Saturday, May 23, 2015

Head Shots That Don't Suck (Part Two)

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For my Part One on this subject, I wrote about the importance of determining the primary specific purpose of the head shot. In it, I mentioned that, once you've determined that specific purpose, many other questions about the head shot practically answer themselves-- things like posing and expression (you know, the stuff that projects the emotional impact of the head shot) and on to more practical things like wardrobe, shooting environment, lighting, and more.

Still, there are a few suggestions I'd make about those practical elements of head shots I listed above. I'm going to save talking about posing, expressions, and emotional content for Part Three because, bottom line, that's the most important stuff for shooting head shots that don't suck, i.e., the importance of getting the right emotions, expressions, etc. out of your subjects, plus some ideas and advice for doing so.

When it comes to things like wardrobe and shooting environment, always remember who or what the most important element of the head shot is-- that would be your subject, of course. That means that things like wardrobe and environment, even your masterful skills at lighting and processing, should never "upstage" the subject.

"Upstage" or "upstaging" is an acting term, if you didn't already know. It's a term that refers to when something or someone, often another actor, does something, says something, or is something that draws an audience's attention to themselves or to itself at the expense of the actor or actors being upstaged by them/it.  It's said that W.C. Fields hated performing with kids and dogs. Not because he necessarily hated kids and dogs, but because he believed kids and dogs, by virtue of the audience's built-in feelings about them, couldn't help but to upstage him, and that they did so without even trying.

Okay. Some tips about wardrobe:

1. Solid Colors Often Work Best. (Except White!) Avoid "busy" patterns and prints. They

 2. Avoid Brightly Colored Wardrobe: Bright colors can also sometimes distract. (Unless your finished image will be B&W) Pastels and shades of gray are generally preferable. Muted colors and earth tones also work well.

3. Wardrobe Should Be Clean, Freshly-Pressed, and Free of Wrinkles: A head shot featuring a subject wearing clothing that appears as if they may have slept in it is generally not a good thing. A good idea for head shot photographers is to bring along a lint brush or one of those sticky-tape roller-things to remove lint, hair, dandruff, or whatever else might be revealed on your subject's wardrobe.

4. Avoid Jewelry or Other Shiny Distracting Things That Compete: That's not to say jewelry should be altogether avoided but the bigger and shinier the jewelry, the more distracting it will be. In
general, jewelry in headshots is best used when it's kept at a minimum.

5. Your Subject's Clothing or Wardrobe Should Fit Properly: I don't think much of an explanation is necessary. Have your subjects bring wardrobe that properly fits: Nothing too big and nothing too small is usually the best advice. Also, comfortable clothing is often best. There are many reasons your subject may be uncomfortable when being photographed. Their wardrobe shouldn't be one of them.

How about props? While props might sometimes be something the subject prefers to use, I think
they should generally be avoided. More often than not, props compete-with and distract-from the subject's face and the intent or purpose of the image. Props can also be cliche.

As for backgrounds and locations, avoid backgrounds or locations that compete with the subject. Avoid environments that are cluttered, overly busy, or might somehow “upstage” the person featured in the head shot. Backgrounds should compliment but should never distract.

The B&W head shot at the top is one I snapped for an aspiring actress. It was Golden Hour when I shot her and I used a single strobe, modified with a shoot-through umbrella set on-axis in front of her to help balance my exposure with the hard intense back-lighting the late-afternoon sun was producing. I like her subtly mischievous smirky expression. But then, I like mischievous people in general, as long as they know where "the line" is and they don't cross it.

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