to give an ease to the casting process.

2. TV or Film headshot-
Now the biggest difference in the reasoning for these headshots being different is that these shots are not going to end up in a playbill somewhere. And tradition.
Some old school agents will still want the black and white cropped shot, even in a TV or film setting. So even if you never do theater, you still will need a theatrical headshot. However, now you will also need a film/tv headshot.
Rarely do these headshots exist in a studio setting, that is seen as old fashioned and limiting. Instead these headshots are done in natural light, with a reflector, and with a blurred background that is of a neutral nature, if not a neutral palate. It is normal for the color s behind the person to be greens, beiges, blues, or other cool or neutral tones. It is rare for a successful headshot to have a busy background, or a super bright primary color in the background. The exception to this is kids headshots, and even they normally don't have primary colors.

Cropping is traditionally less of an issue in these headshots, going from the very tight crop we are used to in theatrical headshots to the breast line or so. You will also see the top of the head in many of the film/tv headshots. However, the shots are still from above and the lens is still at 2.8 or so.

3. the modeling or stock headshot- 
now i am not going to get into beauty shots, because they are NOT headshots in addition to having a "polaroid" most models have a clean commercial headshot. Mainly the modeling headshot follows the same directives as a the TV/Film headshot. The only addition is that models have a ZED card. The front of the zed card is normally a great tearsheet, a headshot OR a beauty shot. The back have either tear sheets or they have at least one body shot.

A note to commercial or stock models, you do need to have a great smiling headshot. Other people might get away with not smiling, but not you.

4. Background casting images-
as with everything in life there is the exception to the casting rules, and that is for background actors. Background actors are many times responsible for bringing a certain look with them. So they need additional shots of themselves "in character." For anyone else that is a bad bad thing, but when casting is looking for a featured extra they need to know you can pull off the look they are featuring. I have shots of me in steampunk, ren faire, green fairy, punk, gothic, banker, scrubs etc... for when I do background work.

And that is not the ONLY exception to the rules. Anyone who is specialty from controtionists, to stilt walkers, to animal trainers. You need a shot of you as what you are doing what you do.

However, most of these photos are not professionally done. You can use existing shots.

Make-up and hair and wardrobe-
For the theatrical, TV and film headshots (as well as stock photography models and commercial models) your hair and make-up should be professionally done. But it should be done in a way as to make you seem natural.
Your wardrobe should be simple. No patterns, nothing too glittery, nothing to shiny, nothing that is too trendy either. Jewelry should be kept to a bare minimum, earrings should be studs or nothing. I would suggest not having a religious symbol like a cross around your neck, and would prefer no necklace.

Roots are a nono, nails should be clean and well manicured.

For women-

a nice plain short sleeved t-shirt in a basic color, at least one grey, blue or black shirt would be good.

the tank top shot- the tank should be plain with no writing, it should also not be in a primary color (with the exception of blue or green)

a soft textile, like a cowl sweater

For men

a nice plain short sleeved t-shirt in a basic color, at least one grey, blue or black shirt would be good.

the tank top shot- the tank should be plain with no writing, it should also not be in a primary color (with the exception of blue or green)

one fitted button up shirt, usually in blue but can be other colors

For older women

instead of the tank consider a nice well fitted, long sleeved shirt. Can be button up.

For older men

instead of the tank bring something that shows who you are as a character actor.

Lets talk retouching-
UNLESS you are a glamour model less is more. The biggest pet peeve casting people have is if you don't look like your headshot. They will dismiss you from a casting based solely on that.

NO BLUR. I don't care what other people told you, blur is a no no. It makes the casting director think you have bad skin. Normal people have pores, or different sizes in different parts of the face. if your headshot doesn't have these, you better not have them in person either.

When people smile they have creases in their eyes and on their cheeks, a smiling shot with no creases will not get you into a casting.

Older people, it is fine to have a few age lines taken out, it is not ok to have a virtual face lift.

That said, it is expected that the shot will have some retouching to it, to give it a polish. If you go with no retouching the casting people will assume it was done, and you might lose work do to that. Good retouching adds just a bit of highlight to the hair, birghtness to the eyes, and a few blemishes and wrinkles removed or softened.

Expression- One of the biggest mistakes new actors make is trying to force a smile. You don't need a smile to look great in a headshot, you do need a great energy. So if you are being sexy, it needs to read sexy, but IMO the best headshots are either smiling, or have the feel that the person is happy. Sad or wistful headshots do not work, with the exception of maybe some fashion models.

Common headshot mistakes

1. being a character. Now if you have several headshot and one of them has you blowing bubble gum, or dressed as a police officer that is fine. But do not submit a photo of you making a funny face to a serious casting. there are exceptions to the rule but those are for people like mime's, contortionists etc... And they usually use a normal headshot for any type of film or theater casting, unless they are submitting to be a mime or contortionist.
This like the next thing I am going to talk about labels you as a background actor, and you don't want background work, you want principal work.

men, wearing a suit- unless it is a fitted Armani suit, or a suit from moods of Norway AND you are a model not an actor then don't wear a suit. it is something background does.

women, no bankers outfits. Simple does not mean business. And this is important, this is a headshot not a business card shot. Be careful, too much of anything make-up, wardrobe, retouching, can make the casting person just think too much drama.

And done- unless i think of more stuff later.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a "terribly mature" woman re-entering the theatrical field and I need a headshot. I don't have a clue how to find somebody who knows how to light older women. When I google "mature women", I'm usually taken to porn. Sigh. Any direction you could point me in would be appreciated. I'm in Las Vegas.