How To Create Authentic Headshots That Stand Apart
For the past 13 years I have shot 1000’s of American and International actors from every major market in the States. I have seen my new clients jump to the next level with a great shot and I have seen my most established clients re-brand themselves in one session. I have a very specific artistic process when working with actors. The success is proven and I want to share it in a very clean and no frills way. The following ten suggestions work - I know this. Follow them and you will have the best tools for getting authentic headshots while truly enjoying a full artistic process.
“I was looking for something a little different than your average actor headshot. I needed a photographer who understands the entertainment industry from the inside and could capture the essence of me in a portrait...I had admired Peter's work as a headshot photographer but it wasn't until I saw the artist portraits on his site that I knew that he offered something beyond the others." - Robert
ONE: LOOK IN THE MIRROR.
How to know what you really look like and where to start positioning yourself (where you fit in the industry AND in casting directors minds). Look in the mirror and really be honest. Put vanity aside. Look at yourself as a casting director would. Start with your hair, eyes, and skin tone. Then go to your height and weight.
Go to your age. Your real age.
Do you play that age?
Are you in shape? Be honest.
Are you over or under weight?
Break yourself down as if you were a product. Be SPECIFIC.
This is about honesty. You need to be able to look in the mirror and define your product. The more honest you are with yourself the more likely you are to position yourself appropriately. What are your specs? I have all of my clients check in with their representation and get on the same page. I then ask my clients to send me the list of their looks in detail. Some even include the appropriate breakdowns. This helps me and my makeup artist understand how they see themselves and how their rep is marketing them. It also gives me an opportunity to put in my two cents if I feel they are on or off target based on my experience. I am one of the few photographers that requires this type of work. Write all this information down and separate it from yourself. Now, go online and research (IMDB) the actors that fit this criteria. This is also giving you a look at your competition. It will become obvious how you will be viewed when you walk in the room.Remember, the headshot is a tool. The tool that opens the door to the meeting. The key. The best tool is 100% authentic and positions you in the best category to get the job. The door opens and the person in the picture walks through the door. That makes an honest, professional impression.
“I feel so confident in putting my shots out there...he really understands how to help you convey who you are in the specific character you're shooting, which is what I think is the true trick in getting a perfect headshot.” - Lisa
“Exquisite. One of a kind. Texture, depth, and realism.”- Beverly
TWO: MAKE YOUR CHOICE
How to find the best photographer for YOU. This next step will come fairly easy if, and only if, you do your work in step one. If you have defined yourself and settled on your type then choosing a photographer should not be that difficult. Find a website that has a list of photographers, or get a list from your representation. Look at their site. If they are not shooting your type then move on.
Actors choose to shoot with me because of the depth of character that is brought forward without being too on the nose or “dressed up”.
Find the photographer that understands how to light and shoot the actors in your category. The photographer should support what you are trying to communicate. If you are a blue collar, rough around the edges, bald guy, do not shoot with a photographer that shoots pretty people in poppy/glossy light. All of the work you did in step one will be lost in translation by the photographer’s style. Another thing to keep in mind: if all of your looks are “indoor” types, does the photographer have access to a studio, or do they drive around town shooting. If you have “indoor” and “outdoor” looks, does the photographer have the chops to light both? I personally can shoot almost anything well. However, I cannot do "hot, plastic, vacant" very well. I am not built that way and I don't see my clients that way. I am always searching for something deeper. My light and my post process tends to communicate that. The light is not flat. It is more sophisticated, which reveals a depth of character, and more visual interest.
“Pete took the time to really talk to me about his process and how to get great authentic pics during our consultation. And I felt relaxed and comfortable which is usually not the case during the shoot. My photos are nothing like any headshots I've ever had in the past.” - Jessica
THREE: GO SHOPPING!
How to dress your character without being in a costume. OK, so you know your type and you have chosen the perfect photographer to collaborate with. Yes, it is a collaboration. This Step is fun if you like to shop. If you don’t, then deal with it. It is part of your job. This is about dressing for the headshot, not your life. You may look fabulous in an outfit, but if there is no specificity, leave it home. Let’s dress a “look”. You have defined it in step one and now you need to capture that. Well, if you were going on an audition for that role what would you wear? Please do not choose clothing based on the brightness of color. Go for reality. Also, I find cuts more powerful than color.When working with my client Steven (see below), I knew we needed the “detective” look. The clothing supported what we were doing. A blue shirt has a different visual feel than a crisp white shirt. “A Working Man”. The subdued yellow tie works well with the blue, but does not pull our eye away from his face. NOTE: When choosing a tie remember RED = Conservative and BLUE = Liberal. Silly but true. So, we shot a few and something wasn’t right. We made a small, specific change. We loosened the tie just a touch. This seems trivial, but it made all the difference based on his type and his intention. This is the type of specificity that clothing can add to a shot. Go for reality.
Steven’s clothing supported his intention. “Blue collar, working man with years of experience and HAS to wear a suit for the job. ”
FOUR: TAKE THE ROOM
How to walk in the room the day of your shoot and own it. Walk into the studio with confidence. You have done your work. You have probably prepped more by now than you ever have in the past for your headshots. That is something to be proud of.Show the photographer and the makeup artist that you too are an artist and you are ready to collaborate in the best way possible to get the best tools possible. Trust me, the photographer will love you for this and you will get better photos. I sometimes have clients walk in the room and immediately say, "I hate headshots. I am only here because my agent needs them." What a drag. I am here ready to get you great shots. My makeup artist and I have read all your notes and I have thought about the best setups possible to make you look good. How excited should I be now that you are forced to do this. GET OVER IT. Imagine your favorite actor, with this attitude, walking into a room with other talented professionals. They would not. They understand that it is part of the job and they turn it on. They get great shots for publicity, covers, and editorial. It is part of the job and if you are successful you will be in front of still cameras over and over and over.
FIVE: TRUST TRUST TRUST
How to let go and trust the photographer, the makeup artist, and yourself. Now that you have walked in with confidence and have set the stage for a great shoot you need to let it all go.Yeah, let all the work go and trust the photographer, the makeup artist, and most importantly yourself. This is where I see most actors fall down. They do all the prep and then they just cannot trust the process. It is an unnecessary mountain to climb. You let go by understanding that everyone in the room is there for only one reason: get photos that get jobs. Period. You chose the best photographer and the photographer has chosen the best makeup artist for your type (I have four makeup artists). We are working pros and do this everyday, at least a few hundred times a year. Take some of the pressure off of yourself and let 2/3 of the team carry the load.
John Lynch, is a true professional. He has 100% trust in himself and the process.
John Lynch, one of the best character actors we have right now comes to my studio and we chat a bit before we shoot. Great guy. After a few minutes he looks at me and says, "Let’s go. Where do I stand?" 100% trust in his own ability and in mine. This is how true pros work.
SIX: BREATHE, FOCUS, COMMIT
How to work moment to moment during your session. This is where your craft comes in. By now you are so deep into what you are shooting. If you commit to what you are doing, listen to my direction, and stay active you really don’t have to do much. The light, the clothing, the angles, the background, the STORY will do all the work. Remember, the breakdown is already out. There is a story you are falling into. You will fit the story or you won’t. You cannot control that. You only have moment to moment honesty. Now, when a casting director looks at your shot, you have positioned yourself in their head. The shot is authentic and you are active. Movement in a still photograph. I promise you that if you work like you would on stage or on a film set the session with fly by and you will feel like you were acting the whole time, not shooting your headshots. The most common comment I get is, “that was painless.” My response, “It’s supposed to be.”
SEVEN: AT FIRST GLANCE
How to let go of ego when you are face to face with yourself. This is the most rewarding part of the process. You get an opportunity to look at yourself objectively and see how the work has paid off. I promise if you followed the previous steps this will be such an enjoyable moment.
The looks in a session can be polar opposite. Look at yourself as a casting director would with a breakdown in mind.
Let go of the ego like you did in step one and view yourself as that product. You have to. If you have representation, that is great, but I believe this step is vital to truly understanding what you bring into the room. The next step is to choose the shots, but for now, just scroll through and enjoy what you accomplished. Walk away for a day and then come back to them. This will give you a touch of distance and make you even more objective. I do this with my own non-headshot work. You need aesthetic distance to truly see the work.
EIGHT: SO MANY CHOICES, SO LITTLE TIME
How to select the the shots that will get you in the door. You took a day off and now you have to make some choices. Narrow down in large groups. When I edit I start by eliminating rather that keeping. After you make a first pass, make another and another. You should only keep what is 100% specific and truthful based on the look you were going for.
Choose the shots with the strongest intention within the look. Push vanity aside. “Am I asking or listening to a question? What do I want?”
You know what you set out to do. If a shot is not communicating that then edit it out. Keep narrowing until you have the shots that are 100% on point. If you send them to people for help you have to give them the context of what you were going for or they will just pick the shots where you look the most attractive or cool. Completely meaningless, unless of course, you were going for attractive and cool. Finally, you cannot be emotionally close to it to see it objectively. Looking at yourself in a headshot might be the most objective thing you do in your career. The ultimate goal is to separate your “real” self from your “business” self.
NINE: TO RETOUCH OR NOT TO RETOUCH
How to look at the shot as whole (or It’s not all about YOU). When it comes to retouching I always say "yes". As a photographer I am looking at the whole shot, not just your face. Chances are you are just looking at your face…and you hair. Actors always look at their hair first. When I look at a shot I know how I can make it better and help move the viewer's eye to your face. This has to do with composition, contrast, and other variables. Retouching a headshot, to me, is much less about manipulation of the face than it is pushing the viewer’s focus to your eyes. So, when you are thinking about retouching, think about the whole shot and how it is a complete scene. A 8x10 box taken out of a larger context. It is not just about you. Again, it is about you in the story.Often times my clients find that they barely need any retouching, but I encourage them to look at the shot as a whole as I do. I am always honest when discussing retouching with a client.
Very little retouching here, but the negative space on the right pushes the viewer’s eye to the left.
“When I got the proofs, I was so happy! Barely needed any to NO retouching, the lighting was amazing, his makeup artist made me look like myself, but beautiful. My agents and manager couldn't narrow down their choices...!” -Camille
TEN: NOW, GO TO WORK.
How this artistic, empowering process has given you the best tools possible to get a job.
"Our session began and ended with long conversations, and the actual sitting was incredibly empowering. I felt truly comfortable in front of Peter's lens. A lot of that comes from the confidence I had in his work to begin with." -Joseph
By now, you understand that this process is like none other. My clients are usually the most prepared because they are real actors. You now have prints or digital files ready to go. Get them out there immediately. LA CASTING, IMDB, ACTORS ACCESS...
Your confidence in the tool is at an all time high and you cannot wait to get them out there. That will carry over when you walk in the room when you audition. I guarantee that you will want to work this way again on your next round because the product and your experience are authentic.
This headshot process, for the first time, has been an artful one.
Thank you for reading. To learn more about me, my artistic process, behind the scenes, and how I work with actors on a daily basis, please check out www.peterkonerko.com.
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