Way back in the day, when I was regularly shooting tons of head shots for actors, one of the really big goals of my work was to photograph my subjects in the best possible light, real and figurative, and in ways that did a great job of "selling" their looks and personalities. This needed to be accomplished in ways where my subjects also remained easily recognizable as, well, as themselves.
This was back in the film days. As such, there were more limited ways to effect the final images then there are today with digital post processing. Still, good photographers had a few tricks up their sleeves-- tricks which could be employed to enhance or alter the look of the person being photographed. Those tricks were mostly employed in production rather than post-production which, back then, meant a darkroom. Some of those tricks were created with filters and optics. Some with lighting and exposure. Things like hair, makeup, wardrobe, environment and, of course, attitude and emotion also played big roles. They still do.
The worst thing an actor's headshot could do, can still do, is make them into someone who, in person, doesn't much resemble their headshot. After all, many actors are called in by casting directors to "read" based on their headshots and little else. If an actor is called to audition for a role and, upon arriving at said audition, they don't much look like the headshot that got them called in to begin with, it can be the kiss of death in terms of being cast in that project, which generally is a process of getting "called back" for subsequent auditions.
Let's say a casting director sees an actor's headshot and, based on what he or she sees, decides to have the actor participate in the first-round of auditions. Often, these first-round auditions means calling in a fair number of actors. Actors sometimes call these group auditions, "cattle calls."
Cattle calls aren't always well organized. Appointment times are fairly loose. Because of this, actors often find themselves sitting in rooms with a group of other actors waiting to be called in for their chance to meet the casting director (and others) and to show them what they've got. If you're an actor and your sitting in such a room, and the casting director or an assistant comes out to call you in, often holding your headshot in their hands, and that person can't recognize you sitting in the room from the headshot held in their hands, you've got a big problem. Sure, they will call the actor's name, but the actor now has a big problem: They don't look much like the person the casting director originally thought would look good for the role. (Which is why the actor got called in the first place.)
Today, of course, it's incredibly easy to effect the look of the person, in post, whom you're photographing, by changing many aspects of their appearance and making them look really good... perhaps even too good. Through the use of software, photographers can shave years off their subjects. They can digitally shed pounds off them. They can effect their subjects in so many ways, making more ordinary-looking people into extraordinary-looking people. When doing so, you might be pumping up the egos of your subjects -- actors being a class of people well-known for egos -- but, if those subjects are actors, you aren't doing them any favors. While you may have turned them into people who appear to look good for certain kinds of roles, the headshot is not close to what they look like in person. Sometimes, not remotely close. Because of this, the new person you digitally created might get called in to audition for certain kinds of roles but they also might never land those roles. Why? They simply don't look like what the casting people thought they looked like in the first place. You see, you might have shot and digitally manipulated the headshot into a really beautiful image that might look good in *your* portfolio but you didn't do your headshot client any favors. As far as useable and productive headshots go, you may have given them a headshot that, in other ways, sucks.
So here's some advice when shooting headshots for actors, models, and some others: Make them look good, really good, but keep them looking, for the most part, like themselves. I know that sounds so simple and no-brainer but I often see many headshots where the photographer simply got carried away with all the digital tools at his or her disposal and, by not exercising the proper amount of artistic restraint, took inappropriate amounts of artistic license and turned their subjects into people who appeared to be someone other than themselves.
BTW, if you're interested in learning more, much more, about headshot photography, I just so happened to have written an e-book on the subject. (What a surprise, right?) It's not just about shooting headshots for actors. Instead, it's entirely devoted to the craft of shooting good headshots, headshots that don't suck, for all kinds of people. You can learn more about my e-book, "Guerrilla Headshots," by clicking HERE or on the graphic for it in the right-hand column of this page.
Sofia, the pretty girl at the top, is a model, not an actress. (Click to enlarge.) As such, the headshot I snapped of her is something of a hybrid between a headshot and a beauty shot. I can assure you, anyone could pick Sofia out of a group of people based on what they see in that photo.