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Please note: the following account is wilfully subjective.

 

What makes a great actors headshot?


Many great portrait photographs aren’t built or fabricated, they’re captured. They’re moments that vanish as quickly as they appeared, containing something enigmatic that words still fall short of describing. They go beyond mere physical aspects and describe a person as friends might do; what they’re like as people, characters; the essence and soul of people. Afterwards one might feel like they know them to a degree.

No photographer ever ‘creates' such images, no photographer ever did. One needs merely to give the actor their space, give them the right environment, take the pressure off their shoulders, and the moments will happen for themselves. From there all one need worry about, is the capturing of those very moments.

What a photographer doesn’t know to be there, they could never fashion into existence. Actors have a strong capacity to respond and emote, and when they first walk through the studio door, when they’ve only just introduced themselves, it’s impossible to know all the layers and facets of emotion they might be capable of. Much of their everyday persona may be concerned with how they prefer to see themselves, and its only over the course of a session, with the right atmosphere and little pressure, might an actor reveal traits that even they didn’t think they had in them; previously untapped elements that might be of great interest to those in casting.

Casting Directors 

Casting agents and directors always complain about receiving photographs that look nothing like the people coming to auditions. Such photographs hurt the credibility of the actor and the people who sent them their way. Artificial lighting often leads to portraits that look like a photographer’s work rather than an actor’s, and outdoor lighting can be either be top heavy or unduly harsh, adding a few years to the subject along the way.

Window light however, can be at once soft, flattering, and true to a person’s appearance. Once natural light hits a window, it softens up and diffuses, but still keeps a range of tones and colours, all natural, all subtly different according to the time of day, which artificial light will always be trying to catch up with; in particular an actor’s eyes often stand to benefit.

Furthermore, window light also means no bright, hot lamps to distract the actors, no flash guns going off in their faces before every photograph, and no having to wait for that same flash to recharge. Sometimes the most alluring of portraits, the most interesting of faces can be found within the thinnest of split seconds, and a moment later they’re gone forever; better to carry on shooting, to take anything and everything for now, and worry about it later. The moment one stops to think about whether something might be useful or not, they’ll probably lose it, and who knows what they might have had. And when there’s less waiting between shots, there’s less pressure on the actors, who might be more likely to open up.

Furthermore, window lit shots convince those who matter most, agents, directors and those in casting. These people can find character in every nuance of a person’s eyes, markings, bone structure and anywhere else they care to examine. Not merely interested in what a person looks like, they’re looking for what they’re like as a person, where they came from and what they lived through. They want nothing hidden, as every side of a face betrays its own history; the most popular photographs I’ve had the fortune of capturing have been of those in their forties or beyond, by which time an actor has seen so much more, and is able to convey it with so little effort, that it would be beside the point to cover it up; rather than let it help to engage us.

At the end of the day, a director wants to know of eveything they might have at their disposal.