“Don’t be scared, homie…”
The title of this update was uttered three years ago by my favourite Mixed Martial Arts fighter, a Mr. Nick Diaz, to KJ Noons, just moments after KJ had defended his welterweight title. Those four words have become somewhat of an internet meme in recent years among fans in the Mixed Martial Arts community. The same words perfectly sum up headshots. That’s right, I just compared two men battering each other in a cage to a relaxing session at London Headshots. Stay with me!
Nick is brash, ineloquent, largely disinterested, but incredibly spiritual and deep-thinking, and he puts everything into perspective with that simple statement. His theory on fighting is that it’s a fight. It’s going to happen. You’re going to get punched in the face; you might even die. His main point though is that it’s going to happen. So what can you do about it? His view is that you can go in with fear or you can go in without it. Either way, you’re going in. Aside from possessing some of the best boxing in the sport, and a ground-fighting ability that matches his standup, Nick’s chief asset in combat is his completely kamikaze approach to fighting. Where a lot of fighters will fight “intelligently”, exploiting areas where they are stronger and their opponent is weaker, often stalling and avoiding dangerous situations to drag the fight to a judges decision and a points win. Nick does not subscribe to this method of fighting. Nick is fearless. No matter who the opponent is, he keeps the fight standing, often in the pocket, despite a long reach, and he will stay there whether he’s taking the harder shots or not. It’s this complete fearlessness and disregard for his own safety that makes him a horrible matchup for so many fighters. They simply cannot handle the pace of a man who will not be slowed down by punches to the face. What he lacks in the cage is fear.
Fear is a peculiar emotion. It’s our most visceral and palpable sensation, yet it’s one we feel mostly when it’s not required. Fear is what protects us from sabre tooth tigers and rival tribes with spears; it readies our bodies for combat, evasion or escape. We didn’t evolve to feel it while waiting for a headshot session. Geoff Thompson, a doorman from Sheffield, turned writer and author of ‘Watch My Back‘, says that ‘fear is the friend of exceptional people’. He believes that with the right mindset, you can channel that fear, and if recognised for what it really is, even make it your ally. Fear is nothing more than adrenaline, it’s the prime hormone that readies your body for success. That feeling coursing through your body that many interpret as fear is actually your body doing you a favour. It’s shutting down unimportant processes, increasing your awareness, heightening your senses. It’s giving you the best possible chances to save your own life in a dangerous situation. It’s just a pity we evolved before the arrival of headshots. If cavement needed to have headshots done, then adrenaline would have evolved to loosen our features, calm us down, relax our faces, and provide options and self-direction in front of the camera.
When you come into a headshot session, and you’re someone who isn’t particularly comfortable in front of a camera, or, even worse, you’re someone who positively freezes whenever there’s a camera in your face, the reason why you get ‘bad’ headshots isn’t because you can’t take a good picture, or because you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s because you let your fear control you. You gave in to it and submitted early. You cared too much, and when your adrenaline gave you the chance to fight or flee, you fled.
Some people, when faced with their fears, completely shut down. They lose the motivation to save themselves or at least make a bad situation better.
The biggest enemy in a headshot session is apathy. Apathy will glue you to the spot. It’ll freeze your facial features stiffer than a Siberian mummy. If you don’t have the motivation inside yourself to recognise that fear is your friend, then you will give in to that apathy and make no effort. How much success are you expecting with no effort? When was the last important discovery or advancement made with no effort?
A headshot session isn’t an ordeal, it’s an opportunity and a challenge. It’s a safe environment to test your range and practice facial expressions while having your photograph taken by an expert who can tell you what does and doesn’t work. If you treat a headshot session properly, that is, if you go into a headshot session with the right frame of mind, you’re going to come out knowing more about your face than you ever thought possible. You’re going to know exactly how to look into a camera and nail a shot. Ultimately, with better control of your face, you’re going to become a better actor.
Any decent headshot photographer worth their fee is going to sit you down for an extended period before the session and take as long as it takes to teach you how to take a picture. They’re are going to go through every single element of headshot photography so that you can step in front of their camera having mastered headshots before you’ve ever taken a shot. So there’s nothing to worry about!
Note: example images used in this blog post are from client Carlie Milner. She was most definitely not scared during any part of the session, but I picked her for illustrative purposes, because it wouldn't be right to pick someone who WAS scared. First three shots in this series were the first three shots I took during the session to test light, but in this instance they're used to illustrate someone not making an effort (which you obviously wouldn't be if all the photographer was doing was testing the lights!)