What Makes a Good Headshot?
Let’s face it, headshots can be pretty hit and miss. During a session, for every decent shot you take, there will be 50 before and after that just won’t cut it. Your contact sheet of 500-1000 images might only contain 100 shots worth looking at, and only 20 you can realistically use on your spotlight/castingcallpro profile. From that 20 you would hope to get 10 excellent shots of you at your absolute peak of unadulterated acting brilliance!
But what are we looking for in that shot? What makes that headshot stand out?
It’s obviously a combination of factors-the lighting has to be perfect and well suited to the mood you’re trying to create, and the location plays a huge role (Even if it will be completely blurred). Obviously, the clothing you choose and the hair/makeup (or lackof) is hugely important, bt one is more important than all the rest. It’s the one that will sell the headshot even if all the other elements fail. Even if the lights have fallen over and the photographer’s finger is obscuring 30% of the image, there’s one thing that will negate everything: I’m talking about YOUR EXPRESSION.
In a headshot, your facial expression is everything. It’s the clincher, the closer, the final-sale, and it’s the only thing you, as the subject, are responsible for. Sure, the photographer can (and should) direct you-but until he sees what your face is capable of producing, until he sees the shimmering might of your lens-melting “blue steel” he can’t do anything. It’s up to you to show him what you can do and then work with him to refine it until it’s perfect. Perfect to the point that people are not just casting you because of your headshots, but making movies BASED on your headshots. (That’s never gonna happen by the way, so don’t take that as one of my session promises!)
It’s quite obvious when you think about it, but so many other photographers seem to overlook how important it is to have the right facial expression. I’m not talking about one that just makes you look good, I mean one that works for and only for the role you’re going for. One that tells the casting director everything he needs to know about your suitability for the role. The expression that tells him, in no uncertain terms, that you are the person for this job.
Often, two headshots in the same clothes, with the same light, can look totally different; it’s all down to the facial expression.
I could go on about this all day, but I’ll cut it short. Your facial expression should suit the role you’re going for. Before you start shooting, take a look at the list of characters you’ll be creating at the headshot session and get into those characters in private. Think about their motivations, their history, what makes them tick, and how they’d perceive the world around them, and how they’d react to it. Inother words, do everything you’d have to do if you were playing that character for real. With all that in mind, you can walk into your session and create believable headshots that will get you jobs.
In the attached picture, Tim needed some “brideshead revisited” style shots, because period dramas were what he tended to go for. Look at his expression in that shot. He looks like he could be arrogant, inquisitive, aloof, intelligent, slippery–All things that came out of his innate talent to take on a role. He sold that look perfectly. It says so much more than if he’d have just blankly stared into the camera. He nailed the shot because he took on the role in the split second I took to press the shutter. The result is a picture that will hopefully get him work time and again.
The photographer will work with you to create those looks and to refine them, but spend some time doing them in the mirror in the days before the shoot. In acting, you’re lucky to have a narrative, movement, lines, suspension of disbelief, all contributing to create a believable atmosphere. In a headshot, all you have is you, and the main thing that will sell your shot is your look. It’s a split second in time that is frozen for anyone to study in minute detail. You have to nail it!
If you’re doing a basic profile headshot, then wow! you’ve got to nail every single role you’re capable of in just a single headshot! Luckily, in those headshots, just looking good will do. In this instance, we’re talking about specific casting shots. I’ll save the basic headshot look for when you’re in the session, as I have a killer look that almost guarantees a winning shot.
So in summary, the thing that makes a good headshot is YOU. How much you put in will directly correlate to how much you get out. Practice those expressions. Don’t make them caricatures, make them believable, it’s worth the effort.