Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Head Shots: The Essence of Them (Part One)

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Before I became a glamour photographer, I was a head shot photographer.  Actually, I never stopped being a head shot photographer. I still shoot head shots to this day, albeit not as often.

Back in the day, I'm talking 30+ years ago, I began shooting head shots for actors.  My ex was an actress who, like most of Hollywood's hopefuls, needed to upgrade her head shots somewhat regularly. But the more of them she went out and posed for, the more I became upset at the quality of the head shots other photographers were producing of her.  None of them seemed ever able to capture her in ways that I thought would score her auditions. She was a terrific actress who did well in auditions. But to get those auditions, she needed terrific head shots. Head shots that featured her in the right ways. Compelling ways. Ways that captured her essence.

We were both young then and didn't have much money. (I still don't have much money. And now I don't have the young part either. Sucks, right?)  Anyway, we were regularly forking over our hard-earned cash for head shots that mostly sucked. Leastwise, in my opinion they sucked.  So, I decided to shoot her head shots myself. Course, at first my head shots of my then wife sucked way worse than anything produced by the other photographers we paid to shoot them. But I was determined. Plus, I had a live-in guinea pig, I mean model, to practice with to my heart's content. And practice I did!

My ex had lots of friends who also were actors. It seemed like every friend she had was an actor. That's how actors roll... in groups or cliques or  herds or whatever you want to call them. But for me, what I saw wasn't a herd of actors. What I saw was a herd of guinea pigs!

If you stay at something long enough and practice it often, you'll probably get good at it. Fairly good at least. (Or so conventional wisdom says.) I like to think that's what I did: I stayed at it, I practiced often, and I got good at it. Others seemed to think I got pretty good at it too,  i.e., other actors who weren't part of the immediate herd my ex rolled with. So, before long, I was shooting lots of actors. I even converted my dingy dusty garage into a dingy dusty makeshift studio. There was a small work shed on the property at our home. It had been built by the previous owners and it had water piped to it and a drain to the city sewer. I have no idea what the former owners were doing in that shed or why they needed water-in and water-out but I knew what I needed it for:  I needed to convert it to a darkroom, a B&W darkroom, and that's just what I did.

Flash forward 30+ years: I'm still shooting head shots. (Although not nearly as often as I once did.) I no longer have a wife. (Currently, I don't even have a girl friend.)  I no longer have a dingy dusty studio, makeshift or otherwise. (These days, the world is my studio. Leastwise, the world within a reasonable driving distance.)  I no longer shoot film. (Well, occasionally I do. But not for head shot work.) I no longer have a darkroom in a shed out back. (It's in a computer on my desk.)  Some things change.

But other things don't change. Things like the need to capture the essence of the person you're shooting head shots for and so much more. How head shots are produced these days may be different in some ways, but they're the same in many other ways. Same as they were 30+ years ago.  That's one of the reasons I wrote an ebook on shooting head shots: Guerrilla Headshots.   It doesn't just cover shooting head shots for actors. It's about shooting all kinds of head shots: from actors to business people to, well, to just about any sort of head shot. And, it's aimed at just about any photographer who wants to learn to shoot head shots that don't suck.

The pretty girl at the top isn't an actress. She's a glamour model. As such, I took a different approach to her head shot than I would if she were an actress trying to score theatrical or commercial auditions with an image I might capture of her. I wrote about that sort of stuff in my ebook as well. And a lot more.  For those of you who also include head shot photography in your work, perhaps even head shots for actors, here's a short video clip with some words of wisdom from a casting director regarding what she looks for in head shots. I'm going to write a part two to this update because, beyond glamour photography, head shot photography is also a genre I love to shoot and to share about.

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