Headshot session: Ticks, twitches, spasms and bad habits

So, I asked on Twitter what kind of update people wanted to see, and I got a pretty decent range of topics. One though from @CarlyHase really caught my eye, and so we cover it, and a slightly broader topic in this update. Let’s talk ‘tics’.

We’ve all got them. Those involuntary movements, jerks, or just bad habits that we cannot seem to stop doing in certain situations. Usually situations where you least want them to occur! In a headshot session, something that can be positively infuriating for both photographer and actor alike is involuntary facial expressions, or “default” looks. Most of us have these, but we don’t know it, because rarely are we under the microscope of scrutiny like an actor feels he or she is during a headshot session.

So let’s set the tone:

You’ve arrived at the session. You’ve read the blog, and you’ve got a pretty decent idea of how the session is going to go. You’re sitting at the table in the London Headshots studio, and you’re drinking tea while I bumble through my fragmented 40 minute speech about how to take the perfect headshot (it really does last 40 minutes!). We step over to the shooting area, and after the test shots are completed to check quality of light and best angles for your face, the shoot begins. Your head is filled with the information imparted by yours truly, and you’re confident you’re going to nail the best headshots we’ve ever taken. There’s just one thing you keep asking yourself: “WHY CAN’T I STOP SCRUNCHING UP MY BLOODY NOSE WHEN I SMILE!”.

Other things like crows feet occurring when you smile. Dimples when you grin. Worry lines when you raise an eyebrow. All of these can really impact your confidence when you stand in front of the camera for your headshots. A photographer who doesn’t know how to deal with this might also exacerbate things further by constantly reminding you not to do it every time you do it. Then you learn the habit, and the next thing you know, you’re as wooden as an Eastenders extra, and you’re twitching, scrunching, wrinkling and gurning your way to the worst headshot session you’ve ever had.

There’s a way to combat this, though, so nay fretting. In fact, there’s two ways. The first is the way it’s often done, and shouldn’t be, the second the way it never is, and should be!

Way #1: We sit down and dissect every single bad habit you have. We pore over the tiniest minutiae of your facial features and make sure you’re HYPER-AWARE of every single issue, because that’ll REALLY help the headshot session! Now, I make pretty good tea at the London Headshots studio (if you don’t believe me, ask the countless actors who’ve drank said tea, and then lied directly to my face about how much they’re enjoying it!), but no brew in the world is restoring your confidence after we’ve just torn your only face to pieces. So that leaves way #2.

Way #2: We ignore it, because it doesn’t matter.

The worst thing about a camera is that it can freeze you at your best one moment, and then immediately after, it’ll catch you at your worst. That warm, authentic smile in one headshot that lights up the casting directors heart, could easily be a contorted, strained, wrinkled grimace in the next headshot taken. Which one are you going to pick for your final six shots, though?

And this is why it doesn’t matter! We’re going to take over a thousand shots during the session. I’ll repeat that. ONE THOUSAND. You only need six. Yes, SIX. You think you aren’t going to hit six shots in a thousand? So the solution is simple: We ignore the issues, because they aren’t a big deal for two professionals who know what they’re doing. Namely you and I. We’re here to do a job, and in this job, there’s no room for worrying, because we’re too busy working. We’re going to sit inside this studio until we have a set of amazing shots. If we have to stay here all night, we’ll do so. I’ve never had to.

The original prompter of this update, Twitter user @CarlyHase, said she specifically struggles with not being able to produce a natural smile without screwing her eyes up. Well, in this very common instance, we just avoid natural smiles. While natural smiles can be great, there are other kinds of smiles that look just as good, and also other kinds of facial expressions that work as well as, or better than natural smiles. A smile doesn’t have to be natural, it just has to be believable.

I say to every client that comes through the door at London Headshots that headshots do not matter. They aren’t important. Don’t mistake that for them not being important in landing you roles, because in that instance, they’re essential. However, on the day, they are the least important thing on the agenda. The most important thing is you being relaxed. You can’t be relaxed if you’re worrying about doing the wrong thing. There is no “wrong thing” though, and that is what every single actor needs to know before they start their session. We will be experimenting, and well, some experiments succeed, and some fail.

That’s all really.


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