The most important thing to bring to your headshot session

I’m not even going to try and deny it – for some, a headshot session can be a daunting experience. For the first timer, a headshot session can feel like you’re about to bear your soul to the world. The older actor might feel like the camera is peering, reaching and probing every crack, line and wrinkle in their face. The actor who is several sessions deep into their career might have had a less-than-positive experience with their last headshot photographer, and is now terrified of getting crap headshots again.

Some actors have arrived at the studio before saying they hadn’t slept a wink, and spent the night tossing and turning. Others didn’t worry one bit about the session, but instead worried ceaselessly about whether they had brought the right clothes. Then there’s the bad hair days, the random appearance of spots, zits, blemishes and whatever other temporary appurtenances our faces acquire right when we need them least.

All of these things, though the  actor doesn’t know it, are completely unimportant. They’re so trivial and insignificant that they don’t even factor into the session. Try telling that to the person, though. And they worry for good reason, I mean they haven’t the luxury of knowing how the pictures will look once they’re retouched. All they know is that they’re worrying about the blemish NOW, the nervousness is HERE RIGHT NOW

Before I was a headshot photographer, and while I was still trying to make my way into advertising photography, I used to shoot stories for a newspaper. I’d be given a list of addresses to tend to in a single day, with a small brief for each location, and I’d be expected to take shots that best reflected the mood of the piece. Mostly we’re talking about Sunday league footballers sliding across the well-traversed pitches, more brown than green, car enthusiasts crowding around an old Mustang at a local meet, or pensioners outside shopping centres with collection tins, braving the cold to raise a bob for the remaining survivors of the two great wars of yesterday.

The newspaper is now closed, it’s staff elsewhere, after the local council cut funding and left the rag high and dry. One story though, one of the last shots I completed resonated with me so deeply that it’s changed the way I approach all things. I will explain…

Of that particular Saturday, this was to be my final job. It was a sensitive piece, as the story was of a very young boy who suffered tremendous hardship as a result of an illness. He was about seven years old, and he suffered from a rare form of cancer that maneuvered to dominate his entire young life. I had been given a small piece of background on “the story” (I hate to call it that), and when I arrived at the home in which I would be photographing the family, I patiently waiting for an answer to the bell, with the expectation that inside would be a scene that required tremendous sensitivity.

Standing at the door, I heard a thunderous bounding coming from inside, following by a, “hold on hold on, let me get the door” (paraphrased). The door swung open and there stood and energetic young boy being held back by an exhausted, yet smiling, mother. This young boy, so full of energy, was a mess of tubes and equipment that ran into his body at various points of his torso. Holes punctured in his frame by a doctor so that the life-saving experimental medicine, in which the family would drive to Germany every fortnight to receive, could work it’s magic directly to his heart.

I chatted with the parents while they explained this boy’s agonising early years. He was extremely poorly, and the medicine and illness combined to cry havoc on his, and their, energy levels.

You couldn’t tell this though, because save for the tubes that exited his body and ran up into his nose, he looked and acted like any other boy. He ran around, admittedly having to stop every 30 seconds to catch his breath, but he smiled, laughed, engaged and acknowledged the world around him with the same intensity of any other child. I took a few shots, and funnily enough, the one the paper used was the only shot where he wasn’t giving a cheeky look or inquisitive stare. They’d picked the one they felt reflected the mood of the piece, which was one of sadness. I’d happened to also snap him whilst he recovered on the sofa after a particularly strenuous bout of exertion that had left him heavy-breathed.

The boy though, he wasn’t sad. He was energetic, lively, and where possible, displayed all the tenets of any other boy his age. I can’t imagine how much of a lift that was for the parents, who can’t have slept much in the last seven years, with 500 mile drives to Germany that occurred every thirteen days, this young boy in tow.

Anyway, my point is that this poor fellow was in a seemingly miserable situation. He was dying, for all intents and purposes, and the parents were trying everything they could in order to save him. He was too young to understand the gravity of his situation, and as a result, could not comprehend it. He wasn’t old enough to experience or develop cynicism, and thus, was happy. His attitude was exceptional. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I left that home realising I might need to readjust my outlook on what I consider truly important.

What does this have to do with a headshot session? Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s just a headshot session.

A positive attitude is the only thing you need to bring.

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